The 12 Best Foods for Your Heart (and How to Save on Them)
Find out which foods you need for a healthy heart and get ’em at a good price, too!
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin E, magnesium, and zinc all help to make a handful (about 1/4 cup a day) of crunchy almonds good for your heart and your mood. B vitamins and magnesium help produce serotonin, which helps regulate mood. Zinc has also been shown to fight some negative effects of stress, while vitamin E is an antioxidant that destroys the free radicals related to stress and heart disease. They’re the perfect snack – so much better than a bag of chips. Or, add some slivered beauties to your morning oatmeal.
How to Save: Buy roasted and unsalted almonds from a bulk bin, and get just what you need at a lower per-pound price than packaged nuts.
Asparagus contains heart-healthy anti-inflammatory nutrients like folate and vitamins C and D. It is also low in calories and quick cooking. Sauté it with sugar snap peas and toss with whole wheat pasta, olive oil, lemon juice, and a bit of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and pepper for a meatless meal fit for a (very healthy) king or queen.
How to Save: Buy it fresh during spring and early summer, when local crops are harvested. Canned asparagus lose something in translation, so they are best left on the shelf, but frozen make a passable substitute for the fresh stuff.
These versatile legumes contain more protein than any other plant food – just one cup provides a quarter of what we need each day. They also provide heart-healthy and stress-busting B vitamins, iron, and all-important calcium. Plus, they are considered “nature’s scrub brush” because one serving’s 15 grams of fiber goes through the intestines and sops cholesterol and takes it away (you know where). Use beans in soups and stews or create a vegetarian chili with kidney beans, tomatoes, carrots, celery, and a little bit of hot pepper. Puree a rinsed and drained can of white beans with two tablespoons of olive oil, a small clove of garlic, and salt and pepper for a Mediterranean-style veggie dip.
How to Save: Stock up on canned beans when they are on sale; dried beans are always less expensive than canned but take longer to soak and cook.
Almost all fruit is good for you – cherries, strawberries, mangos, peaches – yum! But these blue-hued beauties work overtime to provide you with antioxidants and vitamin C, both potent stress busters. They’re low in calories and sugar, so you can snack on them to your heart’s content without an ounce of guilt (or fat). Blueberries are also a good source of fiber, which can help relieve the cramps and constipation that can occur when you’re stressed out. Pile ’em on cereal, eat them fresh from the basket, or blend them with some plain yogurt, a banana, and some ice for a fabulous smoothie.
How to Save: Summertime is berry time; otherwise frozen berries are a better bargain in winter (and may be fresher than imported berries that have traveled many miles to get to your store).
Broccoli is packed with B vitamins and folic acid, which has been shown to help relieve stress, anxiety, panic, and even depression. Steam broccoli in the microwave (rinse and chop it, place it in a glass or other nonreactive bowl, and cover it with a damp paper towel, not plastic wrap) for a few minutes for optimal nutrition. Add a squeeze of lemon juice, a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, and, if you dare, a sprinkle of red pepper flakes for punch, and you’ve got yourself a sublime yet simple side dish.
How to Save: Fresh stalks are available all year round, and you can stock up on broccoli when it is on sale. Just blanch in boiled, salted water for 3 to 4 minutes, then freeze for up to two months.
Dark chocolate (at least 75 percent cocoa; 85 percent is best) is not only a stress reducer – who doesn’t love a piece of chocolate? – but it is heart-healthy, too! One study, conducted by researchers at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, showed that eating 6 ounces of dark chocolate a day lowered bad cholesterol. And that’s not all. Another researcher found that cocoa contains phenols – antiseptic, anti-inflammatory compounds that reduce your risk of heart disease by keeping fat-like substances from oxidizing in the blood and clogging your arteries. Do you really need a serving suggestion for chocolate?
How to Save: After-holiday sales are one way to find good buys on this good-for-you confection.
7. Leafy Greens
Spinach, kale, dandelion greens, turnip tops, and Swiss chard – they’re all amazing foods that provide iron plus lots of vitamin C, both good for strong bones, teeth, and hair, and vitamin A and magnesium, both of which are excellent at helping you maintain calm. Sauté one or more type of greens with lemon or orange juice and garlic, or purée with a little low-sodium chicken or veggie broth and white beans for a satisfying soup.
How to Save: Fresh, loose greens are generally less expensive than washed and bagged. Frozen spinach is a fabulous bargain. Stock up when it’s on sale and store in the freezer for up to three months.
8. Lean Beef
Surprised this is on the list after hearing admonitions from experts about avoiding the red stuff? Don’t be. Beef is a substantial stress buster. It’s loaded with zinc, iron, and B vitamins (not to mention protein), all known for keeping us calm and happy. It is also satiating, meaning you feel fuller longer (hunger pangs can cause irritability and anxiety). Avoid fatty cuts, and stick to lean cuts like flank and skirt steak, and 95 percent lean ground beef. Or, look for cuts marked “round” or “loin,” such as top sirloin, bottom round (great for pot roast), and tenderloin – they are the kindest cuts in terms of fat content. And limit your intake to 4 to 6 ounces when you do enjoy it.
How to Save: Meat can be pricey, but luckily the leanest cuts are also the least expensive. Supermarkets have weekly specials on cuts like London broil (perfect for quick grilling or slow pot roasting) and bottom round. If you have room in the freezer, unwrap the meat and rewrap it in freezer paper or wax paper, then place it in a freezer bag to reduce the chance of freezer burn.
9. Salmon and Other Fish
Most kinds of fish are loaded with B vitamins, particularly the renowned stress fighters B6 and B12. In fact, B12 is one of the most important vitamins in terms of serotonin production; a vitamin B12 deficiency can even lead to depression. Omega-3 fatty acids are prevalent in salmon (Alaskan wild is the best; farm-raised is the least desirable) and tuna – even the canned stuff. Grill or pan-roast fish, and serve on a bed of leafy greens with a side of lentils and carrots for a true power meal. Or, toss rinsed and drained water-packed white albacore tuna with a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil and a teaspoon of drained capers and serve on a bed of salad greens. You’ll be doing swimmingly after meals like those!
How to Save: Canned salmon and wild Alaskan tuna are great buys, especially when they go on sale. They last almost indefinitely in your pantry.
10. Sweet Potatoes
Talk about a nutritional powerhouse! The more color a veggie has the better it is for you, according to nutritionists – and sweet potatoes might be the brightest of all. Potent antioxidants found in sweet potatoes help to shield our hearts. Plus, their sweet taste makes them delicious enough to eat for dessert. But if you don’t want to go that far, try chunking them up into 1-inch squares, roasting them at a high heat (400 degrees) for about 30 minutes, and then tossing them with some chopped dried plums (better known as prunes) for a tempting and unique side dish next to roasted chicken or turkey – or as a vegetarian meal on its own.
How to Save: Sweet potatoes are available all year round. Cut down on waste by storing sweet potatoes in the fridge away from onions; unlike white potatoes, sweet versions deteriorate quickly when they are not kept chilled.
Another powerful nut! Walnuts contain alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid that is similar to the one found in salmon and herring. A handful of walnuts a day as a snack is an easy way to get this important nutrient. Or, scatter a few on top of a salad for a satisfying crunch. Or, add some to your oatmeal along with raisins or dried cranberries for a power breakfast.
How to Save: Like almonds and other nuts, walnuts are cheapest when bought from bulk barrels. Keep them in the freezer for the longest shelf life.
12. Whole Grains
Cracked wheat, barley, faro, millet, and quinoa are just a few of the 19 whole grains you can cook with and enjoy in all sorts of dishes. Whole grains digest slowly, keeping you feeling fuller, longer. Plus they boost serotonin levels and make you feel happy – and they brighten your mood because they’re so delicious! A half-cup serving size of any whole grain alongside a serving of veggies and lean protein should have you strolling on the sunny side of the street in no time. Follow packaging directions for preparation, but realize that most whole grains don’t require any special technique. However, toasting them in a dry pot for a few minutes before adding water adds depth of flavor.
How to Save: Purchase in bulk at health food stores and freeze for freshness.