February is national heart health month here in the United States and it’s a great time to take a closer look at what we eat and how those foods are supporting your weight loss and health goals. Foods that are particularly beneficial to your cardiovascular health are foods that are naturally rich in omega-3 fatty acids and can be a good source of omega-6 fatty acids.
Focusing on the omega-3 fatty acids in particular, these heart healthy fats help lower your triglyceride levels (the level of fat traveling around your blood stream), keep your arteries clear from blockages, and boost your HDL (aka the “good” cholesterol) level. Many foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids are good sources of protein, lower in carbohydrates, and are rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals.
Here are 5 foods that are great for your heart and are worth adding to your meals and snacks throughout the week.
#1. Sunflower seeds
Just ½ cup of these seeds (hulls included) provide a great source of polyphenols, protein, fiber, and heart healthy fats. These seeds can get pretty salty, so look for roasted and unsalted varieties at the store. They are great roasted and used as a topper for salads, with veggies and hummus, a bit of crunch when eating an apple and nut butter, or on top of oatmeal.
#2. Hemp hearts
These small seeds can be more easily found in the grocery store within the past decade. They are a great source of magnesium, heart healthy fats, and fiber. Add one tablespoon on top of yogurt and berries, mix it into burger patties, use it as a topper for roasted sweet potato, or sprinkled on top of a salad.
Avocados are good sources of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. While technically fruit, most of us use avocado as more of a compliment to dish. This fruit is full of fiber and the healthy fats that support your heart health and cholesterol levels. One of the most popular ways to enjoy avocado is on toast for a savory meal. Really, you cannot go wrong having some slices of avocado on just about anything!
#4. Chia seeds
These little seeds are packed full of fiber, protein, lower carbs, and heart healthy fats. They grow in size when placed in liquid and can help thick dishes. A favorite way to enjoy is by making chia seed pudding - mix one (1) tablespoon of chia seeds into ½ cup of nondairy milk (like oat or hemp milk), a drop of vanilla extract, and a pinch of cinnamon. Stir, cover, and place in the fridge for a few hours at least. Top with some berries, nuts, or a tablespoon of granola and enjoy!
These little fish are probably more commonly eaten in other countries than here in the United States, but they are a great source of calcium, protein, no carbs, and omega-3 fats. Sardines are more commonly found canned in the grocery store and can be a great way to boost your protein intake with a meal or snack. Just a note, they can be higher in sodium since they are canned so, if you are watching your blood pressure, be mindful of quantity or reduce the sodium of the other foods in your meal.
Bonus - Salmon!
Salmon is an excellent source of protein and omega-3 fats. A good goal is to aim for having some fatty fish (fatty in the best sense, means it is a fish that is naturally a good source of heart healthy fats) one to two times per week with a meal or snack. If the fresh or frozen options for salmon look too pricy, you could try canned salmon (with bones to boost your calcium) as a salad or toast topper.