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Healthy food choices are an important part of a heart healthy lifestyle but sometimes the choices and information can be overwhelming. So we asked some of our very own UW Health cardiologists, Dr. Heather Bartlett, Dr. Lee Eckhardt, Dr. Heather Johnson and Dr. James Stein, to take us into their kitchens to show us what foods they eat, avoid and keep handy for snacks. Here are some of their top picks to help you stock a more heart-healthy pantry and kitchen.
What they love
Here are some of the top picks you will find in our cardiologists’ kitchens and pantries:
Dr. Johnson says, “Spinach is such a versatile green vegetable that is rich in nutrients.” It’s what makes this super food, which is also low in calories, a great choice among our doctors. Dr. Bartlett uses spinach in soups, salads and sautéed alone or with other vegetables. Dr. Johnson also says it’s a great option to incorporate into an egg white omelet or a home-made pizza with whole wheat crust.
Salmon topped Dr. Stein’s list. He says, “It’s a low-calorie but nutritionally dense food that is easy to prepare.” Salmon is high in protein, omega-3 polyunsaturated fats, and other vitamins. “Consumption of two portions a week can reduce your risk of heart attacks and strokes,” says Dr. Stein.
Quinoa is a grain that is complete protein source and contains fiber that can help lower high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. This is a top pick for Dr. Eckhardt and her family. She says, “I like quinoa because it is an excellent protein source for vegans and is basically a blank slate that can hold or complement most any flavor. My family likes curried quinoa with roasted pecans and currants.”
Oatmeal and steel cut oats are top picks among our doctors. Just one and half cups of cooked oatmeal give you the amount of fiber you need to help lower your cholesterol. Add cinnamon, walnuts or cooked apples or top with blueberries for added flavor and nutrients.
Black beans (Canned and dried)
The fiber and nutrients contained in black beans help promote heart health and can help lower blood pressure. Though black beans are naturally low in sodium, you need to be careful when selecting canned varieties. Look for a low sodium content and drain and rinse to further reduce your sodium intake. Dr. Eckhardt prefers dried black beans to canned. “Dried black beans have more body, which means they aren’t as mushy,” says Eckhardt, “and they are also cheaper than canned and much lower in sodium.”
What they avoid
Highly processed deli meats and processed foods in general made the top of the list for our doctors. Foods they avoid include:
High-sodium deli meats/Processed meats
Dr Stein says, “The high sodium content in deli meats can increase blood pressure and risk for stroke.” He says, “I also avoid processed meats because the additives in them can lead to by-products that damage arteries and increase your cardiovascular risk and risk of cancer.” Dr. Johnson agrees and recommends using grilled chicken breasts in sandwiches or snacks instead.
White bread/White rice
You won’t find refined grains like white bread or white rice in our doctors’ pantries. They stick to whole grains. Whole grains provide a good source of dietary fiber, and can help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. Fiber and other nutrients are removed from refined grains during processing. Though products with refined grains may be enriched with vitamins, they do not contain added fiber. Swapping your refined grains for heart-healthy whole grains like brown rice, multigrain hot cereal and whole grain bread is a great step to building a healthier pantry.
Highly processed foods and junk foods
It’s no surprise that our cardiologists avoid junk food. Highly processed foods and junk food contain trans fats, or partially hydrogenated oils, that raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, and lower your HDL (good) cholesterol levels, resulting in an increased risk for heart disease. Not to mention, junk food is filled with empty calories, from unhealthy fats and added sugars but with little nutritional value. This doesn’t appeal to our doctors, who know the benefits of choosing nutrient-dense foods and snacks.
According to the American Heart Association, eating fried foods on a weekly or more frequent basis can increase your risk of heart disease including your risk of Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. Like other highly processed foods, fried foods contain trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils. Our doctors suggest replacing your fries with cut vegetables such as carrots and celery sticks or apple slices and looking for alternative ways to prepare your favorite fried foods.
How they snack
These cardiologists are smart about snacking and keeping easy, heart-healthy options on hand. Their top go-to snacks include:
Unsalted nuts such as almonds and walnuts are a top pick among our providers. They provide a good source of protein and polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats when eaten in moderation. Dr. Stein makes a homemade trail mix that includes unsalted nuts, chocolate morsels, raisins and whole grain cereal.
Clementines and apples
These busy doctors appreciate the value of a quick and portable snack. Dr. Johnson says, “Like nuts, apples are portable, filling and healthy. They are a quick on-the-go snack and provide a great boost of energy, especially in the afternoon.”
Clementines are a favorite at Dr. Bartlett’s house. She says, “My family likes clementines and I like the fact that they last for a long while so I don't have to hit the store frequently. They are even good after being carried around in my backpack for 3 days!” She says, “I can take a bag to a volleyball tournament and the whole team loves them between games.”
Hummus with carrots and snap peas
Hummus, a popular dip made of chickpeas, is high in protein, which can help control hunger and blood sugar levels. It’s easy to make at home and is also sold in individual serving sizes, which makes it portable and convenient too. Dr. Bartlett serves hers with carrots and snap peas, but you can switch up your vegetables for a variety of tastes.