Eat This, Not That: 5 Heart-Healthy Foods and How to Use Them
Since we're approaching American Heart Month and Valentine's Day, now is the perfect time to practice self-love. And the best way to do it is by eating heart-healthy foods that put the love back into your body, literally. But February isn't the only time we should celebrate our loved ones and honor our hard-working arteries. In order to cultivate a happy and healthy heart all year long, these significant dates should be celebrated every single day.
Admittedly, discussing things like blood pressure, aortic valves, chest pain, high cholesterol, and heart attack warning signs tends to be more stress-inducing than fun (especially when high-stress and increased risk of heart disease are directly correlated), but that's also precisely why we want to make things easier (and more appetizing) when it comes to taking care of our hearts. So we went back to basics and turned to the experts for help—namely Ed Eisler, MD, chief of staff at the California Pacific Medical Center, the largest private hospital in Northern California.
We weren't surprised to see eating habits and nutrition were high up on his list. Eisler tells MyDomaine that "the keys to a healthy heart are good genes, regular exercise, and proper nutrition. And the pathway to your search begins with heart-healthy foods." Since we don't take doctor's orders lightly, we tapped Abigail Kinnear, an RDN based in New York City. Ahead, she walks us through five simple food swaps that lead to a healthier heart and fills us in on all the nutritional benefits.
Scroll through this handy guide to find out the worst foods for cardiovascular health and the best alternatives to replace them with. Then learn the best recipes for each ingredient to get a taste of delicious heart-healthy foods for yourself.
Say Cheers With Red Wine
Next time you join your co-workers for happy hour, say cheers with a glass of red wine. Kinnear confirms that "there have been studies published that suggest there may be a link between how drinking alcohol, especially red wine, may be associated with reduced rates of death due to heart disease." This may sound too good to be true, but red wine is actually full of important nutrients when sipped in moderation. Indeed, "red wine contains antioxidants called resveratrol, a type of polyphenol. While the exact cause is unknown and the relationship not yet understood," red wine is definitely a good choice when it comes to alcohol consumption.
Opt for Fish Instead of Meat
If you aren't sure what to eat for dinner tonight, we suggest this roasted salmon and fennel rocket dish brought to you by From the Kitchen. Not only does it sound amazing, but it's also a lot better for your heart to choose fish over beef. Kinnear explains that "fish is a great source of protein that has less saturated fat than meats such as beef and pork." So you can have your protein and eat it too, so to speak.
She also assures us that fish is a good way to get our "omega-3 fatty acids, which have a host of heart health benefits, including reducing the risk of abnormal heartbeat, decreasing triglycerides (fat in your blood), slowing the rate of plaque buildup in your arteries, and lowering blood pressure." With more good news, Kinnear tells us that oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, and trout are best, so that aforementioned recipe is in the clear.
Replace Mayo and Cream With Yogurt
When it comes to the heart-healthy foods, mayo and cream cheese are strictly on the "do not eat" list. You have their saturated fat content to thank for that. Kinnear's solution is to use plain strained yogurt instead. "The most common strained yogurt is Greek yogurt, but other types such as Icelandic yogurt are also becoming popular," she shares. "Nonfat yogurt has no saturated fat and has the additional bonus of protein, which will help keep you fuller for longer." There are tons of great recipes that call for yogurt instead of sour cream, cream cheese, and mayo. We can't wait to try this one from Half Baked Harvest, which calls for goat cheese and Greek yogurt.
Swap Out Refined Grains With Whole Grains
Kinnear gave us a much-needed lesson in grains. She explains that "refined grains, such as wheat flour and white rice, have been milled to remove the bran and germ, both of which are full of B vitamins, iron, and heart-healthy fiber." Since whole grains haven't gone through this process, they're still packed with important nutrients, making them a much healthier option compared to their refined counterparts.
Whole grains offer all the perks of fiber: They improve blood cholesterol levels and lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. While brown rice and quinoa are great options, Kinnear says you can also change things up with lesser known varieties such as barley and sorghum. You can eat them at every meal since they taste good with just about any ingredient and flavor. We love the sound of this kale salad from Pinch of Yum, which is bolstered by the whole grain sprinkled in.
Choose Olive Oil Over Butter
If you have a sweet tooth, you can still get your dessert fix without compromising heart health. The trick is to say no to butter and yes to oils. Kinnear warns that butter is high in saturated fat, which can be a cause of high cholesterol, which increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. But not to worry! "A great swap for butter is olive or canola oil," she shares. "Both of these are high in monounsaturated fats, which have been linked with lowering the level of bad cholesterol in your blood, and reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke."
To enhance savory stove-top or cold dishes, use extra virgin olive oil, "and canola for cooking at higher temperatures and baking," Kinnear recommends. How good do these brownie bites from The First Mess look? They're packed with sweet superfoods that make you feel as good as they taste. Treat your taste buds and your heart.
Kolossos Unfiltered Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($38)
Nothing says "olive you" like a pair of good-looking bottles full of gourmet extra virgin olive oil.
What steps do you take to maintain a healthy heart? Share your cooking tips and lifestyle hacks with us in the comment section below to spread the love.