Five foods for a healthy heart

By Michelle Dinges

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, chocolate and candy may be on the mind, but February is also National Heart Health Month! So enjoy time with your loved ones and give your heart some love, too. Read on to learn about important heart-health nutrients and how to include them in your diet.

1. Potassium5 foods for a healthy heart.

Potassium is a mineral needed to maintain your body’s water balance. It helps manage blood pressure by lessening the effects of sodium. Potassium helps ease pressure in blood vessels, which is helpful for putting less stress on the heart.

Recommended Intake: 4,700 mg per day for the average adult. Many Americans don’t meet this goal because they fall short on eating enough fruits and vegetables.

Sources: Fruits and vegetables; particularly good sources of potassium include avocados, bananas, cantaloupe, mangos, grapefruit, potatoes, asparagus, parsnips, pumpkin, and tomatoes. Nuts, milk, and yogurt are also good sources of potassium.

Tips: Add an assortment of fruits and vegetables to your meals, snack on nuts, or make a yogurt parfait topped with fruit.

2. Magnesium

Magnesium plays a critical role in blood pressure regulation and heart contractions. Magnesium may also reduce the risk of plaque build-up in blood vessels.

Recommended Intake: ~300-400 mg per day. Many Americans do not get the recommended amount.

Sources: Green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and dark chocolate.

Tips: When choosing grains, make sure they’re whole! Refined grains contain significantly less magnesium due to the refining process. Add spinach and legumes (such as beans, peas or lentils) to omelets, salads, and soups. Enjoy a piece of dark chocolate for dessert.

3. Calcium & Vitamin D

Calcium is important for bone and heart health. Calcium plays an important role in blood vessel relaxation and dilation, allowing blood to move throughout the body. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that promotes calcium absorption.

Recommended Intake: 1,000-1,200 mg calcium and 600 IU of vitamin D per day for adults (if no evidence of deficiency).

Sources: Vitamin D – Dairy products and fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel. Calcium – Milk, yogurt, cheese, leafy greens such as kale, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, bok choy and canned fish containing bones.

Tips: Make a quick and easy sandwich with canned salmon or grill up salmon patties. Feature broccoli and bok choy in the stir fry for dinner or add some leafy greens to a smoothie!

4. Fiber

Fiber is a carbohydrate that is not digested and absorbed into the body. It plays an important role in digestion and also benefits the heart by helping to lower cholesterol.

Recommended Intake: According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the adequate intake for fiber is 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men. Most Americans consume half the recommended amount! However, fiber needs are variable depending on age and existing conditions. See a Registered Dietitian for your specific needs.

Sources: Fiber is found only in plant foods. Good sources include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

Tips: Start your morning with a bowl of hot oatmeal topped with fresh or frozen berries and nuts. As you increase your fiber intake, make sure to increase water intake as well. This will ensure proper digestion and tolerance to the increased fiber in your diet.

5. Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3’s are a type of unsaturated fat that have anti-inflammatory effects on the body, lowering the risk for many diseases. They can help lower triglycerides, lower blood pressure and prevent irregular heartbeats. The three main types of omega 3’s are ALA, EPA, and DHA.

Recommended Intake: For the general adult population—1.6 grams per day for men and 1.1 grams per day for women. For those with heart disease and/or high triglycerides, EPA and DHA needs may be higher.

Sources: Fatty fish – Salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines are the best sources of EPA and DHA; however, all seafood contains some omega 3s. Flaxseed, walnuts, soybean, and canola oils are good sources of ALA.

Tips: Make it a goal to eat fish twice per week to reach the recommended amount. Grilled, baked, sautéed, poached, or pan-broiled are good options. Try different flavorings to find what you like. Fish can be cooked in water, stock, or milk, and coated with different seasonings such as chopped herbs, garlic, nuts, and chili peppers to add flavor.

For delicious recipes, nutrition tips, and cooking and nutrition classes, go to the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center website. More health tips are also available at the College of Health and Human Sciences Pinterest board.


Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center