Hectic days and busy nights beg for convenience. Which is why many of us rely on the grab-and-go ease of processed foods. But these meals are often high in fat, salt, and sugar. Just as bad, processed meals are usually low in heart-healthy nutrients like calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, and fiber.
Fortunately, eating right can be convenient too -- and has rewards beyond great taste. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and good fats can help lower cholesterol and high blood pressure, boost immunity, and protect against heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and some cancers. Food can be powerful medicine, indeed.
To help you make heart-healthy choices, here's list of foods to add to your shopping cart, and a list of items to avoid no matter how convenient they are.
Heart-Healthy Shopping: Foods to Buy
Of course you’ll want to look for heart-healthy whole foods when you shop, but also keep an eye out for functional foods that may fill in nutritional gaps. (Functional foods are those with added nutrients, such as calcium-enriched orange juice.)
Here’s a list to take on your next trip to the grocery store.
- Produce: Look for colorful fruits and vegetables: berries, oranges, apples, yams, broccoli, spinach, bell peppers, and more. Cholesterol-free, low-fat, fruits and vegetables are the foundation of any heart-healthy diet.
- Whole grains: With fiber, complex carbohydrates, and protein, nutrient-rich whole grains like wheat, oat, and barley are beneficial (unless you have gluten intolerance or celiac disease). Look for breads, pastas, and cereals made with whole grains, not just "whole wheat." Be sure to read the label to make sure the products are also low in fat and sugar.
- Meat and beans: Look for lean protein such as chicken or turkey breasts, pork tenderloin, or beef round, sirloin or tenderloin. Read labels to ensure the meat is 96% to 98% fat free. Buy protein-rich beans such as black, soy, kidney or garbanzo beans. For snacks, buy plain and raw nuts or seeds.
- Dairy/calcium: Look for low-fat dairy products, as well as canned fish such as tuna, sardines, or salmon to get dietary calcium. Low-fat yogurt, reduced-fat milk, and cheese are good sources of calcium. For lactose-intolerant or vegans, fortified cereals and juices and green, leafy vegetables can help fill calcium and vitamin D dietary gaps.
- Omega-3-rich foods: Most people aren’t getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in their diet. You find these heart-healthy fats in cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna, halibut, herring, and mackerel. You can also find omega-3 fatty acids in walnuts and flaxseed. Also look for functional foods enriched with omega-3 fatty acids, such as eggs, dairy, soy products, and some breads, cereal, pasta, and waffles.
- Plant sterol-enriched foods: Plant sterols and stanols that help lower cholesterol occur naturally in foods in tiny amounts. You can get some plant sterols from produce, nuts, seeds, and legumes, but not nearly the 2 grams a day recommended for people with high cholesterol. If you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol, look for sterol-enriched foods such as margarine spreads, some yogurt or low-fat milk, some fruit juices, and some cereal. The FDA recommends buying foods that contain at least 0.65 grams of plant sterols or stanols per serving. Be sure to read the food labels to make sure the food is not also high in fat and sugar.
Another way to shop for foods that may benefit heart health is to keep an eye out for health claims on the food labels. For example, to make a health claim about heart disease and fats, a food must be low in fat and cholesterol. To carry a claim about blood pressure and sodium, a food must be low in sodium.