A healthy diet may be good for your waistline, but it is also good for your heart. A great deal of research has shown a strong link between diet and heart health. A meal plan that is based on lean protein, healthy fats, vegetables, whole grains and some fruit is a great defense against many chronic diseases. Certain foods have been shown to offer an extra boost in their ability to help reduce your risk of developing heart disease. Incorporating these foods into your diet can boost your circulation, reduce your risk of high blood pressure, and may lower your LDL cholesterol level.
Adding these heart healthy foods to your weekly meal plan is not difficult. Try these simple ways to make your meals heart healthy.
Salmon - is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids which may reduce blood pressure, triglycerides and inflammation. Due to it's high fat-content, salmon is easy to prepare without over cooking. (But do watch it, overcooking makes it tough and dry. Salmon requires as little as 10-15 minutes depending on cooking method) It is delicious grilled, broiled, baked, steamed or pan-seared and can be served warm, cold, or at room temperature. It is a firm fish and can be skewered onto shish-ka-bobs, flaked over salads, or formed into patties.
The flavor and texture stand up to various seasonings. If you enjoy bold flavors, try blackened salmon. For something more subtle, lemon and dill counterbalance the fattiness of the fish.
Keep it simple by cooking one whole filet for dinner, then use the rest over a salad or in a low-carb wrap for lunch.
Not a fan of salmon? Tuna, mackeral, and herring are also high in Omega-3.
Berries - these tasty fruits are rich in antioxidants and help prevent inflammation which can contribute to heart disease. Adding berries to your meals can be as simple as throwing a handful into a smoothie or snacking on them for an afternoon pick-me-up. Top your oatmeal with berries to begin your day or scatter then on your salad for an antioxidant boost at lunch.
Frozen berries are a delicious addition to a blended smoothie, can be tossed in a food processor with yogurt for a frozen treat, or can be added to a healthy whole-grain pancake or muffin batter. Berries for dinner? You bet! A blueberry balsamic sauce is a delicious tangy glaze for chicken and the addition of blueberries adds some sweet/tart flavor and thickness to barbecue sauce.
Though blueberries are touted for their high level of antioxidants, all berries are good for heart health. Buy what you like and try to consume about 1/2 cup most days of the week.
Walnuts - a tasty plant source of Omega-3, but a little goes a long due to their high calories. Use them to add crunch to any meal; top your morning oatmeal, chop and sprinkle on your salad instead of croutons, toss with green beans or your favorite vegetable for a boost of flavor and texture.
Legumes - I buy these dried and cook a batch every week or two. I use some throughout the week and freeze the rest in 1 cup portion sizes. Legumes are easy to add to any meal - serve instead of potatoes alongside your veggie omelet, add to your salad, serve as a side dish for dinner, or use them to boost creaminess in sauces, replacing the cream and butter. Add to soups, mash and mix for your own veggie burger, and yes, you can even use them to make brownies! They are a great source of soluble fiber which can help reduce LDL cholesterol levels.
Whole grains - there is a lot of controversy about whole grains as those who advocate a keto/paleo diet saying absolutely not and the medical profession still touting their benefits. Most scientific research I have looked at still recommends eating whole grains for the fiber and nutrients found in them. If you choose to include grains in you meal plan, be sure they are whole grains.
White breads, pastas, pastries, and many breakfast cereals are based on processed grains which can contribute to many health issues and offer no benefits.
Brown rice, buckwheat, barley and oats are easily found in most grocery stores. Just don't get fooled by marketing - always read the ingredient list to make sure they are 100% whole grain.
Leafy greens - these offer many health benefits and really should be part of your daily diet. Not a big fan? Hide them in other foods. Blend into a smoothie with berries, chop them up and add them to your egg mixture if making an omelet, add to soup, or saute with other veggies. Try different ways of serving them. Raw, some greens can be quite bitter and quite fibrous, but once cooked they mellow out and develop a different flavor and texture.
Avocados - suddenly everyone loves avocados and they are appearing in every type of recipe from chocolate pudding to salad dressing. They are delicious, and healthy, but are calorie dense so pay attention to portion size. If guacamole is your favorite go-to avocado recipe, don't forget that those chips have plenty of calories on their own. Because I could mindlessly eat an entire bowl of guacamole and bag of chips in one sitting, I tend to save my guacamole for a condiment rather than a snack. I will use it as a spread, similar to mayo, or as a topping for fish. Most often, I just slice up about a quarter of an avocado to serve with my eggs, add to my salads or top my soups or chilis.
Garlic - contains some compounds that have been shown to boost heart health. Garlic is pretty much a staple in my diet and gets added to most of my savory dishes. Raw garlic seems to have more therapeutic benefits than cooked, but can be difficult for some people to eat. Add raw, chopped garlic to your marinades, salad dressings, or dips. Asparagus, green beans, or brussels sprouts quickly sauteed in olive oil are fabulous with a sprinkle of freshly grated garlic. A quick blanch can help reduce some of it's bite and roasting it mellows the flavor, though some of the health benefits might be lost.
Olive oil - other than an occasional splurge on avocado or walnut oil, olive oil is really the only oil I use. I use a lighter extra virgin olive oil for cooking and salad dressings and a more robust oil for finishing dishes with a boost of fat and flavor. Olive oil loses some flavor and health benefits when heated to a high temperature, so use it for low- to medium-heat cooking. As I do not deep fry anything and do most of my cooking at a moderate temperature, olive oil suits most of my needs.
Use to make salad dressings, hummus, pesto, or as a replacement for butter. Drizzle over vegetables (raw or cooked), pasta or veggie noodles, or whole grain toast. I love to make a spread of roasted garlic and olive oil to use in wraps or as a dip for roasted vegetables.
Adding heart healthy foods to your meals does not have to be difficult; try some of the foods and tips above and show yourself some love!
This salad is one of my favorites and is loaded with heart healthy foods. Salmon, avocados, walnuts, greens, and extra veggies are lightly dressed with some bold olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. I sprinkled some dried dill on the salmon, but fresh herbs add even more flavor.
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