Heart-Healthy Diet Tips
There’s no doubt about the close connection between diet and heart health. The food we eat can affect how well our heart pumps blood and delivers oxygen and other nutrients throughout the body. In recognition of Heart Month, below are some tips and tools to help keep your heart healthy, courtesy of North York General Hospital Registered Dietician Indubala Shekhawat and Dietetic students Taylor Hunsley and Tamara Bird.
What foods are best for the heart?
The following foods can help provide healthy sources of nutrients and fibre. These foods have little fat or added salt, which can hinder heart health:
- Oily fish, such as salmon, sardines and trout
- Nuts and seeds, such as almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds and pumpkin seeds
- Soybean products
- Whole grains like oats, barley, quinoa, and brown rice
- Low sodium legumes like chickpeas, lentils, black beans, navy beans and kidney beans
- Fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits
What foods can have a negative impact on the heart?
The following foods are high in saturated fat and salt, which can lead to a number of cardiovascular diseases, such as high blood pressure:
- Deep fried foods and fast foods
- Fatty cuts of meats, fresh or processed luncheon meats
- High fat dairy, such as full fat yogurt, cheese, sour cream, ice cream or homogenized milk
- Baked goods, such as pies, doughnuts, cakes and pastries
- Packaged/processed foods, such as chips, crackers, cookies and chocolates
- Canned goods including soups, vegetables, beans and sauces
How can we incorporate heart-healthy food into our diet?
Below is a sample grocery list with suggestions for heart-healthy snack combinations:
- Low-fat plain Greek yogurt + fresh or frozen berries
- Carrot sticks + roasted garlic hummus
- Celery sticks + peanut butter
- Plain steel-cut oatmeal + apple chunks
- A clementine orange + unsalted mixed nuts
How does salt impact heart health?
A diet high in salt or sodium can be detrimental to a healthy heart. Excessive salt can lead to high blood pressure, putting stress and strain on the heart’s proper function. It is best to limit salt intake, but many Canadians eat much more than recommended. According to Health Canada, Canadian adults consume an average of 2,760 mg of sodium per day, while the recommended daily intake is no more than 2,300 mg. This puts many Canadians at risk for heart disease.
How can we identify salt quantity in food?
On a packaged food label, the Nutrition Facts table will give valuable information about how much sodium is in a serving of a given food product. When choosing foods lower in sodium, look for products with less than 120 mg of sodium in a 100 g serving. In addition, choose products labeled “no added salt”, “low salt” or “low sodium.”
Heart-Healthy Do’s and Don’ts:
DO: Cook at home often
DON’T: Regularly consume fast foods and deep fried foods
DO: Include a variety of vegetables and fruits in your diet
DON’T: Choose pre-packaged highly processed snacks
DO: Include oily fish 2-3 times per week in your meals
DON’T: Include fatty cuts of meat or processed meats
DO: Use cooking spray or olive oil when cooking
DON’T: Cook with oils high in saturated fat like coconut oil
DO: Choose lean cuts of white meat like poultry
DON’T: Regularly consume red meat
DO: Choose foods with labels like “low sodium”, “low salt”, “no salt added”
DON’T: Choose highly salted and processed foods and snacks
Cranberry Almond Energy Bites
This delicious recipe includes oats, a source of soluble fibre that helps lower cholesterol, which benefits the heart. The recipe can be made in large batches and stored in the freezer for a quick grab-and-go snack that is filling, nutritious and tasty.
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Recipe yields: 12 energy bites
Serving size: 2 energy bites
- 10 dates (pitted)
- 1 cup rolled oats (dry)
- 3 Tbsp flaxseed (ground) or chia seeds
- ¼ cup unsalted roasted almonds slivers
- ¼ cup dried cranberries
- ½ tsp vanilla extract (optional)
- In a food processor or high speed blender, pulse pitted dates until they are chopped into small pieces. If you are having trouble getting the dates to chop, try soaking them in warm water for 5 minutes prior to chopping.
- Add all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Using a slightly wet wooden spoon or clean wet fingers, mix ingredients together until they are well combined.
- Place the mixing bowl in the fridge or freezer for 15 minutes to allow the mixture to set. This step is important to ensure your energy bites bind well into balls.
- Using the warmth of your hands, roll about 2 tbsp of the mixture together into 12 even sized energy bites.
Store in the refrigerator for 1 week or in the freezer for 3 months.
TIP: The stickiness of the dates should bind the ingredients together, but if you find it’s not sticky enough, consider adding 1/3 to ½ cup of natural nut butter or seed butter to help the energy bites adhere together.