It was once thought that fat and cholesterol were the biggest dietary contributors of heart disease. But with today’s modern research, scientists are finding that sugar and carbs may actually be playing a bigger role in heart disease than fat and cholesterol. For example, Mark Hyman, M.D., cites several studies in his book, The Blood Sugar Solution:The UltraHealthy Program for Losing Weight, Preventing Disease, and Feeling Great Now!, that indicate high blood sugar is linked to heart disease.
So what foods are considered “heart healthy” these days?
Heart-healthy foods include foods on the Mediterranean diet: healthy fats like olive oil, olives, avocados, coconut oil, and nuts; salmon and other cold-water fatty fish; all vegetables and whole fruits (but not fruit juice which has a high natural sugar content); and whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, or oats in moderation.
Here are a few recipes for a heart-healthy day:
Oatmeal with Nuts and Berries
All the ingredients in this heart-healthy breakfast contain cardiovascular-protective properties. Oatmeal contains polyphenol antioxidants, which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties as well as heart-healthy properties. Both the Nurses Health Study and the Iowa Women’s Health Study have shown a 30-45 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease in those who eat nuts several times a week. Blueberries rate extremely high in antioxidants, contributing to protection of the entire cardiovascular system as well.
- ½ cup rolled oats (look for gluten-free oats if you are gluten-free)
- 1½ cups water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons flax meal
- ¼ cup chopped or slivered almonds
- ¼ cup chopped pecans or walnuts
- ¼ cup organic blueberries (fresh or frozen)
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- Almond milk, coconut milk, or other nut milk
In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add in the rolled oats, vanilla, and cinnamon. Cook for 10 minutes.
Add in the flax meal, nuts, and blueberries, stirring gently. Cook another 10 minutes or until water is absorbed.
Add the coconut oil and stir in to melt.
Divide into two bowls and serve with almond milk (or other nut milk) and a sprinkle of cinnamon on top.
Makes 2 servings
Mediterranean-Stuffed Sardines and Red Cabbage Salad
Sardines are high in heart-healthy Omega-3s, while the red cabbage is full of anthocyanin, the same type of antioxidants found in red wine and blueberries, that have been shown to aid in cardiovascular protection. Extra-virgin olive oil, a natural anti-inflammatory, helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, while sunflower seeds contain betaine, which has been shown to lower homocysteine, a risk factor for heart disease.
Ingredients: Red Cabbage Salad
- 2 cups red cabbage, finely shredded
- ¼ cup roasted, unsalted sunflower seeds
- 4 tablespoons organic extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon smoked sea salt
- 1 teaspoon course ground black pepper
Directions: Red Cabbage Salad
In a medium bowl, toss all ingredients together. Let sit 20 to 30 minutes to “wilt” cabbage.
Divide onto two plates, and serve with sardines.
Makes 2 servings
Ingredients: Stuffed Sardines
- 6 large sardines
- 1 tablespoon cooked brown rice
- 1 tablespoon pine nuts
- 1 tablespoon sundried tomatoes, chopped
- 1 teaspoon chopped parsley
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 2 tablespoons organic extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice plus lemon wedges
- 6 large spinach leaves
Directions: Stuffed Sardines
In a small bowl, combine rice, pine nuts, sundried tomatoes, parsley, oregano, basil, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and lemon juice. Mix well.
Drain sardines and open along slice. Fill each sardine with a teaspoon of stuffing mixture. Close sardine and rap each one in a large spinach leaf, brush with olive oil, and broil for 4 to 5 minutes, turning over after 2 minutes.
Serve with lemon wedges and red cabbage salad.
Makes 2 servings (3 sardines each)
Turmeric Lentil Soup
High in fiber, lentils help regulate blood sugar which in turn helps to protect the heart from inflammation. Turmeric is anti-inflammatory and has been shown to lower cholesterol, while tomatoes are high in lycopene, an antioxidant that has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attacks.
- 1½ cups lentils, rinsed and soaked for 2 hours
- 2 tablespoons organic extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons water
- ¼ cup onion, finely chopped
- 1-inch piece of ginger, finely grated
- 1-inch piece of turmeric, finely grated (or 1 tablespoon ground turmeric)
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, crushed
- ½ teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 box crushed tomatoes
- 2½ cups low sodium vegetable broth
- ¼ cup chopped parsley
Rinse and soak lentils for 2 hours, drain.
Heat the olive oil and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft.
Add all herbs and spices except the parsley, and sauté.
Add the lentils and sauté a few minutes, until coated with the herb mixture.
Add the vegetable broth and tomatoes, and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Garnish with chopped parsley.
Makes 4 servings
Your heart will thank you for this cardiovascular-boosting day of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Eating a diet full of heart-healthy foods will help protect your heart, and may even reverse some elements of heart disease. Note: Consult your cardiologist before changing your diet if you are currently being treated for heart disease.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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