Feb 072011

heart healthy eatingWhether you live to eat, or eat to live, for many people snacking is the biggest obstacle to healthy eating. If you are a stress or anxiety snacker, or if you are just having an “I’ll just grab a cookie” feeling, now you can be prepared by stocking your refrigerator and pantry with these common items. These snacks get our hearts pumping, literally and figuratively.

A few facts worth considering: Snacks or foods that contain high levels of saturated fat can make your cholesterol levels rise, which in turn could cause heart problems over time. It’s also a good idea to avoid snacks with a high salt content. Too much salt can raise your blood pressure, which could then cause heart disease.

Try these on-the-go snacks:

Popcorn: Popcorn delivers polyphenols—antioxidants linked to improving heart health. What’s more, popcorn is a whole grain—and people who eat plenty of whole grains tend to be leaner and have a lower risk of heart disease than those who don’t. Air popped is best, or lightly buttered.

Nuts: Nuts are chock-full of vitamins, minerals, heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and low levels of saturated fats, as well as being high in fiber. People who eat nuts — walnuts, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, pine nuts and peanuts (which actually are legumes) — two to four days or more per week have a lower incidence of heart disease than people who eat them less often. Remember to eat just a palm full though.

Dark Chocolate: Researchers have discovered that eating moderate amounts of flavanol-rich dark chocolate has a blood-thinning effect, which can benefit cardiovascular health, and it may also boost the immune system by reducing inflammation. Some research also suggests cocoa may help lower blood pressure. One ounce should do it. Savor each bite slooowly…..

Yogurt: Research shows yogurt may protect against gum disease. And people with gum disease — which affects up to 50 percent of American adults — are twice as likely to suffer from heart problems. They credit probiotics (a.k.a. “good bacteria”) as one possible champion of gum health, possibly countering the growth of the “unfriendly” bacteria in the mouth. Try some sprinkled with nuts.

Apples are associated with a lower risk of death from both coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease. What explains the heart benefits? Researchers believe that the strong antioxidant flavonoid compounds found in apples play a key role by preventing “bad” LDL cholesterol from oxidizing and triggering a series of events that result in the buildup of plaque in arteries. Apples are also rich in pectin, a form of soluble fiber known to help lower cholesterol, and they provide a decent amount of vitamin C, another antioxidant.

Other fruits: Try some fruit skewered on a stick with a little dark chocolate for dipping, or a half of cantalope filled with yogurt, and topped with berries. All fruits have a variety of antioxidants to fight heart disease, as well as cancer.

Make the decision to include heart-healthy snacks as part of your daily diet, and make sure to take healthy snacks with you anywhere you go where you’d normally eat a snack. Besides maintaining your cardiovascular health, you may drop a few pounds as well. Your heart could depend on it!

Happy Valentine’s Day

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