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Heart Health: What Foods You Should Be Eating to Protect Your Heart

Posted on 02/18/2016

Heart disease is often called the ‘silent killer’ and kills more people in the United States than all forms of cancer combined. You may be surprised to learn, 1 in 31 American women die from breast cancer each year, whereas 1 in 3 die of heart disease (including heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases). 

Preventing heart disease is a good place to start to help reduce the deadly disease. 

Since February is American Heart Month, I’ve developed a few tips about foods that can improve heart health. In addition, I have a few foods included that may even surprise you! 

Not All Fat is Bad

Fat is not created equal. Not all fats are bad for your heart. Fats in the form of mono and polyunsaturated fats can actually significantly decrease the risk of heart disease. They are able to do this by increasing your good cholesterol, while lowering your bad cholesterol. Foods with these ‘heart healthy fats’ include avocados, nuts and olive oil. 

Whole Grain is Golden

Whole GrainsBy steering clear of refined carbohydrates and added sugars -- often in processed foods, one improves their heart health through fiber-rich whole grains. Oatmeal is a great whole grain and is full of fiber, omega-3 fats, folate and potassium making it an essential heart healthy choice. The soluble fiber in oatmeal helps to clear LDL (or bad) cholesterol by binding to it and eliminating it from the body – ensuring clear arteries for the healthiest heart. 

Color Your Plate with Berries

Colorful Berries

You’ve heard the saying of ‘eat a rainbow of colors everyday’ well, there’s plenty of truth to it especially when it comes to berries. Berries are one of the heart healthiest foods out there. All berries are chock full of anti-inflammatory properties, which will reduce your risk of both heart disease and cancer. 

Go Nuts

NutsNuts, such as almonds and walnuts, are full of omega-3 fatty acids and loaded with mono- and polyunsaturated fat too. Plus, nuts are a good source of both protein and fat, ensuring satiety when hunger strikes -- making them an ideal snack to stave off unhealthy cravings. Just be sure to limit the serving size to about one ounce per day and go for the unsalted variety to help with limiting sodium intake. 

Soy is Okay

This lean, plant-based complete protein makes it an ideal daily food choice for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. Luckily, it comes in many different forms to ensure variety in the diet. Look for natural sources of soy, like edamame, tempeh or tofu. Many people enjoy substituting a glass or two of unsweetened soy milk in lieu of skim milk to see the benefits of soy. 

Go Fish

Salmon is one of the richest sources of Omega 3 fats. Omega 3 fats can effectively reduce blood pressure and reduce inflammation throughout the body. 

Eggs, Yes, Eggs!

Eggs

Believe or not, eggs are a heart healthy food. Whole eggs can provide a variety of vitamins and minerals, and when eaten in conjunction with a hearty healthy diet, like the one we serve at SSHE, whole eggs fit within heart-healthy guidelines. 

Beans are Great

Chickpeas are very good for the heart, and it’s all because of fiber and folate. According to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, high-fiber foods like chickpeas help prevent heart disease. Chickpeas contain a combination of both soluble and insoluble fiber and since soluble fiber has been shown to act as a “sponge” to help clean up bile, it can also reduce levels of bad cholesterol. Folate has been identified as having a direct impact on reducing the risk of heart disease, and a serving of chickpeas contain 70% of the required daily serving of folate. Chickpeas are also very versatile—you can use it to make hummus for a dip, throw into a salad or in delicious pita! 

Dark Chocolate is Healthy

Dark ChocolateBelieve it or not, chocolate can be healthy. The reasoning being that the cocoa bean is rich in a class of plant nutrients called flavonoids. Flavonoids act as an antioxidant, helping protect us from environmental toxins and repairing cell damage. Flavanols are the main type of flavonoid found in cocoa and chocolate. In addition to having antioxidant qualities, research shows that flavanols have other potential influences on vascular health, such as lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the brain and heart, and making blood platelets less sticky and able to clot. There is a caveat, however. It’s important to understand that not all forms of chocolate contain high levels of flavanols. The best choices are likely dark chocolate (65 percent cocoa or higher) over milk chocolate and cocoa powder that has not undergone Dutch processing. A small portion of dark chocolate after meals is quite a satisfying way to end a meal! 

Remember, heart healthy foods protect the heart in various ways. Those foods offer protection by lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol, reducing blood pressure, limiting inflammation of the arteries, reducing risk for developing type II diabetes and by helping with weight management. What’s not to love about heart healthy foods with all those wonderful benefits?

Don't forget that Seattle Sutton's Healthy Eating contains so many more health benefits than just protecting your heart! Each of our menus contain freshly prepared meals and nutritional benefits that will leave you feeling happy and healthy! Don't just take our word for it, read about the success our customers have had!

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post-author

Rene Ficek, RDN, CDE

Grew up in the food industry and took that love of healthy eating to earn her degree in nutrition. She has worked as a registered dietitian for 6 years and has been with SSHE since 2013, providing nutrition analysis and meal planning. Her special interests in weight management and diabetes, helps patients manage their weight and health conditions. She enjoys an active lifestyle, as well as time in the kitchen. Rene’s favorite SSHE meal is the Thai Noodle Salad.

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