Olives are a staple of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet, and one of the best ways to incorporate them into the foods that you already eat is to make a tapenade. (Think: wraps, pasta dishes, pizzas, etc.) "Olives are antioxidant-rich, helping to lower bad cholesterol and the risk of heart disease," says Jim Froehlich, MD, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan provider and University of Michigan cardiologist. "They also contain healthy monounsaturated fats, which reduce atherosclerosis and increase good cholesterol levels."
Half-pound of Kalamata and green olives, pitted
1 anchovy fillet, rinsed
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons of capers
3 fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
- Rinse olives in cool water.
- Place all ingredients in food processor and process to combine thoroughly, until it becomes a coarse paste.
- Transfer to bowl and serve with your favorite vegetables and toast points.
Grilled salmon with maple-mustard marinade
mashe/Shutterstock Part of a heart-healthy meal plan, this quick-and-easy marinade can be made ahead of time. "The flavorful marinade complements fresh tuna or salmon and provides just the right touch of sweetness, without packing on the calories, sugar, and sodium that people normally find in a store-bought marinade like teriyaki or barbecue sauce, plus, it's also low in carbohydrates," says Dr. Froehlich. "Our biggest dietary concern in the U.S. is excessive calorie intake because our diet is unnecessarily rich in carbohydrates," he says. When combined with the heart-healthy fats found in fish, this marinade provides healthy oils and is rich with nutrients. "Olive oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids and part of a Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to decrease the risk for heart disease," says Dr. Froehlich. Vinegar and garlic are rich in antioxidants, which fight free radicals in the body. "Free radicals build up over time and can contribute to heart disease and cancer, among other ailments."
3 tablespoons of olive oil
2 teaspoons of minced garlic
2 tablespoons of vinegar (Dr. Froehlich recommends balsamic)
1/3 cup natural maple syrup
1/4 cup spicy brown or Dijon mustard
4 8-oz. salmon steaks
Mix all ingredients together. Pour the marinade over the salmon and refrigerate at least one hour or overnight, then grill or bake. Makes enough for two pounds of fish.
Tuna-avocado salad with dried cherries
Eating heart-healthy fats like those found in avocados can help lower LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) and raise HDL cholesterol (the good kind), says Dr. Froehlich. The Montmorency tart cherries are good for heart health because they are packed with antioxidants that help fight inflammation and may help lower body fat and cholesterol, which are both associated with an increased risk of heart disease. "Albacore tuna is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and protein, which keeps you feeling fuller longer."
1/2 avocado, diced
4 ounces of albacore tuna
1 heaping tablespoon of dried Montmorency tart cherries
1 tablespoon sunflower seeds
Pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
Mix all ingredients in a small bowl until combined.
Read on to learn about which anti-oxidant rich fruits should you be eating.
A great option for those who don't have a lot of time in the morning to prepare breakfast, overnight oats offer many heart-healthy benefits. This version is from Andrew Freeman, MD, cardiologist at National Jewish Health. "Besides the antioxidants from the berries and the omega-3 fatty acids from ground flaxseed, oatmeal is loaded with fiber which can bind cholesterol in the diet, promote bowel regularity—it's also quite satiating," he says. "The soy milk adds a nice protein boost, and many of the spices and add-ins are loaded with antioxidants."
1/2 cup of oats
1 teaspoon Ground flaxseed
Small handful of almonds or walnuts
Small handful of dried blueberries
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup soy or almond milk
1 tablespoon almond milk yogurt
1. Layer the oats, flaxseed, nuts, dried blueberries, and cinnamon in a mason jar and top with the soy or almond milk (organic or unsweetened).
2. Let it sit in the fridge overnight.
3. In the morning, top with a tablespoon of almond-milk based yogurt. Add a drizzle of maple syrup or chopped dates for sweetness.
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Whole wheat spaghetti with marinara and turkey meatballs
Anna Shepulova/Shutterstock This recipe is an ideal staple for a heart-healthy meal plan because it packs in the flavor and has more fiber and vegetables and less saturated fat and sodium than the original comfort food classic. "The main premise for eating heart healthy is to eat real food, rather than food that is processed," says Nieca Goldberg, MD, a cardiologist at NYU Langone Health and spokesperson for the American Heart Association. Turkey meatballs are lower in fat than traditional meatballs, especially if you use white meat turkey, she explains, but because you are using low-fat turkey, you want to give the meatballs some volume. "I like to add whole wheat bread crumbs or half a cup of multigrain cereal." You can give the marinara sauce an added heart-healthy boost by adding more vegetables, such as parsley, chopped celery, or carrots for sweetness, she says. This allows you to reap the proven benefits of the DASH Diet, which includes lowering blood pressure and bad cholesterol.
1 pound of extra-lean or fat-free ground turkey breast
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup multigrain cereal (smashed) or whole wheat bread crumbs
1 pound of whole wheat spaghetti
57-ounce can of no-salt-added, low-sodium tomatoes
14-ounce can of low-sodium carrots
14.4-ounce package of frozen stir-fry peppers and onions
1 medium zucchini (chopped)
4 cloves fresh garlic (minced)
2 tablespoons of salt-free dried Italian spices
1. Mix the turkey, cereal, pepper, and fresh parsley and form into meatballs.
2. In a large pot over medium heat, mash the carrots and add the vegetables and spices, bring to a boil, and then cover and simmer.
3. Add the meatballs to the sauce and simmer for 20 minutes.
4. Make the spaghetti according to the directions, serve with the marinara and meatballs.
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Fried chicken is delicious but it is loaded with fat, says Dr. Goldberg. One of her favorite heart-healthy meals, oven fried chicken, uses skinless chicken soaked in non-fat buttermilk. "The recipe calls for whole wheat flour, but sometimes I use cornflake crumbs (they are fat and cholesterol free)," she says. Unlike traditional fried chicken, which requires you to fill the frying pan partially with oil, this recipe uses spritzes of cooking spray. "For flavor, we use herbs such as black pepper and paprika, which helps us avoid salt. I pair the chicken with oven roasted potatoes coated with garlic and parsley instead of French fries and cook them at a high temperature so they get brown."
1 whole skinless chicken, cut into 8 pieces
1 cup fat-free buttermilk
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
2 large potatoes cut into 1-inch strips
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
2. Spray a wire rack with cooking spray and place on baking sheet.
3. Whisk buttermilk and egg together in a shallow bowl.
4. Dip the chicken in the buttermilk mixture and then coat with flour, place on rack.
5. Lightly spray chicken with baking spray and bake 30 minutes, turn over and cook an additional 20 minutes.
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For a salad to be considered a meal, it has to have substance, says Dr. Goldberg. "You can make it more substantial by chopping up some chicken, mashing an avocado into the salad, or adding some chickpeas or low-fat cheese such as feta." For the dressing, she makes a quick vinaigrette, using just balsamic vinegar, olive oil, black pepper, and a teaspoon of mustard. "You don't need to add salt because mustard already has salt." For those looking cut calories, Dr. Goldberg suggests putting the salad dressing into the bowl first. "You cover the bottom of the bowl, then toss it up into the salad—you end up using less salad dressing that way."
1 head of green leaf lettuce
1 chopped cucumber
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
15-ounce can of no-salt-added chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup fat-free or low-fat feta, crumbled
Toss all ingredients in a large bowl, drizzle with dressing, and enjoy.
Sweet potato fries
bitt24/Shutterstock Sweet potatoes are a perfect side dish for heart-healthy meals. They are loaded with vitamin A (one potato has 400 percent of your daily requirement) and research shows that they have proven anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, and anti-inflammatory benefits. They are also high in fiber and potassium and contain fewer calories (about 110 in one sweet potato) than a traditional potato. "Sweet potatoes are lower glycemic than white potatoes, and because they are a root vegetable, they are lower in carbs," says Dr. Goldberg. One of her favorite recipes to make at home is sweet potato fries. "They smell great when they are cooking and they go well with turkey burgers," she says.
2 whole sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
Extra-virgin olive oil
Black pepper to taste
1. Place the sweet potato wedges on a prepared baking sheet.
2. Drizzle with olive oil and pepper.
3. Bake at 425 degrees until brown.
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Substituting zucchini noodles for traditional noodles are a good way to cut the carbs, says Dr. Goldberg. This recipe puts a heart-healthy twist on the traditional high-calorie and fat-laden pasta Alfredo by using a creamy, dairy-free avocado Alfredo sauce.
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
15-20 raw, medium shrimp
2-3 large zucchini, spiraled into zoodles
1 medium avocado (pitted, peeled, and cut)
1/4 cup fresh basil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 cloves of garlic
1. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat, add the shrimp and cook until pink. Remove the pan from the heat and place shrimp in a covered bowl to keep warm.
2. In the same skillet, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to coat the pan, add the zoodles.
3. Place the avocado, basil, lemon juice, and garlic in a food processor and blend until creamy.
4. Stir the sauce into the zoodles and cook for four minutes.
5. Stir in the shrimp and cook for one minute.
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Spaghetti squash spaghetti
Lilly Trott/ShutterstockSpaghetti squash is low in calories (just 42 calories in one cup compared to 200 calories in traditional pasta) and is a great alternative to include in heart-healthy meal plans. It is also low in carbs and is loaded with nutrients such as vitamins C and A, which help prevent free-radical damage, as well as potassium and calcium, which help to lower blood pressure. If you have the time to prepare it, spaghetti squash is a delicious heart healthy option, says Goldberg. The versatile squash also can be used as a serving bowl in creative recipes such as these turkey and kale stuffed spaghetti squash boats.
1 3-pound spaghetti squash
Vegetable marinara sauce
Pepper to taste
1. Cut the spaghetti squash in half, and place face down on a prepared baking sheet. Bake for one hour.
2. After the spaghetti squash has cooled, use a fork to scrape out the flesh of the squash to create noodles.
3. Place the noodles in a bowl, cover with marinara sauce and fresh basil.
Try one of these inventive healthy food swaps to improve your heart health.