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A heart-healthy diet starts at the grocery store. It’s important to stock your kitchen and your pantry with healthy options.
When purchasing packaged foods, read the FDA Nutrition Facts label carefully, and avoid foods that are high in Saturated Fat, Trans Fat, or Sodium.
Start your trip in the produce section; plan your meals around fruits and vegetables!
Here are some specific foods that contribute to a heart-healthy diet:
Leafy green vegetables – spinach, kale, and collard greens are rich in vitamin K, which helps protect blood vessels. They also contain dietary nitrates, which have been shown to reduce blood pressure, and decrease arterial stiffness.
Walnuts – a good source of monounsaturated fats, which cut your “bad” LDL cholesterol and raise your “good” HDL cholesterol. Walnuts are also a good source of omega-3 fats.
Avocados – an excellent source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Avocados are also rich in potassium, a nutrient that’s essential to heart health. In fact, avocados have more potassium than bananas!
Tomatoes – loaded with lycopene, a natural plant pigment with powerful antioxidant properties. A review of 25 studies showed that foods rich in lycopene are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke.
Olive oil – a staple of the Mediterranean diet, olive oil is packed with antioxidants and monounsaturated fatty acids.
Garlic – a review of 39 studies and found that garlic can reduce total cholesterol by an average of 17 mg/dL and “bad” LDL cholesterol by 9 mg/dL.
Beans and legumes – chickpeas, garbanzo, pinto, kidney and black beans are high in soluable fiber, B-vitamins, and minerals. Soluable fiber can lower your “bad” LDL cholesterol. If you buy canned beans, look for low-sodium or no-salt-added varieties!
Salmon and other oily fish – rich in omega-3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least tow services of oily fish per week.
Berries – raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries are loaded with polyphenols — antioxidants that mop up damage-causing free radicals in your body. They also deliver fiber and vitamin C, which are both linked to a lower risk of stroke.
When buying packaged foods, look for the Heart-Check Mark, which indicates food that are certified as meeting the dietary guidelines established by the American Heart Association. The Mark identifies products that are a good source of nutrients, low in saturated fats and trans fats, and limited in sodium. Products containing partially hydrogenated oils are not eligible for certification.
(See our Heart Healthy product recommendations, below.)
Stuff to Watch Out For
There are a few unpleasant surprises in the grocery store:
- Bread and cheese are usually high in sodium, because salt is used to make them.
- It’s possible to find lower-sodium bread, though it takes some searching.
- Some types of cheese are lower in sodium. Look for fresh mozzarella and Swiss cheese (Emmentaller).
- Canned foods are almost always high in sodium; look for “low sodium” designations, and check the Nutrition Facts label.
- Sauces and condiments are usually high in sodium; check labels carefully.
Those “Low Sodium” Labels
Products labelled as Lower Sodium or Reduced Sodium can be very deceptive. It’s important to understand the FDA labeling rules:
Sodium Free / No Sodium / Salt Free / No Salt: the product contains 5mg or less of sodium per serving.
Very Low Sodium: the product contains 35 mg or less of sodium per serving.
Low Sodium: the product contains 140 mg or less of sodium per serving.
Lower Sodium / Reduced Sodium / Less Sodium: the product contains 25% less sodium than the manufacturers “standard” product. This is a meaningless label! Since the standard product is often extremely high in sodium, a 25% reduction is still high!
Light Sodium or Lightly Salted: the product contains 50% less sodium than the manufacturers “standard” product.
No Salt Added or Unsalted: no salt is added to the product during processing, but it may still containing naturally occurring sodium.
Always check the Nutrition Facts Label to know how much sodium you are really getting!
The list below contains some of our Recommended products and brands. Each stands out as being a heart-healthy option in its class… although some are best reserved as an occasional snack rather than a regular meal.
If you have favorite heart-healthy products, use our Recommendation Form to tell us about them!
- 4C Salt Free Bread Crumbs4C makes it easy to limit the sodium in your diet. 4C Salt Free Seasoned Crumbs are zesty and flavorful, but contain no saturated fat and no sodium. See more Recommended Heart-Healthy products! Where to Buy 4C bread crumbs are available at many supermarkets, and at Amazon.com.
- Coleman Natural Uncured Beef Hot DogsHot dogs are an integral part of the American diet, and one of the hardest things to give up. Sadly, they are also very high in saturated fat and sodium. Coleman Natural beef hot dogs have less than half the sodium of most other brands (260 mg) and 3.5 g of saturated fat. Their beef is raised… Continue reading Coleman Natural Uncured Beef Hot Dogs
- Dave’s Killer BreadBread is almost always high in sodium, and is often high in fats. The folks at Dave’s Killer Bread have created a line of bread and baked goods that are lower in sodium and fat, packed with healthy whole grains, and surprisingly tasty! In addition to half a dozen types of bread – including whole… Continue reading Dave’s Killer Bread
- Golden Home Ultra Thin Pizza CrustGolden Home ultra thin pizza crusts are a great start at building a heart-healthy pizza… perfect when paired with Silver Palate San Marzano Low Sodium Pizza Sauce! One-third of a crust has just 0.5 g of saturated fat, and 80 mg of sodium. Golden home also offers whole-wheat crusts. See more Recommended Heart-Healthy products! Where… Continue reading Golden Home Ultra Thin Pizza Crust
- Herb-Ox Sodium Free BouillonStock and bouillon are common ingredients in cooking, but they are usually very high in sodium. Herb-Ox makes sodium-free chicken and beef bouillon. Add a burst of flavor to gravies, marinades, soups, stews, rice dishes, pasta dishes and stir-fries Herb-Ox is a Hormel Foods company. See more Recommended Heart-Healthy products! Where to Buy Herb-Ox products… Continue reading Herb-Ox Sodium Free Bouillon
- King’s Hawaiian BreadShopping for heart-healthy foods – and especially low-sodium foods – is often frustrating. Selection is very limited, and some of the available products are frankly not very palatable. This is especially true of bread, which is almost always high in sodium, and is often high in fats. King’s Hawaiian Breads are a rare exception. They… Continue reading King’s Hawaiian Bread
- La Banderita Low Sodium TortillasIt’s not clear why, but low sodium tortillas are hard to find. Fortunately, La Banderita tortillas are widely available and tasty. Each tortilla has 1.5 g of saturated fat, and just 85 mg of sodium. See more Recommended Heart-Healthy products! Where to Buy La Banderita products are available at many supermarkets, and at Amazon.com.
- Mr. Spice SaucesFor people on low sodium diets, one of the hardest things to find is a good sauce – especially an Asian style sauce. Mr. Spice makes a range of sauces, including Honey BBQ, Ginger Stir-Fry, Garlic Steak, Honey Mustard, Indian Curry, Hot Wing, and more. All products are either sodium-free or low-sodium, gluten free, and… Continue reading Mr. Spice Sauces
- Mrs Dash Spices & MarinadesMrs Dash is a venerable brand… they’ve been around since 1983, and they are a great option for anyone trying to reduce their sodium. They produce a full line of salt-free products, including seasoning, spice mixtures and marinade. The brand seems to have a bit of a stodgy reputation, but they actually produce a wide… Continue reading Mrs Dash Spices & Marinades
- Orville Redenbacher’s PopcornPopcorn is a great snack – high in fiber and low in calories – except when it’s loaded with saturated fat and sodium! Most brands of popcorn load up these cheap flavor enhancers, and turn a healthy snack into a minefield for your heart. Fortunately, Orville Redenbacher makes two popcorns that preserved the health benefits… Continue reading Orville Redenbacher’s Popcorn
- Silver Palate Low Sodium Pasta SaucesFor some reason, companies seem to feel compelled to add salt – lots of salt – to pasta sauces! A typical supermarket sauce contains 18-20% of the Daily Value of sodium, in just a single serving. Surprisingly, Silver Palate – a brand best known for their passion for flavorful food – has produced not one,… Continue reading Silver Palate Low Sodium Pasta Sauces
- Tostitos Lightly Salted Corn ChipsSometimes you just have a craving for a snack, and Tostitos Lightly Salted corn chips are a good choice. A one-ounce serving has 1 g of Saturated Fat, and 55 mg of Sodium. These chip easily meet the FDA guideline for a Low Sodium designation (140 mg / serving)… we don’t know why that’s not… Continue reading Tostitos Lightly Salted Corn Chips