It’s probably not at the forefront of your thoughts when cooking for the holidays, but whether you or a loved one has heart disease yourself, or it isn’t an issue in your family, it’s important to protect ourselves from the risks of unhealthy foods! Eating those decadent holiday foods, that are deceptively high in fat and cholesterol, can build up plaques in our arteries and increase our risk for stroke and heart attack. The good news is that foods high in antioxidants and fiber can help to prevent those plaques from forming and can actually protect your heart. And, a lot of those heart healthy foods are actually really yummy and easy to add on to any menu! What are the best heart healthy foods? Read on.
1. When thinking about a main protein for your meal
Salmon is full of Omega 3 fatty acids, which help to lower your cholesterol levels, and makes it high up on the heart health list. Tuna has Omega 3’s, along with folate and niacin which can help with cardiac function. And if you don’t eat meat, tofu is a great source of niacin, calcium, magnesium, and potassium which all help the cells of the heart to work optimally, and it is virtually fat and cholesterol free!
2. The best oils to use to marinate your protein and to cook with
Walnut oil is high in Omega 3’s and can add a very distinctive flavor when baking, cooking, or marinating. Extra virgin olive oil is always very versatile when cooking and marinating, and it is high in antioxidants, which help to ward off damage from higher fat foods. Pumpkinseed oil (although it can be more difficult to find) has Omega 3’s and gives an interesting flavor when cooking and marinating foods. Other oils may add a distinct flavor, which you are looking for in your meal, and if you are using them sparingly, great, but you don’t want to cook in oils unless they are either high in antioxidants or high in Omega 3’s.
3. The best veggies to add to your meals
Asparagus is high in antioxidants and fiber (fiber helps to pull fat and cholesterol out of your system), which makes it a delicious powerhouse to protect your heart. Tomatoes are also high in antioxidants, vitamin C, and fiber. Spinach is a great alternative to regular lettuce, and it adds not only an interesting texture, but also an addition of antioxidants, fiber, folate, magnesium, calcium, and potassium (all of those electrolytes help your heart to work optimally.) Sweet potatoes are not only full of flavor, but they are high in fiber, vitamins (A,C, and E), and antioxidants as well. Red bell peppers are full of, you guessed it, antioxidants, fiber, folate, and potassium. Acorn squash tend to be high in fiber, vitamin B, magnesium, and folate.
It’s important to remember almost all vegetables have certain levels of antioxidants, vitamins, and fibers present in them, but the more colorful vegetables tend to have higher levels of antioxidants, so feel free to search for the prettiest Pinterest veggie spread you can find and add into your holiday meal!
4. How to incorporate heart health to baking
One big way to decrease fats and cholesterol, while still using natural ingredients in baking, and allowing for a very similar consistency is pretty simple. Applesauce, which is high in fiber, can be substituted for butter or oils, and your recipes still have a delicious flavor, so much so, that you don’t even miss the artery clogging butter and you can usually cut down on the sugar, as it can be a bit sweeter! Just remember that when replacing butter or oil with applesauce you can use a 1:1 ratio; if your recipe calls for a cup of butter, substitute with a cup of applesauce. And, if you are worried about completely replacing the butter or oil, try decreasing to half of the oils/butter and half applesauce (but I promise you won’t know the difference!)
5. The most heart healthy drinks
Red wine (YES!) is full of heart protective antioxidants, so if you are going to drink alcohol with your meal, red wines can actually protect your heart, so you’re actually doing something healthy by drinking wine (how long have you waited to hear that?) Teas (green and black) are full of antioxidants, so whether you prefer them cold or hot, and maybe replace post meal coffee with tea for a heart healthy end to the meal! And, there are so many options and flavors for teas now, you can find one that will accent your dessert and maybe even match the holiday season.
And if you choose to skip both of these, your best choice is good old water; while it doesn’t sound exciting, you can always fill pitchers of water and add ice with cranberries or mint frozen in the middle, add lemon, or whatever other herbs and fruits that will complement your meal, that can be quite a tasty addition to your meal and hydrate everyone in a calorie free way.
One thing to remember is that while you are working hard to create this heart healthy and yummy meal, try to minimize adding salt to your meal, your guests can add their own, if they choose, but keeping salt use low is another great way to keep your heart health in check. The more naturally colorful your plate is, and the less processed the foods are, the better they are for your heart, so make sure to make a colorful table with not only your meal, but with your beverages as well!