5 Heart-Healthy Foods to Add to Your Shopping List

In my January webinar I shared 9 foods to eat more in 2019 and today I’m taking things one step further by sharing five more foods that you should add your shopping list in February (because it is heart month after all).

I don’t use these lists as an opportunity to recommend obscure, expensive and hard-to-find items. Instead I feature tried and true, budget-friendly basics that can be found at almost any grocery store because this is where you can have the most impact; with the stuff that you throw in your cart week to week and the habits that you build over time.

Here is my list of five foods to eat more this month (and every month) for the benefit of your heart and your tastebuds along with recipes for incorporating each of them!

5 Heart-Healthy Foods to Add to Your Shopping List

Potatoes

Did you know that potatoes are seriously high in potassium? Like more than double what you’ll find in a banana (bananas get all of the potassium love). Potassium is an important mineral for heart health as it can decrease blood pressure in those with hypertension. Studies also suggest that higher potassium intake is associated with a lower risk of stroke!

It’s time to stop banning white potatoes from your diet because you “heard they were bad”. While they do have a relatively high glycemic index, pairing them with protein and fats will slow down the digestion and absorption process.

Related | The Plate Method: How to Choose & Create Healthy Meals that Satisfy

If that weren’t convincing enough, potatoes are also high in both fiber (which has well-established heart health benefits) and vitamin C.

Tips for Cooking with white potatoes

5 Heart-Healthy Foods to Add to Your Shopping List

Fatty Fish

Fish is such a nutritional rockstar and the fatty varieties like salmon, tuna and trout have even more heart health benefits because of the bonus of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.

There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These are all considered “essential” because the body doesn’t produce them. ALA is the plant source (think flax seed, chia, walnuts, soy) while DHA and EPA are found in fish and seafood. The body can convert ALA to DHA and EPA but not efficiently, which is why there is so much discussion around the importance of consuming fish (or an appropriate supplement, if necessary).

Interestingly, the research shows that fish seems to have some sort of total nutrient package that has positive outcomes on heart health that omega-3 supplements can’t replicate.

Tips for cooking with fatty fish:

Canned Fish

Blueberries

Berries in general show benefit on heart health but blueberries are the standouts because of their anthocyanin content, which is a type of flavonoid that has anti-inflammatory effects and protects against oxidative stress.

I also love how versatile blueberries are! Besides eating straight up when they’re in season, I always keep a bag of the frozen blueberries on hand for adding to smoothies and oatmeal bowls.

Tips for including more blueberries:

Pumpkin Seeds (pepitas)

Almonds usually get all of the love in this category and while there is plenty of research to support their heart health benefits, why not mix things up and try out pumpkin seeds?

Eating a variety of seeds throughout the week provides a healthy dose of protein, mono- and polyunsaturated fats, fiber and several important minerals like calcium and potassium. Pumpkin seeds are the highest in magnesium, which is a mineral that gets a lot of attention in CVD (cardiovascular disease) research for its role in blood sugar regulation and maintaining the heart’s electrical rhythm.

Tips for including more pepitas in your diet:

Dark Chocolate and Heart Health

Dark Chocolate

Clearly I saved the best for last! I couldn’t find any hard and fast rules for labeling but dark chocolate typically refers to chocolate that is at least 65% cocoa. This article was also helpful in differentiating between various types of chocolate including white, milk, bittersweet, semisweet and dark!

In regards to the benefits, there’s evidence that suggests that moderate amounts of dark chocolate (i.e. more isn’t better) leads to improved vascular function, reduced blood pressure, and improved insulin sensitivity. This is all related to the flavonoid content of the cocoa beans! An appropriate amount is about an ounce or so. If you like something sweet after meals, why not try a square of dark chocolate so you can reap some nutritional benefits too?

Tips for including dark chocolate:

I would love to hear which of these foods (if any) will be new additions to your shopping list and how you plan to use them — leave me a comment!


Sources:

  1. Effect of increased potassium intake on cardiovascular risk factors and disease: systematic review and meta-analyses. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4816263/

  2. Anthocyanins in cardiovascular disease. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3042791/

  3. Consumption of plant seeds and cardiovascular health: epidemiological and clinical trial evidence. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3745769/

  4. Magnesium helps the heart keep it’s mettle. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/magnesium-helps-the-heart-keep-its-mettle

  5. Daily consumption of chocolate rich in flavonoids decreases cellular genotoxicity and improves biochemical parameters of lipid and glucose metabolism. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6225491/


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Raspberry Lemon Chia Seed Jam

This raspberry lemon chia seed jam is bright and tart, and it makes for an awesome fruity topping on yogurt, oatmeal, or toast. The best part is that you can make it in just 30 minutes!

Raspberry Lemon Chia Seed Jam

Can we talk about the wonder that is chia seed jam for a minute? With four simple ingredients you can whip up a simple jam that’s heavy on the fruit, low on the added sugar and a beautiful vibrant color.

Raspberry Lemon Chia Seed Jam

Now, if you’re totally weirded out by chia seeds, this is the post where I convince you that they’re actually cool and functional, in a nerdy food science kind-of way. And yes, it’s the same seed that was responsible for the chia pet trend of the 90s (come to find out, you can still buy them 😂).

Besides being used to grow sprouts, the seeds are actually really versatile in the kitchen. Read on to find out how to use them, what the nutritional benefits are and of course to get the recipe for the raspberry lemon jam.

How to Use Chia Seeds

I love keeping chia on hand for tossing in random things for an added nutritional boost. I add them to overnight oats for creamier texture or oatmeal balls for cohesiveness. Another popular use is chia seed pudding, although I’m personally not as big a fan of that. Mix with water for an egg replacer in baked goods for the vegan folks (or in a pinch if you run out).

Raspberry Lemon Chia Seed Jam

The Nutritional Benefits of Chia Seeds

One of the biggest reasons why chia seeds surged in popularity is because they’re a plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids. While fatty fish provides the most efficient form of omega 3s, I always advocate for consuming a variety of food sources of each nutrient when possible and I also realize that not everyone consumes fish.

Even better, there are plenty of other great qualities in chia. Here are the nutrition facts at-a-glance (per 1/4 cup):

  • 180 calories

  • 11 g fat

  • 16 g carbohydrate

  • 14 g dietary fiber

  • 6 g protein

  • 230 mg calcium (15% DV)

  • 2.8 mg iron (15% DV)

Why Would You Add Chia Seeds to Jam?

When added to liquid, chia seeds expand and become gelatinous. This basically creates a thickening quality which is exactly what you want when making jam/preserves so it’s easier to spread.

This jam recipe is simple and can be switched up based on whatever fruit you have on hand and the sweetener you prefer. Here are a few other flavor combinations that could work:

  • Strawberry Mint

  • Blueberry Lemon

  • Cherry Vanilla Almond

  • Blackberry Orange Ginger

Raspberry Lemon Chia Seed Jam

Have other flavor combination ideas? Leave me a comment! And be sure to let me know if you give this a try by posting your photos on Instagram and tagging me @LeanneRayRDN.


Raspberry Lemon Chia Seed Jam

Author: Leanne Ray, MS, RDN
Yield: 16 oz | Prep time: 5 min | Cook time: 10 min | Total time: 30 min (including time to cool)

ingredients

  • 12 oz bag frozen raspberries

  • 1 lemon (zest & juice)

  • 2 Tbsp cane sugar

  • 2 Tbsp chia seeds

instructions

  1. Add all ingredients except chia seeds to a medium saucepan. Bring to a low boil stirring occasionally to prevent sticking and burning.

  2. Lower heat to a simmer and stir in the chia seeds. Partially cover and continue to simmer for 5-7 minutes until berries are broken down and slightly thickened.

  3. Remove from heat and let stand until cooled to room temperature. Transfer to a jar and store in the refrigerator for up to one week.

recipe inspired by Two Peas and Their Pod.


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You Don't Have to "Earn" Your Favorite Foods with Exercise

You Don’t Have to Earn Your Favorite Foods with Exercise

Even though I’m a dietitian and food is my favorite topic, it would be nearly impossible to avoid talking about exercise with my coaching clients. Almost everyone who comes to me is interested in health improvement in some form, and I approach each situation using a “whole person approach”, which means I appreciate how important things like stress level, sleep hygiene, movement and social connection factor into the equation.

One thing I notice repeatedly is that most people (at least my experience) tend to view exercise as:

  1. Solely a weight management tool

  2. A way to “earn” food, specifically indulgent food and alcohol

This is such a disservice to all of its amazing benefits! I do a lot work around why this tends to be an ineffective strategy for reaching goals, so today I thought it would be helpful to dive into this further.

Why Your Exercise Mindset Matters

Have you ever been in a group fitness class where the instructor keeps yelling out things like, “you gotta earn that wine later” or “work hard now so you can enjoy that Halloween candy”.

This is one of my biggest peeves. I get it, these instructors don’t mean any harm and are simply trying to be motivating. But this just isn’t how things work. Our energy needs vary from day to day and there is room for the fun stuff, within reason. Plus, elevating treats on a pedestal makes them way more alluring and scandalous than they need to be (how exciting that you “earned” a peanut butter cup, right?).

In short, you don’t need to exercise to earn your food, and here’s why this mindset can be problematic.

  • It becomes tempting to restrict on your sedentary days. We all have days that are lower in movement than others. Whether we’re not feeling well, are on vacation, or are stuck inside because of a snowstorm. Rest days are also an important part of muscle recovery and actually help us perform better overall. Regardless, we still need a substantial amount of food to fuel our organs and body systems properly, especially if we’ve been working out hard in the days previous.

  • You’ll start to associate workouts with indulgent food and/or alcohol which can lead to overeating, often followed by that vicious cycle of overeat/restrict. Using exercise as a tool to overeat and drink doesn’t teach you how to become a competent eater, it reinforces the idea that “calories in = calories out so we’re good", but there’s more to it. For example, I could skip meals all day and then just drink a bunch of wine to fit within my energy needs but that wouldn’t be doing any favors for my health.

  • It creates a negative association with exercise. If you view exercise/movement as something you have to do to compensate for a fun meal out with friends the night before, you probably won’t find it very enjoyable and remember, enjoyable movement usually results in consistent movement.

Practical Tips for Shifting Your Mindset

If you have a love/hate relationship with exercise, what can you do to make it more positive?

Try a bunch of different things until you find something you actually enjoy. There are so many different options these days, surely there is something for everyone. If motivation hinders you, make it social and connect with friends. If getting out of the house is a barrier for you, find something you can do at home. If time is an issue, try starting with just 15 minutes. Depending on what your current routine looks like, making exercise less structured might be a good thing too.

Next make a list of all of the reasons why you enjoy said workout. Here are some reasons why I love my favorite class:

  • It gives me a chance to take time for myself

  • It wakes me up and gets me laser-focused first thing in the morning

  • It’s gives me confidence that I can do challenging things and push through uncomfortable moments to achieve something great

  • I leave feeling strong and powerful

  • I leave feeling energized and ready to conquer the day

  • I love the sense of community at the studio

Lastly, be more cognizant of the language you use around movement. We had a great discussion about this topic on Healthy Buzz in episode 9 that you might find helpful. If you start talking about exercise/movement in a positive way instead of “omg I need to work off all of that pizza and beer” way, I would imagine you’ll notice a difference in how consistent you are fairly quickly.

Interested in working 1:1 to work on your relationship with food and exercise? Schedule a free 15-minute intro call to see what that might look like for you.