Heart Healthy Foods: Good, Better, Best … and Skip!


We know certain foods are good for your heart – salmon, beans, almonds and oats to name a few. But not all “heart healthy” foods are created equal.  Are canned beans as good as the ones you soak yourself? How does instant oatmeal compare to slow cooked oats? In celebration of National Heart Month, I’ll be doing a few blog posts on diet and heart health. Today’s post is comparing how various heart healthy foods are healthier than others.

There are many heart healthy foods, but I am going to focus on the top 7. I took these foods and broke them down into 4 categories.  When categorizing these foods, I’m taking into account sodium, sugar, added calories, preservatives as well as how much of the heart healthy nutrients you are getting.

Here are the categories:
Best: What can I say? These are the crème de la crème! They have the most nutrients and least amount of sodium and added
Better. These choices are good alternatives to the “best” choices. Perhaps they may be slightly processed, but still excellent choices.
Good: While not the optimal choice, you still get the heart health benefits.  They tend to be even more processed and likely contain more sodium – so make sure to read the food label.
Skip: While these foods may have some redeeming nutritional value, don’t trick yourself into thinking you are getting heart health benefits.

Nutrients include: B-complex vitamins; niacin; folate; magnesium; omega-3 fatty acids; calcium; soluble fiber.
Best:  Soak and cook your own beans to avoid sodium, preservatives … and save money! They only contain about 15 mg of sodium per ½ cup serving.
Better: Canned beans are a good alternative to the ones you cook yourself. Try to buy the low sodium version (115 mg per ½ cup) versus the regular beans that have 370 mg. If you don’t have access to canned low sodium beans, rinsing them off will get rid of some of the sodium.
Good: Bean dip. It’s a healthier alternative to dips made from sour cream or mayo.
Skip it: Refried beans  – loaded with calories and sodium … and usually made with lard, a source of saturated fat.

Salmon: Nutrients include Omega 3 fats and protein
Best:  Wild salmon is loaded with heart healthy fats and low in PCB’s.
Better: Canned salmon usually comes from wild salmon … but it tends to be high in sodium.
Good (on occasion!): Farmed  salmon. While it may contain PCBs (potentially toxic substances), it still contains heart healthy omega 3 fats. Trim the skin and broil or grill to remove some of the fat.   (pic credit)
Skip: salmon salad or salmon cream cheese as it’s loaded with fat and calories. Save it for a treat and keep the portions moderate.

Oats. Nutrients include: Omega-3 fatty acids; magnesium; potassium; folate; niacin; calcium; soluble fiber.
Best: Steel cut slow cooked oats. They are whole oat kernels and have the most amount of fiber and nutrients.
Better: Quick cooking oats. When you are short on time, these are a good back up. They contain a little less fiber than the steel cut – but  not much less – and the same heart health benefits.
Good: Instant oatmeal. While it does provide the above heart health benefits,  it has a higher glycemic index as it is more processed and  tends to contain a fair amount of sodium.
Skip: Sugar laden instant oatmeal or commercial granola bars. Both are loaded with sugar

Nutrients include: Plant omega-3 fatty acids; vitamin E; magnesium; fiber; heart-favorable mono- and polyunsaturated fats; phytosterols
Best: Raw
Better: Dry roasted unsalted
Good: Oil roasted, salted. While the added oils and salt is not ideal, at least you still get the heart health benefits.
Skip:  Honey/sugar coated nuts.

Dark Leafy Greens
Lutein (a carotenoid); B-complex vitamins; folate; magnesium; potassium; calcium; fiber.
Best: Well washed dark greens in season – organic if possible.
Better: Frozen green –  almost as good as fresh.
Good: Low sodium canned veggies. They don’t contain as many nutrients as fresh or frozen – but better than nothing! Avoid the non-low sodium products as they can contain over 350 mg per ½ cup.
Skip: Spinach salad loaded with fatty dressing!

Nutrients include: Beta-carotene and lutein (carotenoids); anthocyanin (a flavonoid); ellagic acid (a polyphenol); vitamin C; folate; calcium, magnesium; potassium; fiber
Best: Organic fresh berries in season or well washed non-organic
Better: Frozen berries. Almost as nutritious as fresh  – a great back up when berries aren’t in season.
Good: Freeze –dried contain the antioxidants found in the fresh state – though some of the vitamin content (i.e. vitamin C) may be lower. In addition,
they aren’t as filling as fresh fruit.
Skip: Blueberries frozen in syrup.

Avocado. Nutrients include: Fiber, potassium, Vitamin E, B-vitamins, folic acid and heart healthy mono-unsaturated fat
:  Fresh avocado or homemade guacamole. You can control the ingredients.
Good: Commercial guacamole. While you still get the heart healthy fats, some brands contain additives and sodium.
Skip: Guacamole and chips. The fried chips pretty much negate any heart healthy benefits of the guacamole!





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I especially love problem-solving, whether it’s helping women defeat issues plaguing them for years, helping a busy executive find practical ways to get heart healthy, or providing tips to help you reverse diabetes. That’s why I’m on a constant quest to expand my knowledge by staying on top of the latest research.

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