Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. You can’t control risk factors such as heredity, age and gender but choosing to eat smart may add quality and years to your life. Focus on adding MORE fruits and vegetables at each meal to give your body the nutrients it needs for a healthy heart.
5 Ways Fruits & Vegetables Promote Heart Health
- Reach or maintain your healthy weight. By increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat, you’ll feel full and satisfied on fewer calories. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, the other half with lean protein and whole grains, and enjoy a serving of calcium-rich dairy with each meal.
- Graduate from a side salad to an entrée salad by topping a generous portion of Romaine lettuce or baby spinach with grilled chicken. Use marinated vegetables for the dressing.
- Make taco salad by starting with a bed of baked tortilla chips, top with a seasoned tomato-bean mixture, sprinkle with shredded cheese, then add lettuce, bell pepper, celery, cucumbers and salsa.
- Add fiber the natural way to help improve your cholesterol numbers. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables and include the skins, if possible.
- At breakfast, add apple slices to oatmeal, pears to your smoothie or broccoli to an omelet.
- For lunch, include carrot or celery sticks, bell pepper slices, cucumber spears or cherry tomatoes. Add lettuce or roasted red peppers to sandwiches.
- Substitute kidney, black or other beans for some of the meat in chili and stews.
- Need to reduce sodium? Fruits and vegetables have almost no sodium and many of them provide a good dose of potassium, which is just as important for managing blood pressure. You’ll be hard-pressed to find other foods with such a convenient balance of sodium and potassium!
- Look for canned or frozen vegetables with no added salt. You’ll find that other ingredients in recipes add enough sodium. Omit salt and season with garlic, onions, lemon juice, black pepper and herbs.
- Bananas and orange juice aren’t the only sources of potassium. So are potatoes, tomatoes, kidney beans, beets, dried fruits as well as many other fruits and vegetables.
- Include heart-friendly fats from plant sources. Avocados and olives are fruits that provide the right kind of fats that are good for your cholesterol levels. Nuts and seeds also provide beneficial fats and should be mentioned here as well. These foods aren’t low in calories so pay attention to portions to manage weight.
- Top your garden salad with a few olives or slices of avocado.
- Enjoy guacamole or hummus as a dip for raw veggies.
- Add walnuts to roasted vegetables or fruit salad.
- Cut down on added sugars. Train your taste buds to appreciate the natural sweetness of fruit and, yes, even vegetables! After a while, sweet desserts and soft drinks will lose their appeal and help you reduce extra calories.
- End a meal with pineapple chunks or mandarin orange sections instead of cookies or cake.
- Roast vegetables to caramelize and bring out their sweetness. Skip the brown sugar and add a sprinkle of cinnamon or orange zest to sweet potatoes.
- February is Heart Month and the time to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Slice a strawberry from stem to tip and notice the heart shape! For a healthy alternative, decorate desserts with strawberry slices instead of frosting.
Sylvia Emberger, RD, LDN