February is American Heart Month, a great time to focus on supporting cardiovascular health and strengthening connections with the people we care about. Cooking a heart-healthy meal is a great way to nourish relationships and our bodies. It’s also a great way to regroup and reconnect our mind and body after a long day and show ourselves some love.
Hectic schedules and daily stressors can sometimes make shopping for and preparing food feel overwhelming, leading us to make choices that may not support our healthy living goals. The good news is that there are lots of delicious, everyday foods you can include as a regular part of your week to support cardiovascular health.
Grocery shopping and cooking can be relaxing for some, but it’s not always easy to carve out the time. When you’re too busy to get to the store or source healthy recipes, Sun Basket’s meal kits streamline the process by delivering fresh ingredients and user-friendly directions to your door. One recipe each week is certified by the American Heart Association’s® Heart-Check Mark Program because it meets their guidelines for a heart-healthy main dish recipe. This means they contain no more than 500 calories, 3.5 grams saturated fat, 600 milligrams sodium, 0.05 grams trans fat, 2 teaspoons added sugar (Sun Basket’s Heart-Check certified recipes are completely free of added sugar and trans fat).
While you really want to look at your overall diet to maximize your heart health, there are a few key ingredients I recommend including in your diet:
Tomato is rich in potassium as well as the antioxidant lycopene, which has been noted for its potential benefit on blood pressure, and studies have explored its potential role in benefiting overall heart health. Enjoy fresh tomatoes in a salad, sandwich, or omelet. You can also enjoy cooked or low-sodium canned tomatoes. This delicious, Heart-Check-certified Mediterranean Tomato-Braised Cod With Oregano recipe marries the bright flavor with cod, lemon, broccoli, and slivered almonds.
2. Olive oil.
A large part of the Mediterranean diet, olive oil is considered among the most heart-healthy cooking oils. Almost all of the fat in olive oil comes from monounsaturated fats, the kind that help raise "good" HDL cholesterol and lower "bad" LDL cholesterol. Use it as your go-to oil for roasting, sauteing, and making dressings, marinades, and sauces.
Sole and other white fish are a delicious source of lean, versatile protein. The mild flavor may make this an easier choice for people who don’t love "fishier" varieties like salmon. To keep it from drying out, try wrapping in parchment paper and cooking in the oven, as in this Heart-Check-certified Sun Basket recipe for Sole in Parchment With Warm Date and Apricot Salad.
Garlic has been extensively studied for its potential cholesterol-lowering benefits. While you can purchase it in supplement form, it’s far more delicious to enjoy it in your everyday cooking. Finely mince a few cloves, saute in olive oil, and add to your favorite veggies.
5. Pumpkin seeds.
Pumpkin seeds provide satiating fiber and heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats to help boost good cholesterol levels. Add to salads, as a base for pesto, or use as a garnish for toast, hot cereal, yogurt, soup, and more. They’re also great on their own as a snack.
Walnuts are a great source of plant-based omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). A 1-ounce serving also provides about 4 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber. Use as a topper for salads, hot cereal, yogurt, soup, grain dishes, and more. Walnuts, like pumpkin seeds, also make a great stand-alone snack.
Boneless, skinless chicken breast is a lean protein that makes a great healthy staple for when you want animal protein. It’s high in protein but lower in cholesterol and saturated fat than red meat like beef and lamb. It’s also extremely versatile. Sun Basket’s Heart-Check-certified Chicken Pozole With Tomatillos and Green Chilies packs in tons of flavor without the sky-high sodium you’d get from your favorite takeout spot.
8. Beans, peas, and lentils.
Legumes have 4 to 8 grams of protein and fiber per half-cup serving, depending on which variety you choose, making them a delicious lean protein choice and an easy way to sneak more fiber into your diet. Use with whole grains at meals or enjoy in soups, salads, and stews for added heartiness.
9. Hot peppers.
Capsaicin, the active compound in hot peppers, has been studied for its potential to boost heart health by protecting against hypertension and inflammation, among other health issues. Research indicates that it may have a slight impact on metabolic rate. Hot peppers are also a great way to add flavor without adding extra salt. Try this delicious Chicken Chile Verde With Tomatillos and Jicama Salad from Sun Basket, which features red chili flakes.