nutrition

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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I'll Be Eating More, Not Less in 2019

A long time ago I made the choice to shift my focus on what I should include more of in my diet instead of what to limit. Interested in joining me?

Leanne Ray Nutrition 2019 New Years Resolution

When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, are you someone who dreams up big ticket goals only to see them slowly fade in the distance soon after? Most of us can certainly relate. I consider myself a serial goal setter and it wasn’t until recently that I really learned how to be effective with the whole process. Not following through with New Year’s goals and resolutions doesn’t mean you’re a failure either. Somewhere in the ball park of just 9% of people fully follow through with resolutions set at the beginning of the year. And by the way, it’s probably not you, it’s the goals.

Eating healthier is always near the top of the list when it comes to the most popular resolutions but the internet creates confusion around what exactly that means. We all know that at least one new food or food group will be proclaimed “toxic” this year and there will surely be a documentary to scare you into thinking you should abide by some newly coined rules, at the risk of facing some nasty consequences. (p.s. documentaries are not usually a reliable medium for health advice).

In recent memory alone I’ve read about the dangers of fat, carbohydrates, sugar, gluten, grains, meat, nightshade vegetables, milk, beans, soy, peanuts, eggs, bananas, fruit in general, sparkling water, tap water, bottled water, deli meat, fish, butter, vegetable oil, and coconut oil among many others. At least one of your favorite foods will be on the “no” list at some point. Please don’t take my coffee - anything but coffee! Just kidding.

The good news is, this really doesn’t have to be all that complicated. Sure, it can be hard not to get swept up into the world of wellness extremes because no one wants to miss out on what could be the next big thing, especially in the social media-driven world we live in.

What if there was an alternative to restriction that felt positive, un-complicated and sustainable?

Instead of putting energy into what not to eat, I much prefer the goal of eating more. And by this, I mean:

  1. More new foods so you get a variety of nutrients, flavors & textures; and

  2. More creative preparation methods so you can learn to make health-promoting food taste amazing while learning to easily incorporate said food into your normal routine.

In my experience, simple mindset shifts can have a huge payoff when it comes to health improvement! And better yet, this is a totally reasonable goal. Most of my clients don’t need to make any radical dietary changes or to stop eating gluten, they need to learn how to objectively evaluate food and make informed decisions about what best meets a need based on the situation.

It’s important to remember that food is not the enemy, it’s essential for fueling the lifestyle you want. If any of this rings true for you, it might seem unattainable now, but it is possible and the benefits are worth the effort.

How Do I Even Start this Process?

The first thing you can do is consider making some minor shifts in the language you use around food. For example:

  • Instead of “this is high in calories”, try “this will satisfy me for a while”

  • Instead of “this dessert is so unhealthy”, try “this is really rich & indulgent”

  • Instead of “fruit is high in sugar”, try “the carbohydrates in fruit give me energy”

This is a powerful step in learning to make appropriate choices whether they’re based on nutrition, pleasure, social connection, or some combination of the three.

For the sake of mental health, using a “more, not less” approach can even be (dare I say) fun. Challenging yourself to include more variety (rather than arbitrarily eliminating something) can be liberating and free up a lot of space to focus on other things, like learning a new hobby or embracing forms of movement that you actually enjoy.

Remember that health is not determined by one food, meal or even day of eating. It’s the patterns that we create over long periods of time that truly make an impact. If you can find a way to blend science-based nutrition information with a healthy mindset around food, I would consider that a win.


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3 Tips for Avoiding a Halloween Candy Binge

Halloween is coming friends! With that comes the joy of costumes, spooky decorations and more candy than anyone really needs.

Candy can be a tricky thing (see what I did there?). On one hand, Halloween is only one day out of the year so why all the fuss? Some might argue that it’s silly to put a limit on candy and celebrating in schools because “let kids be kids”.

On the other hand, we are all familiar with how early grocery stores start rolling out the candy, and how long it can linger around the house. So is it really just one day?

As with most controversial issues, I find myself somewhere in middle. I encourage my clients to take candy off of the pedestal where it often resides. I also understand the power of creating a supportive environment, and I realize that as humans we often make decisions out of convenience. Today I wanted to share a few manageable strategies for avoiding a candy binge using one of my favorite models - the ABC assessment tool!

Halloween Blog.png

Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence

When I was still working in an office, I clearly remember the break room conversation that started around this time of year and continued all the way through the new year. It was basically equal parts contemplation, restriction and guilt.

I find that most people:

  1. Don’t think they should be eating candy

  2. Have a hard time completely abstaining from it

  3. End up overdoing it, then

  4. Feel totally bad about themselves for doing so.

The Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence (or ABC) assessment tool is just one way to observe problematic behaviors and then get to the root cause.

ABCs of behavior observation
  • Antecedent: the events, action, or circumstances that occur before a behavior

  • Behavior: the behavior

  • Consequences: the action or response that follows the behavior

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Knowing this, if the goal is to change the outcome (or consequence), the first step is to modify the antecedent! Use this simple model to think about a current behavior that you want to change. Then think about what circumstances could be shifted around to make the behavior easier.

Here are three different ways you can change an antecedent using the candy example so you head into Halloween feeling prepared and empowered!

Buy only what you need

The giant bags of candy are perfectly arranged and waiting for you at the store and if you have a sweet tooth, it can be tempting to buy more than you need to make sure you get some too. However by doing this, you might be setting yourself up to make a difficult decision every.single.time you walk by the candy bowl.

As an alternative, buy only how much you think you’ll need, and and then come up with a plan for what to do with the leftovers. Here are some ideas:

  • Donate it to a local dentist office or charity

  • Freeze it for later use

  • Bake something that you can bring to a game night/football watch party/any other social event and distribute the wealth!

Focus on regular meals & snacks

If you know you’ll start seeing more candy in the days leading up to Halloween, be extra diligent about eating regular, balanced meals and snacks to keep yourself nourished and energized, sans the sugar.

The benefits are two-fold: this prevents you from getting overly hungry and can also help prevent the inevitable sugar crash that comes from eating sweets on an empty stomach.

Along with timing, make it a point to include high fiber (fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains), high protein eats for your main meals and snacks on these days. Wondering what this might look like? Here’s an example:

Breakfast - Whole grain toast + scrambled eggs + avocado

Snack - Yogurt with berries

Lunch - Fall Salad in a Jar (I’m obsessed with this salad!)

Snack - Apple + peanut butter (might include a piece of candy or two here)

Dinner - Parmesan crusted salmon with brown rice and asparagus

balanced breakfast of eggs, muffin and peach

Come up with a game plan

Lastly, if you really love and look forward to a certain type of candy, come up with a game plan for how you can enjoy it in moderation. If you vow to completely restrict, there’s a good chance you’ll think about it even more and let me tell you, you have better things to think about!

Here are some ideas for how to strategically include your favorites:

  • you might commit to eat a full meal before having any candy

  • you might decide to pair the candy with some fruit

  • you might plan to sit down and enjoy any candy you do eat, free of distractions

Hold yourself accountable by writing down your game plan and hanging it somewhere visible as a reminder. If you need some assistance, I’d be happy to help!

What are your thoughts on Halloween? I would love to hear them in the comments 👇👇


If you struggle with situations like this on a regular basis, you might be a great candidate for 1:1 nutrition coaching and support! Schedule your free 15-minute intro call to learn more.