February is Heart month – and a good reason to continue focusing on a healthy diet and lifestyle. Motivation may have dwindled from that power-packed New Years’ intention. But the truth is: a simple, healthy plan is better than surging into an uber-packed action plan (super-charged at first, only to burn out after a couple of weeks).
With Valentines Day coming our way in the very heart of this month, I’ve come up with a list of 8 great, heart-healthy foods – each with an example of how to keep it simple, delicious and nutritious.
Yes, eggs may have gotten a bad rap over the years as a high cholesterol food. But you can still enjoy an egg and stay within daily limits (under 300mg cholesterol/day). Try an egg and a couple of egg whites (whipped with a little milk or water) as a basis for a heart-healthy omelette filled with antioxidant-rich vegetables. At only 70 calories, it is one of the few natural food sources of Vitamin D (important for calcium absorption, strong bones and your cardiovascular system). And the combinations for serving them up are endless (add in spinach, bell peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes – to name just a few). Just go light on the cheese and serve it up with a few slices of avocado and the zest of lycopene-rich salsa for added benefits.
Key nutrients: Vitamin C (collagen), Vitamin E (works with Vitamins A & C for immunity), dietary fiber (regularity, cholesterol-controlling)
These are one of my favorite berries for their size and power punch – each bead-like morsel bursts with a sweetness that distributes well over the tongue. And studies show its benefits in lowering blood pressure and decreases in lipid oxidation (benefits to your heart-health). Rich in color and taste, just 2 tablespoons can liven up your oatmeal, applesauce, yogurt, fiber-rich cereal and even your salads.
Key nutrients: Vitamin C, E, manganese, and dietary fiber
Technically a fruit, it is a great addition to your veggies, meats and pastas. It adds a tangy and subtle sweetness your tastebuds can’t deny. And its lycopene content is not only great for your eye-health, but according to a South Korean study, also your heart. Chop it small, slice into wedges, serve up stuffed and round with heart-healthy spices and herbs and whole grains or consider mixing them into omelets or soups and sauces.
Key nutrients: Vitamins A and C (immunity), K (clotting) and Potassium (heart rhythm)
A key item in many Valentines day treats. Think chocolate-coated or served thinly sliced around a flourless- chocolate cake. But even without the addition of chocolate, this convenient snack-size treat makes a delicious splash into your cereals, yogurts and is great alone. Only 50 calories per cup, with 3g fiber, this treat deserves its place on the top of the list.
Key nutrients: Vitamin C, B-complex (vitamins), and Potassium
A widely available leafy green, this vegetable can add flavor and powerful nutriental boost to your salads, casseroles, dips, pasta dishes (think lasagna) and egg dishes. It is nutritionally best when eaten raw (be sure to wash thoroughly, of course). With 4x more beta-carotene than broccoli, its antioxidant punch is a benefit to your heart and circulatory system, skin and immunity.
Key nutrients: Beta-carotene, dietary fiber
A ‘cousin’ to cabbage, this bushy green veggie is easy to add into a heart healthy plan. Served with a light, yogurt-based dip (or hummus) it makes a simple low-calorie snack. And steamed, it can bulk up soups, casseroles, egg dishes without adding much calorically. It is said to have as nearly as much Calcium as milk and more Vitamin C than an orange. And at only 25 calories per cup, who can resist?
Key nutrients: Calcium, Vitamin C, dietary fiber, Iron, Zinc, Potassium
If you haven’t tried kale, its pungent flavor will best suit you when lightly sautéed in heart-healthy coconut oil or olive oil with some garlic and pepper (and perhaps a bit of balsamic). But, if you’re no stranger to this leafy green, you may actually enjoy it raw in salads. Try this tasty heart-healthy marinade. A good source of calcium and a wide-variety of antioxidant-rich nutrients, this leafy green may be a perfect choice for varying up your routine.
Key nutrients: Vitamins A, C, K, & B6, dietary fiber, copper, manganese, Calcium
Believe it or not, this creamy, dense source of (healthy) fat has less calories per tablespoon when compared to butter and cream cheese (plus, it’s cholesterol-free!) And what a delightful spread – try a bagel with avocado and salsa or a simply spread onto your toast in place of butter or margarine. It is also great in salads or as a simple garnish to your egg dishes. 1/5 of a Medium avocado (or 2 tablespoons) is only 55 calories!
Key nutrients: Vitamins C, E, & B6, Riboflavin, Potassium, Dietary Fiber
And with Valentines Day next week, I’m already thinking of my special heart-healthy meal. Perhaps I’ll keep it simple and make a favorite easy, go-to dinner – a fluffy egg or an egg white omelette packed with tomatoes, chinese broccoli and baby spinach (and maybe some lightly sautéed elephant kale with garlic) – served with a side garnish of thinly sliced avocado with balsamic vinaigrette. For dessert, perhaps a cup of fresh strawberries with a small dark chocolate square – or – strawberries stewed up with some equally sweet blueberries.
What heart-healthy treats will you be serving up this Valentines Day?
An RD Behind the Plate,