Well, here we are—officially into the second week of American Heart Month (oh, and this month’s 12 Months of Wellness challenge).
How are you faring in your commitment to heart health so far?
We’ve discussed the factors that can increase your risk for heart disease, offered tips on how to protect yourself against this deadly disease, and hopefully made your decision to eat heart-healthy foods a little easier with this DIY cereal recipe (yes, there are plenty more recipes where that came from).
While that’s all well and good, we want to simplify your efforts even more and make it as easy as possible to achieve your goals this month. That’s why we’re offering up our top ten picks for heart-healthy foods you should always have at the ready in your kitchen.
- Go nuts with nuts. Okay, okay, don’t go totally nuts—the law of “everything in moderation” still applies here—but go ahead and stock up on healthy nuts like almonds, walnuts, cashews, or pistachios. This smart snack not only helps keep those hunger pains at bay, but also offers a slew of heart-healthy benefits (just keep in mind that unsalted varieties are always the best choice to help control your sodium intake).
- Go fishing. Opt for fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, especially wild Alaskan salmon. Grilled, broiled, canned—you really can’t go wrong with this little superfood.
- Load up on the berries. Packed with antioxidants, raspberries are among the “berry” (…sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves) best of choices when it comes to heart-benefiting fruits. But if you’re not a raspberry fan or want to mix it up a little, strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries are all great additions to your shopping list too.
- Oatmeal. Stay away from the sugar-laden, pre-packaged varieties and instead opt for steel-cut or rolled oats, which can help reduce cholesterol levels without the negative side effects of added sugars.
- Say yes to chocolate. Well, not all chocolate—but extra dark chocolate containing at least 70-85% cocoa content gets a solid two thumbs-up from us. Packed with double the antioxidants of red wine and five times that of green tea, dark chocolate delivers a knockout punch in the antioxidant department. (And if you’re looking for even more reasons to add some chocolate to your diet, read on to learn about the science of chocolate and your skin).
- Chia seeds. An excellent source of omega 3s, chia seeds not only play a role in reducing cholesterol levels, but also help naturally unclog your arteries of plaque buildup. As an added bonus, these remarkable little seeds also offer a range of skin and body benefits.
- Go green. Pack your refrigerator with green vegetables like broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale and spinach. Why? Well, not only are these bursting with antioxidants, but they’re also loaded with fiber and a variety of vitamins and minerals to offer a slew of heart and body benefits.
- Sweet potatoes. High in vitamin D, vitamin C, vitamin B6, iron, and calcium, we could truly go on and on about the health benefits of this versatile must-have pantry staple. Not only do sweet potatoes help reduce blood pressure, but their skin also contains many heart-healthy nutrients.
- Avocados. There’s a reason avocados are having their moment in the superfood spotlight—they’re filled with naturally good fats, which can help lower cholesterol levels and provide benefits to your health when consumed in moderation (they are slightly on the higher end when it comes to calorie count, after all).
- Extra virgin olive oil. Like avocados, olive oil is incredibly high in monounsaturated (or more simply put, “good”) fats. Its high levels of antioxidants also help unclog arteries and can reduce inflammation within the body.
Of course, there are also plenty of foods to avoid if you want to take steps toward improving your heart health. Preserved meats like hot dogs, bacon, and deli meat all contain high levels of salt and preservatives, while refined carbohydrates and soda can also be responsible for raising blood sugar levels and causing inflammation (all of which are bad news for your heart, body, and skin).
Before you go clearing out your pantries and refrigerators, though, wait just one second. We’re not saying you have to deprive yourself of the foods—and occasional indulgences—you love and adopt a diet consisting only of the ten heart-healthy items listed above.
Instead, consider this a nudge to be more mindful of the food choices you make and consider how those choices may affect your health in both the short and long term. Even the smallest step in the right direction can reap serious benefits for your health.