11 Ideas for Heart-Smart Meals

From the WebMD Archives

Heart-healthy eating can be surprisingly simple and scrumptious. Once you know the basic rules, you can get creative in your kitchen.

  • Eat more plant-based foods.
  • Reach for whole grains and veggies to boost your fiber.
  • Dial back your salt intake.
  • Go for "good" fats from foods like nuts, olive oil, avocado, and fish. Limit saturated fats found in high-fat meat and dairy foods, and avoid trans fats from chips and other junk food.

Start with these 11 meal ideas.

1. Blueberry Smoothie: A Satisfying Morning Sip

Vanilla nonfat Greek yogurt, 1 cup
Frozen blueberries
1 or 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds

Whir it all in a blender with a few drops of vanilla extract. Add a splash of apple juice if it’s too thick. Drink immediately.

Benefits: Flaxseeds are a good source of cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber. They also have omega-3 fats, which can lower your triglyceride levels. Plant chemicals in blueberries may help protect blood vessels against damage. And Greek yogurt contains more protein than other yogurt, so it keeps you satisfied and less likely to overeat.

2. Muesli: A Better Bowl of Cereal

Old-fashioned rolled oats, 1/2 cup
Raisins or other dried fruit, 1/2 cup
Raw walnuts or almonds, 1/2 cup
1 apple, grated
Plain, low-fat yogurt, 3 cups

Combine ingredients. This makes enough for several servings, and tastes even better in a day or two, as liquid from the yogurt and apple softens the oats.

Benefits: Soluble fiber in the oats and apple help lower LDL or "bad" cholesterol, while the nuts contain heart-protective unsaturated fats.

3. Tomato-Poached Egg: A Savory Start

Tomato sauce, 1/2 cup
1 egg

Simmer the sauce in a small nonstick skillet, adding a sprinkle of your favorite seasonings, such as minced garlic, basil, or oregano. Crack the egg into the sauce, cover the pan, and cook until the egg white is no longer transparent. Serve over whole wheat toast.

Benefits: Tomato sauce, garlic, and herbs all contain heart-protective antioxidants, while whole-grain toast provides beneficial fiber. Research suggests that a "naked egg," cooked without fat, is a heart-safe choice.

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4. Hummus: The Original Bean Dip

1 can chickpeas, drained
1 teaspoon of sesame tahini
Lemon juice
1 clove of garlic, minced
Olive oil

Combine ingredients in a blender. Process until smooth, adjusting proportions to taste. Add a little water to thin the dip. Season with salt and pepper. Serve 1/4 cup of hummus with baby carrots.

Benefits: Chickpeas and carrots are loaded with cholesterol-busting soluble fiber. Garlic can help curb inflammation and may slow blood clotting.

5. Black Bean Salsa Taco: Fast, Fresh Flavor

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 fresh tomato, chopped
Frozen corn, 1 cup, thawed
Whole wheat tortillas, 1 per person, or 15 corn tortilla chips per person

Combine ingredients, and season with salt and pepper. Serve 3/4of a cup with 15 corn tortilla chips, or spoon the salsa into a wheat tortilla for a simple lunch taco.

Benefits: The beans and veggies here provide a hefty dose of fiber. Beans help lower total blood cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels.

6. Sardine Spread: Beneficial Bread-Topper

A tin of sardines, 3 ounces, packed in spring water
1 heaping teaspoon each of mayonnaise and Dijon mustard
Whole wheat bread or crackers

Drain sardines and mash them thoroughly with a fork. Combine with mayo and mustard. Boost flavor and nutrition with optional add-ins, such as chopped parsley, capers, or lime juice. Serve spread on whole-grain crackers or bread.

Benefits: Sardines brim with omega-3 fats, which help fight the inflammation that harms heart and blood vessels. The crackers and bread provide whole grains, which boost your fiber.

7. Chicken Chili: Quick Comfort

Chicken tenders, 1 pound, chopped into bite-sized pieces
A jar of green chili or roasted garlic salsa
A can of black beans or pinto beans, rinsed and drained
A can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes
Frozen corn, 2 cups

Lightly brown the chicken tenders in olive oil in a large pot. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Season with your favorite spices, such as chili powder, cumin, or cayenne pepper (if you like it hot). Serve a cup for dinner, and eat the leftovers for lunch.

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Benefits: Chicken tenders are very low in saturated fat. The beans and corn offer plenty of fiber, including soluble fiber to help lower cholesterol. The tomatoes and salsa also provide antioxidants like lycopene, which helps protect your heart.

8. Turkey Burger: Better Than Fast Food

Lean ground turkey, 4 ounces per person
A dollop of tomato sauce
Whole wheat buns, 1 per person
Onions, tomatoes, and romaine lettuce on the side

Combine the turkey and tomato sauce. Mix in a few shakes of a salt-free seasoning blend, garlic powder, and pepper sauce if you like heat. Use your hands to shape the mixture into patties. Cook over medium-high heat, 5 minutes a side. Serve topped with onions, tomatoes, and romaine lettuce on a whole-grain bun.

Benefits: Choosing ground turkey over ground beef can save saturated fat and calories, and a whole-grain bun is an easy way to get fiber. The veggies provide additional fiber and beneficial nutrients. Romaine is a good source of vitamin C and beta carotene, both thought to protect heart health.

9. Simple Salmon: Easy and Impressive

Salmon, cut into 4-ounce portions
Brown rice
Asparagus

White wine or low-sodium chicken broth, a dash

Place salmon pieces in a baking dish coated with cooking spray. Add a splash of white wine or low-sodium chicken broth. Cover the dish tightly with foil. Bake in a 425-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until the fish flakes easily. Serve with brown rice (consider microwave brown rice, which cooks in a flash) and lightly steamed asparagus.

Benefits: Salmon is full of heart-protective omega-3 fats, and brown rice is a delicious source of whole grains Asparagus has fiber as well as folate, which may help cut your odds of getting heart disease.

10. Garlicky Broccoli Pasta: Hearty and Heart-Warming

Garlic, 1 head, with cloves peeled and finely chopped
Broccoli, 1 head, chopped into bite-size pieces
Whole wheat linguini or spaghetti, cooked according to package directions

Sauté garlic (as much as you’d like) in a little olive oil. Meanwhile, steam broccoli lightly, and then sauté it briefly with the toasted garlic. Add red pepper flakes if you like a little heat. Toss the mixture with whole wheat pasta. Top with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, and serve.

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Benefits: Broccoli has fiber and a natural chemical called sulfurophane, which may help keep blood vessels healthy. Garlic helps curb inflammation in your body. And whole wheat pasta is a tasty source of heart-healthy fiber.

11. Skinny Hot Cocoa: An After-Dinner Chocolate Fix

Vanilla almond milk, 6 ounces
1 or 2 teaspoons of cocoa powder

Heat almond milk gently in a small saucepan, stirring in cocoa powder. (Be sure to dissolve any lumps.) Pour into a mug and top with a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Benefits: Cocoa powder contains plant chemicals that help keep blood vessels healthy and blood pressure low. Almond milk has antioxidants that help protect your heart.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on February 25, 2014

Sources

SOURCES:

Vicky Newman, MS, RD, associate clinical professor, University of California San Diego School of Medicine; co-author, Food for Thought: Healing Foods to Savor.

Justin Wood, RD, clinical dietitian specialist, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore.

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