There are a lot of things that people can do to take good care of their heart health, like exercise, eat a Mediterranean-style diet, avoid smoking, and manage your stress levels. But I have good news for you: You can protect your heart and avoid hanger (a daily struggle!) at the same time with heart-healthy snacks.
“Foods that are good for heart health include fiber-rich foods, like produce and legumes, and sources of healthy fats, like salmon, avocado, nuts and seeds,” says Charlotte Martin, RDN, CPT. While you might think those are only dinnertime foods, there are lots of opportunities to eat heart-healthy foods throughout the day—if you build it right.
“A good heart-healthy snack should be well-balanced, be low in sugar and salt, and contain fiber. As a good rule of thumb, whole foods-based items will have less sodium and sugar and more fiber than packaged goods, too,” says Maggie Michalczyk, RD.
Fiber’s role in supporting heart health stems from its ability to help lower blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Plus, fiber-rich foods, like produce, are often rich of other heart-healthy nutrients, like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, adds Martin. She specifically aims for a snack that has at least a few grams of fiber, five to 10 grams of protein, and no more than five grams of added sugar for optimal heart health.
“The good news is that these foods are easy and delicious to eat in a variety of ways and are easy to snack on,” Michalczyk adds, so it’s totally easy to keep them in your fridge and use during snack time meal prep in the week.
Looking for some easy, heart-healthy snacks to get you started? These are the ones the Martin and Michalczyk love:
“Blueberries are a great heart-healthy snack that are easy to take on the go and add to just about anything you are eating or eat by themselves,” says Michcalczyk.
The summer berry has lots of benefits: they are rich in fiber (one cup has four grams), and they also contain antioxidants and other compounds that have been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease. “They also contain vitamin C,” Michcalczyk says, to boost immunity and keep you fuller longer.
Plus, they are super versatile; you can add them to yogurts, smoothies, trail mix, oatmeal, and more. Combine them with protein, more fiber, and some healthy fat to make a well-rounded snack.
Walnuts are one of the healthiest nuts for a reason. “Walnuts help maintain healthy cholesterol levels and decrease blood pressure, two of the leading factors for heart disease,” says Michalczyk. They also contain anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, which help decrease the risk of atherosclerosis, she adds, and can improve cognitive function and enhance satiety throughout the day.
“Top your yogurt or chia pudding with them, put them in a trail mix, or simply eat a handful of walnuts for a heart-healthy snack,” Michalczyk suggests.
3. Roasted chickpeas
We predicted that chickpeas would be the new cauliflower in 2020. They’re cheap, delicious…and you guessed it, great for heart health. “The fiber, potassium, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and selenium in chickpeas all support heart health,” says Martin.
“Fiber helps decrease the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol levels in the blood,” Martin explains, and adds that their magnesium and potassium are also beneficial for optimal heart health and function. Chickpeas also contain a plant compound called sitosterol, which interferes with the body’s absorption of cholesterol and may further contribute to the cardio-protective benefits of chickpeas, she adds.
Heart health is just one of many reasons to eat chickpeas:
Honestly, what can’t oats do? “Oats contain a special type of fiber called beta-glucan that helps to reduce LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol levels that can help reduce the risk for heart disease,” Michalczyk says. They’re great for your heart, as long as they don’t come with a ton of added sugars or toppings. “Think overnight oats, a packet of plain oatmeal, a smoothie blended with oats, or a healthy muffin made with oats as a great heart-healthy snack,” she says.
5. Sliced apple and almond butter
Slice up an apple and spread some nut butter, like almond or peanut, on top for a balanced snack. “Apples are rich in soluble fiber—the type of fiber mostly responsible for lowering cholesterol levels,” says Martin. “Almond butter is also a good source of fiber, plus it’s rich in heart-healthy, monounsaturated fat.” says Martin. Win, win.
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