Tired of being told what you can't have? Your heart -- and your taste buds -- will thank you for eating these delicious and healthy foods. Cut back, don’t eat, avoid, limit, eat less of, stay away from, forbidden… There are plenty of negative words to keep our cravings in check. We lecture ourselves because heart disease is a top killer, so why wouldn’t we do whatever we could to prevent it? However, a dinner out or even a trip to the grocery store can be a frustrating experience as we mentally cross off foods that are on our diet’s black list. It’s time to turn that thinking around and stop focussing on the negatives. While there isn’t one particular food that can protect the heart on its own, here’s a quick overview of foods you can’t get enough of:
We’re always told to eat more vegetables, and with good reason. The nutrients and dietary fibre — not to mention low calorie count and little (if any) fat — make them a smart choice. There is a lot of research about the many health benefits of various kinds of vegetables, but it all boils down to this: Eat a variety of colours (especially orange, red and dark green vegetables like tomatoes and leafy greens) and eat a lot of them. Many of us have a good helping at dinner time, but we need to incorporate more veggies into our routines — like mushrooms and peppers in a breakfast omelette, a sandwich heaped with vegetable toppings at lunch and vegetable sticks (perhaps with a healthy dip) for a snack. Stir fries, grilled vegetables and salads are an easy way to get some variety — and they make great leftovers for lunch the next day.
You probably know much of the conventional wisdom about fruit: Citrus provides a vitamin C punch, whole fruit is better than juice, and dried fruit makes a sweet alternative to candy. Berries are a rich source of vitamin C, fibre and anti-oxidants, and cranberries prevent urinary tract infections. Purple grapes are also top the list of tasty and beneficial foods. But do you know how to sneak more of them into your diet? Dieticians such as Leslie Beck, author of Heart Healthy Foods for Life, recommend making fruit part of your routine — like regularly having a serving or two at breakfast or as a snack. Try slicing up some fruit for a salad with those dark leafy greens and top with a healthy oil and vinegar dressing. Toss some fruit — dried or fresh — into your baking or onto your morning cereal, and opt for marinated or grilled fruit for dessert. If you’re serving a crowd, fruit platters with a low-fat dip are sure to be a hit (especially when the temperatures climb). Admittedly, fruits and vegetables can get a little monotonous, so branch out and try something new. Try exotic fruits and vegetables for more variety. (They can be more expensive, so use them as an accent in mixed dishes).
While lean meats like chicken are a staple in many diets, most of us aren’t getting enough of those important omega-3 fats. Fish is a rich source of heart-protecting eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) . These fats can reduce irregular heart beats (which lead to cardiac arrest), reduce inflammation in the body, reduce “bad” cholesterol levels and lower the amount of dangerous triglycerides in the blood How much do you need? The current recommendations are two servings of fatty fish per week. Your body can store omega-3 fats, so you don’t need a daily dose. Atlantic mackerel, salmon (Atlantic and Chinook are best), Atlantic herring and rainbow trout have the highest levels of EPA and DHA, while tilapia, shrimp and haddock don’t have as much per serving. If you don’t like fish or are concerned about mercury levels, try a fish oil supplement instead. Another option is aim for plenty of alpha-linolenic acid (AHA) — another omega-3 fat that is found in flax, canola oil, salba and fortified foods.
There’s good reason to say yes (or oh yes ) to this decadent food. The catechins in dark chocolate are good for your heart. Some studies have found that they can lower blood pressure and improve your mood. The trick is to look for high quality dark chocolate that has at least 70 percent cocoa solids. Keep the portion sizes small to avoid weight gain — 6 grams is enough to see benefits (that’s about 30 calories). You can use dark chocolate in your baking, make your own hot chocolate using cocoa powder and drizzle it on fruit slices. You’ll still want to stay clear of high calorie, high fat milk chocolate. Sadly, white chocolate doesn’t offer the same benefits because it doesn’t contain cocoa.While dieticians note that you can have too much of this good thing, it’s one indulgence you don’t have to feel so guilty about (unless you want to — we often enjoy foods we think we shouldn’t have).
Legumes and soy
Do you know what to do with a bag of dried beans, lentils or peas? In her book Beck notes that most people don’t use these beneficial ingredients because they aren’t sure how to prepare them. However, there are many good reasons to learn. These meat alternatives are high in fibre and don’t have saturated fat. Some studies have found that eating legumes a few times each week lowers your risk of heart disease and diabetes. With the exception of soybeans, legumes also lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Legumes are a type of carbohydrate that digests slowly, meaning that they can improve blood sugar control. They also contain a powerful combination of vegetarian protein, folate, potassium and calcium. How can you include them in your diet? Use them instead of meat for three or four meals a week. Mixed bean salads, vegetarian chilli and soups are all popular options, but you can also toss legumes in salads or tomato sauce, and use tofu in stir fries or desserts. Beck notes that you can substitute half of the ground beef in recipes with beans in tacos and burritos. Another bonus: legumes are easy on the budget because they’re often a fraction of the cost of meat. (See Beans really are good for you for more information and recipes). Nuts If you’re familiar with the Mediterranean Diet then you already know that nuts are good for you. People who eat nuts two to four times a week have a lower risk of developing heart disease — and dying from it.
Alcohol (in moderation)
A glass of wine after a long day and a cold beer on a hot day are more than just an answer to a craving — they can be good for the heart too. A moderate amount of alcohol — one drink a day for women, and up to two drinks per day for men — can do the trick, according to research. If you’re not a fan of red wine, there’s no reason to worry. Despite what you may have heard, spirits, beer and other beverages have the some protective effects, according to Beck. Studies have shown that people who choose red wine tend to have other lifestyle factors working in their favour — like a higher income and eating more fruits and vegetables — so it’s difficult to tell where the real benefit is. But that’s not an excuse for young people to drink — the benefits only apply to middle aged and older people. There currently isn’t any evidence to suggest that drinking when you’re young will protect you later on, and binge drinking doesn’t have any health benefits.
A note of caution: Dieticians are cautious about advising people to drink on a daily basis. There are other factors to consider, such as calories, medications and certain medical conditions. Overall, there are many foods you can eat — and the possible combinations are endless. If these heart-healthy options are losing their appeal, it’s time for some new tricks (like a new cookbook) rather than abandoning what’s good for you. Look online for recipes and don’t be afraid to experiment with ingredients you haven’t tried before. Article courtesy of 50PLUS.com, where you’ll find thousands of articles on health, money, travel, lifestyle, work, relationships and more!