Thankfully, when it comes to heart disease, many risk factors are things we have control over, including our diet and the meals we choose to prepare at home. Even if you’ve already been diagnosed with heart disease, these healthy habits can help keep you healthy for years to come.
Making nutritious and heart-healthy meals is not as complicated as you may assume. Here are some tips on heart-healthy cooking and recipes to get you started.
1. Choose healthier types of fat and cooking methods
- Use small amounts (no more than one teaspoon) of oils such as canola and olive in recipes and for sautéing.
- Make salad dressings with olive or flaxseed oil.
- Blend mashed avocado into dips or use small amounts to add flavor to dishes.
- Try different ways of cooking foods, such as baking, broiling, grilling, steaming and poaching to add variety.
Recipe idea: These homemade dressings are easy to make, flavorful and heart healthy.
2. Eat more Omega-3 fatty acids
- Add walnuts to cereal, oatmeal, salads or muffins. Walnut oil can be used in salad dressings, too.
- Eat two 4-ounce servings of fatty fish each week, including salmon, lake trout, canned light tuna (in water), mackerel and sardines. When purchasing salmon, select wild instead of farmed. Wild salmon contains fewer calories and less saturated fat.
- Choose omega-3 eggs. These chickens are given feed that contains high amounts of omega-3s so their eggs will contain more too.
Recipe idea: This 15-Minute Balsamic-Glazed Salmon recipe contains up to 1460mg of Omega-3 fatty acids per serving (*when using Wild Alaskan Sockeye salmon).
3. Increase dietary fiber
- Include more plant-based protein sources in meals prepared at home, such as tempeh (soy), beans, lentils, seeds and nuts.
- Make half your plate full of fruits and vegetables at each meal. The Plate Method is a tool designed to help people learn how to eat a healthier diet and manage their weight. An added bonus is that it has a protective effect against heart disease.
- Eat whole fruits and vegetables instead of 100% fruit juices and don’t remove edible peels. Removing the peels on produce, like apples and potatoes, lowers their fiber content.
- Choose whole grains instead of refined grains whenever possible.
Recipe idea: This delicious three-bean chili recipe takes less than 30 minutes to make and contains 16 grams of heart-healthy fiber per serving.
4. Reduce saturated fat
- Select leaner cuts of beef and pork, especially cuts with “loin” or “round” in their name, and drain the fat off of cooked, ground meat. Pork tenderloin is certified with the American Heart Association’s “Heart Check” mark, indicating it is an extra-lean, heart-healthy protein.
- Eat fewer processed meats, which are high in saturated fat, such as hot dogs, salami and bacon.
- Consider switching to lower-fat cheeses such as reduced-fat feta and part-skim mozzarella.
- Move toward using lower-fat dairy products. Start with 2%, then move to 1%.
- Purchase skinless poultry or remove the skin before eating.
- Check the nutrition facts label on food packaging for saturated fat and trans fat contents. Trans fats are similar to saturated fats in that they increase LDL or “bad” cholesterol in the blood. Aim to choose products that contain 0 grams of trans fat. Thankfully, food manufacturers have removed trans fats from their products, but some foods with longer shelf-life dates such as cakes, cookies, crackers, pastries, pies, muffins and doughnuts may still contain them. For saturated fats, choose foods that contain 5% or less daily value (DV) per serving. This interactive food label can help teach you how to limit saturated fats in your diet.
Recipe ideas: For a low-carb, heart-healthy meal, try this Pork Tenderloin and Greens recipe. You can substitute the Swiss chard for spinach or collards if preferred.
Try this healthy version of Greek-Inspired Macaroni and Cheese, which uses reduced fat cheese and skim milk to cut calories and saturated fat.
5. Lower your salt intake
- Prepare meals at home more often so you can control the amount of salt when cooking. If you are struggling with meal planning and learning how to cook more at home, here are some practical strategies to get you started.
- Use as little salt in cooking as possible. You can cut at least half the salt from most recipes.
- Remove the salt shaker or table salt and be mindful when adding other higher-sodium condiments to your food at the table, like soy sauce, ketchup, pickles and olives.
- When choosing canned foods, select “reduced-sodium” or “no-salt-added” soups and vegetables.
- Check the nutrition facts label for sodium and choose products with lower sodium content. The Daily Value for sodium is less than 2,300 mg per day.
Season foods with herbs, spices, garlic, onions, peppers and lemon or lime juice to add flavor.
Recipe idea: Try making your own seasoning blends salt-free.
With just a little preparation, you can make meals at home that are good for your heart and your taste buds, too!
If you’re looking for support on your journey to better heart health, talk to a heart specialist or find a registered dietitian near you.
About the author
Lisa Marsh, MS, RD, LD, CNSC, is a clinical dietitian with the Baylor Scott & White HealthTexas Provider Network. She provides nutrition assessment and dietary counseling for the Personal Edge Executive Wellness Program and Signature Medicine. Lisa's professional interests include nutrition counseling and consultation for the treatment of diseases and conditions related to an individual's diet and eating behaviors. Lisa's methods are geared toward lifestyle and behavioral changes unique to each individual.