For many of you, February means one thing: Valentine’s Day (or for the more pragmatic of you, American Heart Month). Whether or not you choose to recognize either is up to you, but the focus here is hearts, specifically the health of your heart. And to help you achieve the healthiest heart possible, nutrition expert Chris Mohr has put together this helpful list of foods to pile high on your plate to keep the ‘ol ticker strong.
1. Cinnamon - A powerful spice, just half a teaspoon of cinnamon per day has been shown to lower LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) and triglycerides and also blood sugar in those with diabetes. It is a powerful antioxidant, so sprinkle some on oatmeal, in smoothies, on cottage cheese or yogurt.
2. Swiss chard - This green, leafy nutrient powerhouse is loaded with good stuff: vitamins A, K and folate, among others. Sauté some with garlic and a bit of olive oil, with a pinch of kosher salt, black and red pepper.
3. Sardines - These tiny fish are super high in omega-3 fats and are almost free of mercury and other contaminants. Sardines are also a great source of calcium and vitamin D. They’re sold year round in the can, so pick some up today and add them to salads, mix them in pasta sauce or use them in place of tuna fish or canned salmon.
4. Red cabbage - This cruciferous vegetable is loaded with antioxidant polyphenols, particularly anthocyanins, which give red cabbage its color and may be responsible for protecting the brain from Alzheimer’s disease. It also has up to eight times the vitamin C of green cabbage. Add shredded cabbage to wraps, salads or find a mayo free recipe for coleslaw.
5. Quinoa - This ancient grain boasts one of the highest protein contents of any grain. It’s high in fiber and higher in many other minerals than most grains. It’s great as a breakfast cereal, mixed with some dried fruit and nuts or use it as a substitute for rice in recipes.
6. Broccoli - This cruciferous vegetable is particularly high in a nutrient called sulforaphane, which has cancer-fighting properties. Mix broccoli into omelets, on salads, in stir fry or pasta sauce.
7. Black beans - Outside of fruits and veggies, beans are one of the top carbs in my book. They are loaded with fiber and protein, which will both help keep you full. A study in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry even showed they have the highest level of certain antioxidants among other beans, comparable to that of cranberries and grapes. Add them to salads, wraps or soup.
8. Garlic - This stuff is not just powerful for your breath, but it is a powerful antioxidant. It’s also been found to have antibacterial properties, it boosts immunity and may lower cholesterol. Slice, chop or mince it at least 10 minutes before using, to get the most benefit. Add to soups, sauces, eggs or with sautéed veggies.
9. Almonds - Scientific evidence suggests (but does not prove) that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, such as almonds, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease. Almonds have also been shown to improve heart health by maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.
10. Wild blueberries - These tiny little nutrient powerhouses should be a regular part of the diet. One study (done with rats but still promising!) found that eating one cup of blueberries per day improved mental function. The compound that gives blueberries their dark color, anthocyanin, seems to be one of the major factors in their health benefits. You can get them year round, so pick up a bag of frozen berries and add them to smoothies, yogurt or cottage cheese.
The next time you're at the grocery store, make sure your cart is carrying at least one of the above health-promoting foods to ensure your heart is healthy for many more Valentine’s Days to come.
Dr. Christopher Mohr, PhD, RD, is a consulting Sports Nutritionist for the Cincinnati Bengals and is the Sports Nutritionist for Under Armour’s TNP Training Council. He also consults for organizations such as the Discovery Health Channel, The Dairy Council, Clif Bar and Nordic Naturals. He is on the Advisory Board for Men’s Fitness Magazine and has written over 500 articles for consumer publications from Men’s Fitness, Weight Watchers to Men’s Health and Fitness. Dr. Mohr has Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in Nutrition and a PhD in Exercise Physiology. He recently teamed up with top Todd Durkin to create a 21 day fat loss program, aptly titled 21 Day Fat Loss Jumpstart (www.21dayfatlossjumpstart.com).