By Renell Cronk, RDN, LD
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 610,000 people die from heart disease every year, making it the number one cause of death in America. While this can be a very terrifying thought, the good news is that many health professionals agree that healthy eating makes a tremendous difference. There are many foods that can support a healthy heart and cardiovascular system, especially foods red in color. So, show your heart some love this Valentine’s Day, and give these six red foods a try.
Beets — Beets are rich in vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants. One nutrient they are high in is nitrates, which you may have heard are harmful when consumed in processed meats. However, when naturally found in foods like beets, they can be very beneficial in various ways. Naturally occurring nitrates can support healthy cholesterol levels, a healthy inflammatory response and improve blood flow, all of which support your heart! You can consume beets in a variety of ways; by grating them over salads, drinking them as juice, or eating boiled or roasted beets. I even buy beets as a powder and just add it to my water! But don’t just stop at the beet, eat the greens too. Beet greens are even higher in antioxidants which help fight free radicals in our bodies.
Tart Cherries — Tart Cherries contain many powerful antioxidants; the one that gives them their red color, and provide unique health benefits to us, are called anthocyanins. Anthocyanins help to protect the heart muscle and blood vessels from oxidative damage and control inflammation, in turn supporting a healthy cardiovascular system. Tart cherries are also high in the melatonin that supports a healthy sleep cycle, which is very important for our overall health. You can get Tart cherries as a juice, frozen, canned, dried or in supplement form. I love adding the dried tart cherries to my nut mix to add a little sweetness.
Grass-Fed Beef — Recent studies show when compared to grain-fed beef, grass-fed beef is superior. Grass-fed beef has been shown to support heart health by having less overall fat and unhealthy fats, lower levels of cholesterol, higher levels of omega 3, more CLA and additional vitamin E. Additionally, grass-fed beef is better for our environment and the animal. You can find grass-fed beef in most grocery stores, either fresh or frozen. When cooking, keep in mind that it usually cooks about 30% faster than grain-fed beef.
Red Swiss Chard — Red Swiss Chard is chalked full of antioxidants, like polyphenols, carotenoids and flavonoids, that benefit the heart by supporting a healthy inflammation response. Red Swiss Chard contains many trace minerals and minerals that are important for healthy circulation, healthy blood vessels, healthy red blood formation, nerve signaling, heartbeat and blood pressure. You can find red swiss chard in the produce section of your grocery store, sometimes even in the frozen section. Red swiss chard is in season during late summer and fall. You can eat it like you do spinach; raw or lightly sautéed, it is great mixed in scrambled eggs.
Pomegranates — Pomegranates are loaded with fiber and Polyphenols, both of which support a healthy cardiovascular system. Fiber helps to support healthy cholesterol levels while polyphenols promote healthy blood pressure levels. You can find fresh pomegranate in most stores from October through February. During the rest of the year, you can get your pomegranate in juice or supplement form. I love putting a little splash in my water to add some flavor.
Salmon — Wild caught salmon is one of the foods most abundant in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids support healthy cholesterol levels, inflammation and triglyceride levels. However, this is not to be confused with its farm raised counter part that contains a fraction of the heart healthy Omega-3s. Do your heart a favor, always look for wild caught on the label. Salmon can be prepared in many ways, but my favorite is smoked.
Heart Healthy Recipes to Try
Oven Baked Beet Chips
- 12 Beets
- ½ cup olive oil
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees F and line several baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Scrub the beets well with a veggie brush and cut off the tops.
- Slice the beets paper-thin or use a mandolin slicer (1/16 inch).
- Place the beet slices in a large bowl and pour the oil and salt over the top. Toss well (If using red and golden beets, place in separate bowls and divide the oil and salt evenly.) Ready for the secret step? Let the beets sit in the oil and salt until they release their natural juices, about 15-20 minutes. This is what allows them to retain a better shape and color.
- Toss the beets again, then drain off the liquid. Lay the slices out in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 45-60 minutes until crisp, but not brown. Test after 45 minutes and only bake longer if necessary. Remove the beet chips from the oven and cool completely before storing in an air-tight container.
Tart Cherry Brussel Sprout Salad
- 24 oz Brussel sprouts, shredded
- 6-8 slices crisp turkey bacon, chopped
- 1 cup sliced red onion
- 2/3c cup dried tart cherries, unsweetened (or you could add pomegranate seeds instead!)
- 2/3 cup sliced almonds
- 4 oz. goat cheese, crumble
- 1 cup citrus vinaigrette homemade or store bought (see source for recipe)
- Shred Brussels sprouts using the shredding blade of a food processor or slice thinly with a knife.
- Place Brussels sprouts in a large bowl and combine with chopped bacon, red onion, cherries, almonds and optional goat cheese.
- Add vinaigrette immediately before serving and toss well to coat.
About the Author
Renell Cronk is a Registered Dietitian with PsyMed, Inc. She helps educate and prepare Nicholson Clinic patients before and after surgery with meal planning, recipe ideas, nutrition education and more. Nothing gives Renell a greater feeling of accomplishment and joy than helping individuals achieve their health, lifestyle and nutrition goals.