Your heart-smart grocery list
Given the thousands of food labels claiming to boost heart health, it can be daunting to make the right choices at the grocery store. So we asked a dietitian to create a shopping list to help you navigate the aisles with confidence
✓ Unsweetened oatmeal
Oatmeal is packed with healthy nutrients including beta-glucan, a soluble fibre that keeps bad cholesterol at bay. Choose old-fashioned or steel-cut oatmeal over instant varieties for the biggest benefit. For a breakfast that packs a heart-boosting punch, combine your oats with ground flaxseed and antioxidant-loaded berries.
✓ 100 percent whole-grain bread, quinoa, brown rice
At least half of your daily servings of grains should be whole grains. A 2008 study found that bumping up nutrient-rich whole grain intake to about two servings per day can slash the risk of heart disease by 21 percent. Canada’s Food Guide lists one serving as one slice of bread (35 g) or half a cup (125 mL) of cooked rice.
Click through for our Vegetarian Quinoa Stew recipe.
Fruit and vegetables
✓ Carrots, winter squash, sweet potatoes
These veggies are full of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that can help reduce cardiovascular disease. Try them puréed in soups.
✓ Dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, Swiss chard)
Like beans and nuts, leafy greens are brimming with magnesium, a mineral that is associated with lowering blood pressure and a lower incidence of stroke, say researchers at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health. Enjoy them raw, or lightly sautéed or steamed.
✓ Red grapes
A 2008 University of Michigan study found that certain flavonoids—found in abundance in the skin, flesh and seeds of grapes—may lower blood pressure and improve heart function. Grapes make an easy snack; or try them in this kid-friendly Chunky Grape Salsa.
Choose these for their polyphenol antioxidants, including quercetin and pectin fibre, both of which improve cholesterol levels. Plus, an increased intake of vitamin C-rich fruit and vegetables such as apples, strawberries and bell peppers may help reduce hardening of the arteries, ultimately safeguarding the heart. (Try your peppers hot, too. Hot chili peppers have been shown to reduce cardiovascular disease risk.)
✓ Low-fat popcorn
Popcorn without butter is a wonderful whole-grain snack. A study determined that popcorn eaters had an overall higher daily intake of whole grains and fibre than those who don’t eat it.
✓ Dark chocolate
Compounds in dark chocolate help tame hypertension and inflammation. Look for chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa. But indulge in only an ounce or two a day; one ounce (30 g) of dark chocolate has up to 170 calories.
✓100 percent orange juice
Hesperidin, an antioxidant abundant in OJ, improves the function of blood vessels, helping to lower the chance of developing hypertension and heart disease. But limit it to only one cup (250 mL) per day to minimize sugar intake.
✓ Green or white tea
Catechins—powerful antioxidants in green and white tea—have been linked to increased weight loss and other heart perks, such as reducing blood pressure and artery hardening. To release the most catechins, steep tea for at least three minutes.
Meats and alternatives
✓ Rainbow trout
This great catch is often cheaper than salmon but abounds with the same omega-3 fats that reduce levels of C-reactive protein, which is linked to internal inflammation and cardiovascular disease. For the best-tasting results, cook trout fillets, skin side down, in a skillet over medium heat for eight to 10 minutes.
✓ Pork tenderloin
This “other white meat” has a third less heart-stopping fat than beef tenderloin, but is just as versatile in the kitchen and is less pricey. Trim pork tenderloin of its excess fat and silvery skin. Season with salt and pepper, and cook at 375°F for 15 to 20 minutes or until an internal temperature of 140°F is reached.
Click through for our best healthy pork recipes.
Lentils have a wealth of vitamins, fibre and minerals, and are inexpensive. When possible, choose dried lentils, which come without the salt that’s often added to canned versions. Use lentils in a variety of soups, stews and salads.
✓ Extra-virgin olive oil
This oil is worth the price, according to a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Minimally processed olive oils such as “virgin” and “extra-virgin” contain more antioxidant polyphenols, which lessen heart disease risk factors such as cell damage caused by oxidation. Drizzle it on salads and quinoa, or use it as a dip for whole-grain bread.
These nutritional gold mines contain the most omega-3 fats of any nut. Plus, Harvard researchers discovered that diets rich in walnuts can significantly reduce cholesterol levels. Throw them whole or chopped into veggie or lentil salads, yogurt or oatmeal.
A study published in 2009 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that flaxseed, which delivers a bonanza of fibre and good-for-the-heart fats, reduces harmful LDL cholesterol. Up the health ante of cereal, baked goods, yogurt and smoothies by adding in some ground flax.
Spices and herbs
✓ Curry powder/turmeric
Curcumin—a compound in the spice turmeric (which is found in curry powder)—may protect arteries from building up fatty deposits that can lead to atherosclerosis, say researchers in France. Use it in soups, grains and curries.
According to researchers, oregano has higher antioxidant levels than other herbs—and even most fruit and vegetables. Toss it fresh or dried into chili, sauces and salads.
✓ Low-fat yogurt
A 2009 study found an inverse relationship between low-fat dairy intake and hypertension. Proteins in dairy such as yogurt help maintain healthy blood pressure.
✓ Skim milk
Milk is one of the few food sources of vitamin D. A 2008 study found low levels in the body are associated with heart dysfunction, sudden cardiac death and death due to heart failure. Health Canada recommends 200 IU (international units) daily, but many experts say 1,000 IU dailyis ideal. One cup (250 mL) of skim milk has about 100 IU. Consider a supplement.
This article was originally titled "Your heart-smart shopping list," in the January/February 2010 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience—and never miss an issue!—and make sure to check out what's new in the latest issue of Best Health.