Top 5 Heart-healthy Foods

“Commit to your Curves workout 3 or 4 days a week, and pick up your fork and dig into these heart-protective foods every day.”

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, and affects one in six Australians and one in 20 New Zealanders.

But we can change those statistics by exercising regularly and eating heart-healthy foods. Curious about what foods are healthiest for your heart? We consulted with Julia Zumpano, Registered Dietitian from the preventive cardiology department at Cleveland Clinic, ranked the nation’s number-one heart hospital by U.S. News and World Report. Here are Zumpano’s picks.

Fish

Choose fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, and lake trout. Omega-3s help decrease triglycerides (fat) in your blood, reduce the stickiness of blood platelets and the risk of blood clots, prevent plaque from forming on artery walls, and lower blood pressure.

Eat well:

  • Aim for two to three 150g servings a week.
  • Don’t stop at salmon--eat a variety.
  • Skip the fryer. Broil, bake, grill, braise, or steam fish, or add it to soups or stews.

Greens

Dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, Swiss chard, and mustard and collard greens are mighty indeed, packed with healthy-heart nutrients including iron, vitamin B12, zinc, calcium, and folate along with fibre, which helps lower cholesterol.

Eat well:

  • Low in kilojoules and loaded with nutrients, greens are a dieter’s delight. Eat them every day.
  • Toss together a big salad of mixed greens with a little bit of low-fat, low-kilojoule dressing, but keep in mind that you can throw greens into almost any dish: omelets, soups and stews, sandwiches, pasta, meatloaf.
  • Make kale chips: remove the stems and tear the leaves into bite-size pieces, sprinkle with a little olive oil and salt, mix, spread on a baking sheet, and bake at 175 degrees Celcius until crispy, roughly 10 to 15 minutes.

Nuts

Researchers examining data from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Adventist Health Study, which, combined, included the diets of more than 110,000 men and women, found a link between eating 140g or more of nuts a week and a 35 to 50 percent drop in risk of coronary heart disease and death from heart disease. Nuts contain mono- and polyunsaturated fats, which may help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, and they are also a good source of fibre and heart-healthy nutrients.

Eat well:

  • Zumpano recommends unsalted almonds, walnuts (rich in heart-healthy omega-3s), hazelnuts, pistachios, and peanuts.
  • If you are watching kilojoules, remember that when it comes to nuts, a little goes a long way. Here’s what 30g looks like: 20 almonds  (750kJ), 20 hazelnuts (805kJ), 20 walnut halves (890kJ), 40 peanuts (713kJ)
  • Enjoy nuts plain as a snack, chopped in cereal or oatmeal, or tossed into a salad.

Legumes

Beans are good for your heart, as are peas, lentils, and other legumes. Legumes are high in plant protein, and rich in heart-healthy nutrients, including zinc, B vitamins, and iron, and they are an excellent source of cholesterol-lowering soluble fibre.

Eat well:

  • Try to include 3 to 4 cups of legumes a week in your diet.
  • There are a bazillion ways to enjoy legumes—in side dishes, soups, stews, salads, and many Mexican meals.

Ancient Grains

Oats, quinoa, barley, millet, spelt, buckwheat, amaranth, and rye. “These grains pack a nutritional punch,” says Zumpano, delivering protein, fibre, magnesium, iron, manganese, vitamins B6 and B12, copper, phosphorus, tryptophan, and the list goes on.

Eat well:

  • Cook with fresh whole grains that retain all those good-for-your heart nutrients.
  • Zumpano suggests enjoying 4 cups of oatmeal (not instant) a week. You can change it up by adding fruit, nuts, or yoghurt.
  • Be creative. Ancient grains make great sides but they’re also terrific as the base for a salad, in soups and stews, and as warm breakfast cereals.

To help fight back against the statistics, simply commit to your Curves workout 3 or 4 days a week, and pick up your fork and dig into these heart-protective foods every day. As you can see, there’s a wealth of delicious options to help you stay in good health.

By Claire Kowalchik