September 16, 2020
Save Your Heart with Mindful Food Choices
Making healthy food choices has become increasingly difficult in this busy world, and with the added stresses of the pandemic, including remote work or returning to the office, juggling schooling for children, and balancing work and home, eating healthy has not gotten easier. With so many convenience foods at our disposal, it’s common for us to grab what we can get and eat quickly rather than taking the time to shop for fresh ingredients and plan healthy meals throughout the week.
Most of us know that fruits and vegetables are the way to start making better eating choices, but what’s the best way to begin? Setting your intentions before you get to the store, bringing more awareness to the choices you make while shopping, and focusing on heart-healthy foods can help you be more mindful when making your selections.
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As you apply mindful awareness to your shopping experience, here are 10 heart-healthy food options that can help you transition to better eating and overall health.
Salmon tops most lists of heart-healthy foods because of its abundance Omega-3s. The American Heart Association recommends two servings a week of these healthy fats because they’ve been shown to lower blood pressure, lessen the risk of irregular heartbeat, manage inflammation and lower triglycerides, a type of fat found in your blood.
What to Consider: Other types of fatty fish, such as tuna and sardines, are also packed full of Omega-3s. When you can’t buy fresh, make sure to keep it heart-healthy by choosing fish that’s packed in water, not oil.
In addition to being a delicious hot or cold breakfast option, oatmeal is packed full of fiber that can keep you full and avoid the urge to snack. Oatmeal helps your heart by lowering LDL cholesterol – the “bad” cholesterol that can lead to buildup in your arteries. It acts as a sponge in your digestive system, soaking up cholesterol before it is absorbed into the bloodstream, and it can also help those with Diabetes by stabilizing blood sugar.
What to Consider: Old-fashioned, quick cooking, steel-cut, or slow-cooked oats have the best results for nutrition. It may be tempting to reach for Instant oatmeal as a faster and more convenient option, but many of these also contain sugar.
These tiny, colorful berries are considered a superfood due to their anthocyanins, an antioxidant that helps dilate blood vessels and also gives the berries their dark blue color. Blueberries are also full of other beneficial antioxidants and fiber and have been shown in studies to decrease blood pressure and lower risk of heart attack when eaten at least three times a week.
What to Consider: Frozen or fresh blueberries offer a lot of choices in how you can eat them. They can be added to pancakes and oatmeal for breakfast, eaten by themselves or in smoothies, mixed into low-fat yogurt, and more. Strawberries, blackberries, and other members of the berry family are also high in heart-healthy antioxidants.
Many of us love chocolate, but unfortunately, not all chocolate is good for us. There are three different types of chocolate – dark, milk, and white- but the health benefits of chocolate mostly apply to the dark variety that’s made up of at least 60-70 percent cacao. Dark chocolate has polyphenols, a micronutrient found in many plant-based foods that can help blood pressure, clotting, and inflammation.
What to Consider: America’s favorite milk chocolate, which makes up most candy bars, is only about 10 percent cacao, and white chocolate is mostly made of cocoa butter and contains no cacao at all. But even if you think you’re choosing heart-healthy chocolate, make sure to check the label first for the cacao percentage.
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Oranges, grapefruit, and other citrus fruits have long been celebrated for their high amount of vitamin C, but they’re also great foods for your heart. A 2012 study found that the flavonoids in citrus fruits lowered the risk of stroke by 19 percent in women. The vitamin C in citrus is also linked to a lowered risk of heart disease.
What to Consider: Although oranges and grapefruit are the most popular citrus fruits, limes, lemons, and pomelos also contain these beneficial nutrients and have many uses in meals, juices, and smoothies.
Black beans and other legumes are plant-based, making them a great source of protein without the unhealthy fat. Legumes have folate, antioxidants, and magnesium that can help manage blood pressure, and the fiber can help control both cholesterol and blood sugar levels. When eaten as part of a regular diet, beans and legumes have been linked to a lower risk of heart disease.
What to Consider: Beans and other legumes are an easy fit into your grocery budget and can be used to add a burst of protein to your salads, soups, or as a side dish. Canned beans are an okay substitute, just be sure to rinse the extra salt off before eating.
It’s hard to ditch the rich taste and flavor profile of butter, but olive oil is a fair substitute and can also help save your heart. Made from smashed olives, this oil is a healthy fat with antioxidants that can help protect your blood vessels and lower cholesterol.
What to Consider: Preparing veggies or meats in olive oil instead of butter is a healthy start to any meal, and olive oil also makes for a great dressing or dipping oil. Olives themselves are also another good source of healthy fat and flavor.
Walnuts and Almonds
When you’re feeling snackish and you need a handful of something, even a small handful of walnuts and almonds can help stabilize your cholesterol. The fiber in walnuts, almonds and other nuts can also help keep you more satisfied until your next meal. Walnuts are especially high in alpha-linolenic acid or ALA, a plant-based Omega-3 that has been associated with anti-inflammatory properties and improved circulation.
What to Consider: The multiple health benefits of these and other nuts far outweigh the bad fats in chips and cookies, but like most snack foods, watch nutrition labels for added salt and sugar.
Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes
Yes, you read that correctly – potatoes are on the list of foods for your heart. But before you go grab extra large fries from your nearest drive-thru, there are some conditions. Although potatoes have a reputation for being a “bad” starch, their richness in potassium and fiber can make them allies in lowering your blood pressure and reducing the risk of heart disease. Baking them instead of deep frying them and leaving off the added salt are the best ways to ensure that this stays a heart-healthy food.
What to Consider: If it’s a better choice for you to avoid potatoes altogether, keep in mind that sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin A, fiber, and antioxidants such as lycopene that prevent cell damage. Sweet potatoes also have a lower glycemic index so they won’t spike blood sugar levels.
Like potatoes, tomatoes are also packed full of heart-healthy potassium and are another great source of lycopene. Tomatoes can help lower LDL cholesterol, keep blood vessels open, and lower heart attack risk. As an additional bonus, tomatoes are also low in calories and sugar.
What to Consider: Eating too many tomatoes can cause acid reflux, so people with GERD or who experience digestive stress may want to bring awareness to how much of this fruit they’re eating.
Using Mindfulness to Follow a Heart-Healthy Diet
Stress eating and convenience foods are common coping mechanisms during times of stress and uncertainty, but there are easy ways to begin making better choices using heart-healthy options and mindfulness. Heart-healthy fruits, vegetables, snacks, meats, and oils can be easily swapped or introduced to your diet to improve your overall health. Like anything that’s new, it will take mindful attention and practice to learn what you like and use it creatively in your daily or weekly meal planning.
Choosing nutrient-rich foods is a positive step forward on the path to taking better care of yourself, and the more ways you are mindful and connect with yourself and your body and remember your intentions, the better you will feel throughout the day.
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Written by Becky Greiner