Four Indulgent Treats That Are Good for the Heart
We’ve been celebrating American Heart Month during February, and many of us are thinking about ways to take good care of our hearts. Maybe we vow to get more exercise, lower our stress and control our blood pressure. Most likely, we are examining our eating habits and looking at ways we can switch to a healthier diet. That might mean giving up some of our “guilty favorites” as we create our meal plan for the week.
But what about snacks? Even if we take care to plan nutritious meals, when a snack attack sends us to the kitchen, we are less likely to consider how healthy that treat might be. Many snack foods are notoriously low in nutrients, but full of ingredients that are bad for our hearts, such as salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats. However, cardiologists give a thumbs up to some of our favorites.
Here are four heart-healthy foods that might surprise you. Enjoy!
1. Guacamole. Many people avoid this Mexican favorite because it is high in calories and fat. However, the fats found in avocados are of the healthy type. The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology reported that the oils in avocados lower cholesterol and certain fats that may lead to stroke or heart attack. Study author Dr. Christian Cortes-Rojo said that avocado oil could be referred to as “the olive oil of the Americas.” Make your guacamole with fresh avocadoes, don’t add salt, and pair your dip with baked whole-grain tortilla chips and chopped tomatoes.
2. Popcorn. Many people are expressing how much they miss going to movie theaters these days—and they often mention how much they crave the popcorn! However, they really shouldn’t be missing the mind-boggling calorie count to be found in movie theater popcorn. Fortunately, popcorn we make at home can be a healthy treat if we prepare it correctly. Popped with hot air instead of oil, and without the addition of butter, salt, or sugary caramel, popcorn is a nutritious treat rich in heart-healthy antioxidants. University of Scranton chemistry professor Joe Vinson, Ph.D., said, “Popcorn may be the perfect snack food. It’s the only snack that is 100 percent unprocessed whole grain.”
3. Chocolate. Great news for chocoholics! According to Northwestern University’s Dr. Stephen Devries, “Chocolate is rich in flavonoids, the same compound that gives plants their vibrant color and reduces cellular damage.” He explains that these flavonoids reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and the formation of harmful deposits in the arteries. As you might guess, moderation is the key to this benefit. Says Devries, “There’s nothing wrong with the occasional sweet treat, but eating too much chocolate may cause weight gain, which in turn raises blood pressure.” Which chocolates should you choose? Devries says, “Look for dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 60 percent or more. Remember, the darker the chocolate, the more antioxidants it contains.”
4. Coffee. Many people believe that drinking coffee is bad for the heart. But the American Heart Association offered good news for those who love their morning java. Harvard Medical School researcher Dr. Murray Mittleman said, “We found that moderate consumption—which we define as the equivalent of about two typical American coffee shop beverages—may actually protect against heart failure by as much as 11 percent.” A number of other studies confirm the heart-healthy properties of coffee. However, some of the things we do to our coffee aren’t so beneficial. Skip the cream and sugar—and no, a whipped-cream-topped fancy coffee drink doesn’t do us any favors. Some studies from 2020 also suggest that using paper filters is the healthiest way to prepare that cup of joe. And don’t drink too much, or too late—excess caffeine can disturb our sleep, and that’s not good for our hearts.
The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Talk to your doctor or nutritionist about food choices that are right for you.