7 Ways to Make Your Meals More Heart-Friendly

There’s nothing wrong with indulging a little bit during any season — especially if you feast on food that’s good for your heart.

It is not always easy to make the best food decisions at any point in the year. But you can fight the temptations of rich and fatty meals by planning ahead and preparing food items that are beneficial to your body. A little planning can help you avoid the famous “my diet starts tomorrow” excuse and the guilt that goes with it.

Here are seven foods that nutritionists and doctors recommend:

1. Sweet Potatoes

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These delicious vegetables are packed with antioxidants, such as vitamin C and beta-carotene, which can be converted into vitamin A to support the immune system. Not only are they high in fiber and vitamin B-C, they are also a great source of potassium, and they can help decrease blood pressure. Sweet potatoes are simple to prepare, and there are a variety of ways to enjoy them. Just drizzle them in some olive oil and bake for about half an hour.

“Sweet potatoes are very high in vitamin A and C, they’re great for your eyes, they’re considered a super food because they’ve got a lot of minerals and vitamins added to them,” said Chelsea Marquez, MS, RDN, bariatric dietician at Keck Medicine of USC. “You can spiralize your sweet potato and roast it, or you can cut it into chunks.” She suggests roasting 2.5 pounds of diced sweet potato at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about an hour, stirring every 15 minutes, drizzled with 2TB butter, 1/3 cup pure maple syrup, 1TB lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste for an easy, delicious and healthy side dish.

2. Brussels Sprouts

Filling up on carbs and fatty foods won’t satisfy your body in a lasting way. If you’re looking for a savory alternative to add to your plate and boost your heart health, go for brussels sprouts. Not only are they a nutritious side dish low in calories and packed with fiber (four sprouts contain only 40 calories, 3 grams of dietary fiber and 2 grams of protein), but brussels sprouts are also an amazing source of vitamin C and folic acid. You can cook them with olive oil or a touch of brown sugar and salt, and then microwave for five minutes. If you are not a fan of brussels sprouts, replace them with other cruciferous or dark-green fall veggies such as broccoli, collard greens, kale and cauliflower. Studies have shown that eating at least two-and-a-half servings of vegetables daily can cut the risk of heart disease by about 25 percent.

3. Apples

Avoiding sweets can be tricky, but you can satisfy that craving with added health benefits by crunching on an apple. A recent Dutch study showed that eating a large amount of fruits such as apples, pears, pears and bananas with white flesh protects the body against the incidence of stroke. The fiber content of apples also stops LDL (also known as “bad” cholesterol) from creating the buildup of plaque in the arteries. You can always add apples to green salads or serve in pies or puddings during the holidays.

4. Salmon

It might be tempting to keep snacking if you aren’t full. A healthy portion of grilled salmon is also a good source of protein, which will keep you full for a long period of time. According to the American Heart Association, eating fish at least twice a week does wonders for your heart. Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout and tuna are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help lower triglyceride levels, lower blood pressure and decrease risk of abnormal heartbeats (arrhythmias). Salmon also contains the carotenoid astaxanthin, which is a powerful antioxidant.

5. Avocados

Adding avocados to a salad or sandwich does a lot more than add flavor to a dull sandwich. As the only fruit that has monounsaturated fat, the avocado can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, while raising the amount of HDL (good) cholesterol in your body: A one ounce serving provides three grams of monounsaturated fat and 0.5 grams of polyunstaturated fat. In addition, they allow for the absorption of other carotenoids — especially beta-carotene and lycopene, which can boost heart health.

6. Olive Oil

Skip the butter and hold the creamy dressings and invite olive oil into your meal planning. One of the easiest ways to help your heart and fight cardiovascular disease is to add extra virgin olive oil to salads or to grill and cook vegetables and meats with it. People who consistently use olive oil in their daily diets have fewer instances of heart disease, even if they normally have predisposition or high cholesterol levels, according to some studies. That’s because the main type of fat found in all kinds of olive oil are the healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which have been found to lower total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. MUFAs may benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control, which can be helpful if you have or are at risk of type 2 diabetes. Just remember that you can’t make unhealthy foods healthier simply by adding olive oil.

7. Berries

If you’re looking for a delicious, healthy and easy way to end a meal, you can’t go wrong with a colorful plate of mixed berries. Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and boysenberries are all full of anti-inflammatories, which reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. You can always add some non-fat whipped cream to your berries if you are in the mood for a more decadent dessert.

Want more ideas on how to eat heart friendly meals? A primary care physician can help you establish a meal plan.

By Ramin Zahed

The primary care physicians at Keck Medicine of USC offer state-of-the-art professional services to patients of all walks of life. If you are seeking heart care, USC CardioVascular Thoracic Institute physicians can determine your heart health by assessing your cholesterol, blood pressure and other factors.

If you are in the Los Angeles area, be sure to schedule an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or by visiting http://keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/.