Medically reviewed by Shahzadi Devje, Registered Dietitian (RD) & Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)
Heart-healthy eating doesn't mean skimping on the foods you love. Protect your ticker while enjoying these heart healthy recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.
We all know heart disease is a major concern in North America and throughout the world. In many Western countries, heart disease and heart attack rates are at an all-time high. But what we don’t often realize is that heart health starts with our diet.
The foods we eat can either help or hurt our heart health. And because heart diseases like atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries) and coronary artery disease (clogging of arteries) cannot always be cured by medication, it is important to understand how diet affects your risk for these conditions.
In this guide, we will answer some of your questions about what it means to eat well for heart health, and share some delicious heart healthy recipes, that you and your family can enjoy.
Heart disease is a complex condition that has a variety of risk factors. Some of these risk factors you can’t change - like your age, gender, and ethnicity.
The good news is that around 80% of premature heart disease can be prevented, by following a healthy and balanced lifestyle. This means you have the power to lower your risk; by eating well, exercising, limiting (or avoiding) alcohol, quitting smoking, and learning how to manage stress.
What foods will clog your arteries?
The answer to this question has been a source of heated debate in recent years. Almost everyone in the scientific and healthcare communities believes that industrially produced trans fats should be eliminated from our diets.
Trans fats are present in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, which are used in ultra-processed foods, like:
- Packaged baked goods - cakes, muffins, donuts, cookies made with shortening and vegetable margarine
- Fried fast foods
- Processed peanut butter
- Non-dairy coffee creamers
- Potato chips
The big fat controversy is around our understanding of how saturated fats affect the risk of heart disease. Saturated fats are found in animal foods, such as red and processed meat, higher fat poultry, higher fat dairy, and animal fats like butter, ghee, lard, and cream. Saturated fats are also found in plant sources that are solid at room temperatures, such as coconut oil and palm oil.
From the best available evidence, what we know is that saturated fats lead to an increase in “LDL” or lousy cholesterol. In other words, high “LDL” levels can increase the risk of heart disease. However, a few recent studies suggest that there was no association between eating saturated fats and heart disease.
Let's dig deeper, and discuss some reasons for this.
There isn’t sufficient research - to make a conclusive judgment. Not to mention, these studies are not of the highest quality. Some also believe that LDL alone may not be the best way to measure risk for heart disease, and we need to learn more about the exact biological mechanisms of how blockages in the arteries form. This idea is not supported by others.
Let's not forget, not all fats that fall under the umbrella of saturated fat are created equal. Butter and coconut oil, for example, have distinct chemical structures and may be metabolized differently in the body (though both have been shown to increase LDL levels).
The confusion around saturated fats doesn’t mean that “butter is back” or that coconut oil should be used as your main source of fat. In reality, research suggests that consuming unsaturated fats from plant sources (such as olive oil, avocados, and nut and seed oils) rather than saturated fats lowers your risk of heart disease. Despite the controversy, though, the advice to cut back on saturated fat in your diet still stands.
The key with fats like butter, lard, ghee, cream, and coconut oil is to eat them mindfully and enjoy them in moderation rather than using them as your ‘go-to’ source of fat. For example, you can use olive oil as your main source of fat when cooking and mix in a little coconut oil to achieve the desired flavour profile for a recipe.
What is the healthiest diet for the heart?
When it comes to heart healthy eating, we would encourage you to shift your thinking from individual nutrients; like saturated fats or cholesterol - to an overall dietary pattern instead. Research looking at the relationship between dietary patterns and heart disease consistently shows that predominantly plant-based diets lower your risk of heart disease.
What about real population groups?
The Blue Zones are regions in the world, where populations live longer, healthier lives - compared to other areas of the world. These regions include Ikaria in Greece, Loma Linda in California, Sardinia in Italy, Okinawa in Japan and Nicoya in Costa Rica.
When it comes to their dietary patterns, there is one thing all these Blue Zones have in common: they all follow predominantly plant-based diets and eat animal foods like meat and high-fat dairy in moderation. For example, Ikaria and Sardina in the Blue Zones follow a Mediterranean style pattern of eating.
Let's delve deeper into the Mediterranean Diet.
The Mediterranean Diet
It’s one of the most well-researched diets in the area of heart health. The benefits of the Mediterranean diet were discovered when a group of researchers, in the 1950s, conducted the “Seven Countries Study,” to explore the relationship between heart disease, diet, and lifestyle.
The researchers discovered that the people of Crete, Greece, had less heart disease than those in other countries. The residents of this tiny Greek Island followed a Mediterranean-style diet.
What do you eat on the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is primarily a plant-based diet that countries in the Mediterranean Sea (such as Greece, Italy, and Spain) follow (it's also known as the "Mediterranean Diet," or "Anti-Inflammatory Diet"). It consists of heart healthy recipes that are high in:
- fruits and vegetables
- nuts and seeds
- legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils, split pleas)
- olive oil
Red meat, dairy products, and high-fat poultry are all eaten in moderation.
You don't have to eat like a Greek to reap the benefits of this Mediterranean diet. In fact, it's a pattern can be easily applied to many different cultures.
It’s one of the most well-researched diets in the area of heart health. The benefits of this pattern of eating were discovered when a group of researchers, in the 1950s, completed the “Seven Countries Study,” to explore the relationship between heart disease, diet, and lifestyle. The researchers found the population that lived on the island of Crete, in Greece, had less heart disease - than other countries that they looked at. What was unique about the residents of this small Greek Island was that they followed a Mediterranean-style eating pattern.
What do you eat on the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean Diet is primarily a plant-based diet that countries around the Mediterranean Sea (Greece, Italy and Spain) follow. It is a diet that’s rich in:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils, split pleas)
- Olive oil
- Fish, 2-3 times per week
- Higher fat poultry, dairy and red meat in moderation
You don’t have to eat like a Greek to reap the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. In fact, it’s a pattern that can be adapted to many different cultures.
What is a good heart-healthy meal?
A heart-healthy meal is one that is rich in a variety of whole plant foods and includes higher fat animal foods in moderation. The plate method is an excellent way to plan a heart-healthy meal that will give you a good balance of all the foods that promote heart health.
To follow the plate model, choose:
¼ plate whole grains:
- whole grain bread
- whole grain pasta
- brown rice
- pearl sago
- Broken wheat
¼ plate protein-rich foods:
- Fatty fish like salmon, trout, tuna, sardines, and mackerel
- Plant-based proteins including legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas, peas), edamame, tofu and tempeh
- Skinless chicken
- Red meat can also be part of a heart-healthy diet when enjoyed in moderation. Choose leaner cuts of meat more often.
½ plate vegetables and fruits:
Enjoy a variety of:
- fresh veggies
- or frozen fruits and vegetables at every meal
Complete your heart healthy recipes with health-promoting fats from foods like:
- olive oil
You asked: What are 10 healthy foods for your heart?
It's difficult to choose just 10 because we're all unique in our preferences. However, here are some that we consider being family favourites - that most people would enjoy.
- leafy greens
When it comes to heart health, the most important thing is to focus on your overall dietary pattern. An eating plan that is rich in a variety of whole plant foods - including higher-fat animal foods in moderation - is best for promoting heart health.
The plate method can be a great way to make sure you're getting all the heart-healthy foods you need in every meal. So, go ahead and enjoy some delicious heart-healthy meals.
Here's a list of tasty heart-healthy recipes to get you started. There are meals that the whole family will enjoy.
Heart Healthy Recipes
Chocolate Chia Pudding
Egg Bhurji (Indian Scrambled Eggs)
Healthy Green Smoothie With Chia and Peach
How To Make Chia Pudding With Strawberry Nice Cream
Pineapple and Mango Smoothie
Masala Vegan Tofu Scramble Recipe
Lunch & Dinner
Vegetarian Quinoa Pilau Recipe
Desi Pumpkin Bean Burger
Mediterranean Style Crispy Tofu
Tandoori Cauliflower Tacos
Salmon and Quinoa Mason Jar Salad
Easy Tuna Cakes
Lunch in a Jar: Mediterranean Quinoa Chickpea Salad
Easy Lemon Pepper Salmon
Tomato Asparagus Frittata
Quick Kala Chana Chaat (Black Chickpea Salad)
Filo Cups with Apple Cranberry Salsa
Healthy Watermelon Strawberry Popsicles
Spicy Herb Avocado Dip
I’d love to hear from you? What are your thought on saturated fats and heart health? What is your biggest struggle when it comes to healthy eating for the heart? Which heart healthy recipes are you excited to try? Comment below!
Tandoori Cauliflower Tacos
- ½ cup cashews plain, unsalted, unroasted
- 2 tbsp coconut oil cold pressed, virgin, melted
- 2 tbsp lemon juice fresh
- 1 green chili washed, whole
- 3 tsp curry powder
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 3 tbsp water
- 1 cauliflower medium head, washed and cut into bite sized chunks
- Preheat oven to 380°F/193°C with oven rack near the top
- In a small food processor, add all the ingredients, except cauliflower
- Place the cauliflower florets on a large oven tray, lined with parchment paper. Pour the marinate on top of the florets.
- Mix well, to ensure all the cauliflower pieces are coated
- Bake (top rack) for 15 minutes. Then broil for 3 minutes, turn the cauliflower florets and broil for 2 minutes, until charred.
- Garnish with generous amounts of lemon juice and serve immediately in tacos. Add your favorite fillings. See suggestions in blog.
- Remember to preheat your oven to 380 degrees F (193 degrees C)
- Trim the florets of the cauliflower into bite-sized pieces
- Make sure the cauliflower florets are similar in size - to ensure even cooking. I like to keep them medium so they're mouth-friendly
- Wear gloves when rubbing the curry powder mixture onto the florets. The color of the spices will transfer onto your nails and hands
- Place the oven rack near the top-middle to speed up the cooking, and to give the florets that beautiful charred colour. Keep a close eye to prevent burning.
- You don't want to cook for too long, otherwise, the florets will be mushy. I like to keep them a bit on the crunchy side
- Enjoy whilst hot and don't forget to warm those tacos before assembling
- Cauliflower tacos can be kept in the fridge for up to 3 days
- Be sure to serve this cauliflower filling in your tacos right away. It's best when fresh, rather than storing it for later.
- Dress the cauliflower taco filling with lemon juice to make this vegan cauliflower recipe even more delicious
Please note the nutritional analysis values are estimates and suggestions. This nutrition facts table does not know your life - your body, including your hunger and satiety cues, change daily. It's okay to eat more or less. Say no to food guilt and instead embrace mindful eating.
By Niloufar Deilami RD & Shahzadi Devje RD CDE MSc
Shahzadi is an award-winning registered dietitian (RD) regulated by the College of Dietitians of Ontario and certified diabetes educator (CDE), approved by the Canadian Diabetes Educator Certification Board. A YouTuber and notorious foodie, she's dedicated to helping you end your cooking wars, transform your health, and be the best version of yourself! Shahzadi is an on-air nutrition expert for CTV Your Morning and a regular contributor for Global News and other national media outlets.