If you're concerned about heart health, you probably know that you're supposed to eat salmon and nuts, avoid saturated fat, and increase your intake of fruits and vegetables. But did you know that blueberry jam, protein powder, and guacamole can have similarly heart protective effects? These and other packaged foods help reduce blood pressure, lower harmful LDL levels, increase HDL levels, and maintain blood vessel integrity. Here's our list of top 10 packaged foods for heart health.
1. Guacamole. Avocados are loaded with heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. They also boost the absorption of carotenoids, especially beta-carotene and lycopene, both of which also benefit cardiovascular health.
Heart-Healthy Favorites: Wholly GuacamoleOrganic Guacamole; Yucatan FoodsOrganic Guacamole.
2. Granola. Oats are great for your heart, so as long as it's not high in fat and sugar, oat-based granola can be a great breakfast selection. You can stick to the basics, or choose varieties that contain chia or flax seeds for an extra heart healthy boost.
Heart-Healthy Favorites: Purely ElizabethAncient Grain Granola Cereal (in Cranberry Pecan, Original, Pumpkin Fig, and Blueberry Hemp); Bakery on MainGluten Free Granola (in Apple Raisin Walnut, Nutty Cranberry Maple, Extreme Fruit & Nut, Cranberry Orange Cashew, and Rainforest).
3. Hummus. Made from garbanzo beans, hummus is loaded with soluble fiber-one serving contains about a quarter of the daily recommended intake. In one study, eating a serving of beans four days a week reduced risk of heart disease by almost 25 percent.
Heart-Healthy Favorites: TribeOrganic Hummus (in Classic, Garlic and Sweet Roasted Red Peppers); HopeHummus (flavors include Organic Original Recipe, Organic Spicy Avocado, and Organic Thai Coconut Curry).
4. Chia seeds. Chia is rich in omega-3 fats, which have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. They're also loaded with soluble fiber. Look for chia seeds in protein powders, drinks, and bars, or buy whole seeds and add them to yogurt, smoothies, or oatmeal.
Heart-Healthy Favorites: Health WarriorChia Bars (in Chocolate Peanut Butter, Coconut, and Açai Berry); Mamma ChiaVitality Beverages (Cherry Lime, Coconut Mango, and Cranberry Lemonade).
5. Ketchup. Cooking and processing makes the heart-protective lycopene
in tomatoes easier to absorb. But many ketchups are loaded with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, so look for brands with natural sweeteners.
Heart-Healthy Favorites: OrganicvilleOrganic Ketchup (with no added sugars); Sir KensingtonGourmet Scooping Ketchup (in Classic and Spiced flavors).
6. Cacao nibs. Chocolate is our favorite heart-healthy food. In one study, people who ate more chocolate had a 37 percent reduction in cardiovascular disease. Cacao nibs, made from the whole cocoa bean, are packed with flavanols (a type of flavonoid), the nutrient that helps improve blood flow, lowers blood pressure, and reduces free radical damage.
Heart-Healthy Favorites: Navitas NaturalsOrganic Raw Cacao Nibs; NibMorOrganic Vegan Chocolate Bars (Original, Almond, Extreme, and Crispy).
7. Veggie burgers. Swap some of your animal protein for faux meat to reduce cholesterol and saturated fat intake, or go completely meat-free-some studies show that vegetarians have a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Choose veggie burgers that are made with nuts, grains, and vegetables, and eat soy varieties in moderation.
Heart-Healthy Favorites: Qrunch FoodsQuinoa Burgers (gluten free); Organic SunshineBurgers (in Original, Barbecue, Falafel, and other flavors).
8. Blueberry jam. It's packed with anthocyanins, antioxidants that help reduce stiffness of artery walls and lower blood pressure. In studies, eating even moderate amounts of blueberries lowered blood pressure. Choose varieties made with 100 percent fruit and no added sugar.
Heart-Healthy Favorites: Cascadian FarmOrganic Blueberry Fruit Spread; Crofter'sOrganic Wild Blueberry Premium Spread.
9. Whey protein. New studies suggest that whey protein powder helps maintain blood vessel function, reduce blood pressure and arterial stiffness, and improve lipid profile. Bonus: It can also reduce glucose levels and improve insulin response. Check ingredients, as some whey protein powders are high in sugar.
Heart-Healthy Favorites: Source Naturals The True Whey; Tera'swheyOrganic Whey Protein.
10. Peanut butter. Almond butter gets all the glory, but plain old peanut butter has a similar profile of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Peanuts also contain resveratrol, an antioxidant that reduces the risk of heart disease and cancer. Choose organic varieties, and if you're worried about salmonella, look for Once Again Nut Butters-they test each batch for salmonella and other toxins.
Heart-Healthy Favorites: Once AgainPeanut Butter; Santa CruzOrganic Peanut Butter.
Lisa Turner is a certified food psychology coach, nutritional healer, intuitive eating consultant, and author. She has written five books on food and nutrition, and she developed the Inspired Eats iPhone app. Visit her online at inspiredeating.com.