Have a Heart! And Care for It With These Healthier Recipes
February is Heart Month — and it’s not just about the love! Protect the seat of your soul with these 10 heart-healthy tips and delicious recipes.
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Most people think of February 14th as a day for pink and red hearts — kids draw them, grownups demand them as tribute in the form of jewelry and stuffed bears, and everyone eats too many in candy and chocolate form — but the truth is this: The real hero of your grand romance is quietly pumping along every minute you’re alive. Whether it’s a holiday or next Tuesday, whether you’re coupled up or flying solo, the truth is that your heart beats for you and you only, every single day.
So maybe it’s time to show the hardest-working muscle in the human body a little more love — and not just on a holiday! The heart can beat over 3 billion times in the course of a lifetime; that kind of devotion deserves real care. Food is the heart’s true love language, so read on for 10 suggestions and recipes designed to show your heart some love … today and every day.
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1. Go nuts!
Walnuts and almonds are stars on any heart-healthy food list. The former may help shield the heart’s arteries from inflammation, and munching on a little handful of walnuts each day might help lower cholesterol levels. Similarly, a small handful of almonds daily may help lower LDLs (the bad cholesterol). Both nuts boast fiber, plant sterols, and heart-healthy fats, and walnuts even have Omega-3s. Begin your day with the naturally sweet smoothie below, a healthy heart recipe that utilizes both nuts.
2. “Eat your greens!”
Mr. T was right about many things, but especially this: Leafy green vegetables are an important heart-healthy food, fool! And while spinach and kale are trusted standards, get a little more color with Swiss chard, especially red chard. Its ruby red stems pop against the deep green leaves, but all colors of chard are high in magnesium and potassium, both of which help keep blood pressure under control. It’s also rich in vitamin A and heart-healthy fiber. Best of all, Swiss chard has none of the bitterness of kale, and is as quick to cook as spinach. This recipe comes together quickly — and don’t be a sucka! Toss in some raisins if you’d like a (healthful) sweet note in this Italian dish.
3. Swap in sweet potato
Embrace your sweet tooth when it comes to starchy spuds — sweet potatoes are higher in vitamin A, full of fiber and lycopene, and with their low glycemic index won’t make your blood sugar spike … though your heart may quiver at how good they taste! You can go simple and enhance their natural sweetness with a squeeze of lime juice and sprinkle of cinnamon after cooking, or start your day the heart-healthy way with this veggie hash anchored by this orange powerhouse.
4. Give olive oil a chance
Olive oil can help lower cholesterol levels when you swap it in for saturated fats, like butter, and is full of heart-friendly antioxidants. The most delicious olive oil comes from the first crush of cold-pressed olives — this is the oil you don’t want to heat, lest you lose the delicate aromatics and flavor. You can use regular olive oil instead of other fats for sautéing or roasting, and even in baking. A jar of homemade dressing in the fridge has endless possibilities: Use it for salad dressings, drizzling on blanched or steamed veggies, or on toast instead of butter!
5. Sweat that salmon
Salmon is rich in Omega-3s, the healthy fats purported to help lower blood pressure and the risk of heart rhythm disorders. Omega-3s may also help fight inflammation and lower triglycerides, making salmon (and other oily, fatty fish) some of the best heart-healthy foods. It can be intimidating to cook salmon, since fish can dry out in a snap. So here’s a tip: By wrapping it in foil before cooking, all the moisture stays inside; a perfectly moist fillet awaits you every time.
6. Use your bean
Songs of magical fruit aside, beans (which are part of the legume family along with lentils, chickpeas, soybeans and more) are a good source of folate, magnesium, and antioxidants, which can help lower blood pressure. They also boast fiber, which aids in managing blood sugar levels and cholesterol. And they’re convenient: Pop open a can and as long as you rinse before use, they’re not too high in sodium.
This recipe hails from a village in Sardinia where residents are known to frequently live to 100 years old with low to no incidences of heart disease! It includes beans as well as barley, another heart-friendly ingredient that can be used in place of rice; barley may lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Look for hulled barley at the market; pearl barley has lost much of its fiber.
7. Herb it up
A sprinkle of salt for taste is probably not how you're overdoing it on the sodium: Canned foods and boxed stock are usually sodium-packed, and that's where it sneaks up on you. Fresh herbs can provide a great pop of flavor and decrease the need for over-salted ingredients in recipes, resulting in meals for a healthier heart. Likewise, cutting the fat in half in some recipes while adding more fresh herbs helps support a heart-healthy meal plan. The recipe below is a great example of the power of a smattering of fresh herbs to boost flavor while decreasing fat and sodium.
8. Just the flax
Flaxseed looks like a shiny, flat brown sesame seed, but this little powerhouse packs a mighty punch: It’s full of fiber, Omega-3 fatty acids and lignans (a type of phytochemical), all of which make it a heart-healthy food rock star. It’s best eaten in ground form for maximum health, and it’s easy to sprinkle on cereal, stir into smoothies, or add to baked goods. In the heart-healthy recipe below, take a break from your sourdough baking to try something new: Flaxseed teams up with a surprising bonus contender for the heart-healthy food list: low-fat yogurt, which can help control high blood pressure.
9. Make an oat of it, please
Oatmeal is the low-profile superhero of a heart-healthy diet. And while it may not be as sexy as some other healthful ingredients (we see you, cherries), oatmeal has some impressive powers: It keeps you full until the next mealtime, aids in stabilizing blood sugar levels and the fiber can lower bad cholesterol (LDL) levels. And it’s not just for breakfast anymore: Whirl some oats in the blender to make fresh flour, then swap it in for up to a third of the wheat flour in baked goods or pancakes. The recipe below combines oats with another heart-healthy superstar: blueberries, which have antioxidants that help blood vessels stay healthy.
10. Tune in … to tuna
Albacore tuna has more Omega-3s than any other tunas, but all tuna is a winner when it comes to heart-healthy foods. Choosing tuna canned in water instead of oil lets you control your fat intake (and your budget), while fresh tuna steaks are great cooked on the stovetop or the grill. Either way, it's the perfect entree for a Mediterranean diet, and a great way to get protein without the risk factors from red meat. Other Omega-3 honorable mentions: sardines, anchovy, herring, mackerel, and trout.
More healthy eats ahead
Take care of your cardiovascular health, but don't stop there. Check out these additional Yummly articles that celebrate a variety of healthy eating habits: