In America, it seems the food industry tries to get us to eat in a way our heart doesn’t like. But there are plenty of people (myself included) who find a heart-healthy diet delicious and satisfying!
Switching out saturated and trans fats, salty snacks and refined carbohydrates for antioxidant-rich foods takes patience. Given time, your tastes will adjust so that you can enjoy a diet that’s more in sync with what your body truly wants. Take a look at your food choices this February. Here are a few suggestions to up your antioxidants and nourish your heart and cardiovascular system.
Branch out with your protein sources.
Wild-caught salmon, sardines and tuna are all sources of a powerful anti-inflammatory type of fat called omega-3. Chronic inflammation plays a big role in the hardening of blood vessels which can lead to heart attack and stroke. Soy products, such as edamame, tofu, tempeh and soymilk, are another excellent source of protein and are rich in antioxidants called isoflavones. Antioxidants help protect your body from damage, so they play a role in fighting inflammation, too.
- Challenge: This month, switch from steak to tuna steak, hamburgers to salmon burgers, 2% milk to unsweetened soymilk or meatloaf to edamame. Try a tuna barley salad.
Eat in full color.
Here’s an excerpt from one of my favorite spokespeople for good nutrition, Michael Pollan:
“The idea that a healthy plate of food will feature several different colors is a good example of an old wives’ tale about food that turns out to be good science, too. The colors of many vegetables reflect the different antioxidant phytochemicals they contain – anthocyanins, polyphenols, flavonoids, carotenoids. Many of these chemicals help protect against chronic diseases, but each in a slightly different way, so the best protection comes from a diet containing as many different phytochemicals as possible.”
- Challenge: For three days straight, eat one fruit or vegetable from each color group: dark green/orange, purple/blue, red, yellow and white/brown. Chop up some veggies and enjoy homemade hummus.
Flip your fats.
Besides fish, heart-healthy fats come primarily from plant sources like nuts, seeds, oils and avocado. Not only will these sources provide unsaturated fat to help you lower your cholesterol, they also come with a strong dose of vitamin E, another antioxidant to add to your growing collection.
- Challenge: For one week, switch from cream-based to oil-based salad dressing, cheese to nuts as a snack, butter to oil when cooking and bacon/sausage to natural peanut butter for your morning protein. Blueberry soymilk smoothie for breakfast? Yes, please.
Fill up on beans and oats.
Although beans and oats have antioxidants too, the highlight of this section is their soluble fiber. This specific type of fiber grabs cholesterol in your digestive tract and removes it from your system, lowering your cholesterol in the process. An added benefit of these high-fiber foods is that they are more filling than refined carbs, making it easier to tell when you’ve had enough.
- Challenge: For one week, switch from white bread or refined cereals to oatmeal for your morning carbs. Three times this month, eat a bean-based meal like hummus with veggies, a green salad with black beans or meatless chili. Let your slow-cooker do the work and wake up to apple cinnamon oats.
When you’re meal planning this month, think about not only what your stomach wants, but what your heart needs.