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A heart-healthy grocery list

Eating a heart-healthy diet can prolong your life and lower your risk of heart disease.  Unfortunately, it can be difficult to make good choices when you are tempted by so many options at the grocery store.

Lena Beal, M.S., RD, LD, a therapeutic dietitian at Piedmont’s Fuqua Heart Center, shares her tips for creating a heart-healthy grocery shopping list. 

1. Fruits and vegetables. “Eat fruits and vegetables as close to their natural state as possible,” Beal says. “To reduce the risk of heart disease, you want to get the benefit of the vitamins and minerals, and more importantly all of the antioxidants and polyphenols that are found in fruits and vegetables.”

Choose fresh, colorful fruits like bananas, berries, apples and grapes. Dried fruits, with no added sugar, also make a great snack.

Look for whole or pre-cut vegetables, like yellow, green and red bell peppers. And be sure to add dark green vegetables, like broccoli, kale and spinach, to your list. 

“When it comes to starchy vegetables, err on the side of sweet potatoes and roasted red potatoes instead of white potatoes,” Beal says.

2. Nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds are excellent for your heart health.

“This is where you'll find those great omega-3s, which are heart healthy,” Beal says.

Choose unsalted almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, or sesame seeds. Try to limit cashews and macadamia nuts, which are higher in saturated fat.

3. Fats and cooking oils. “When choosing cooking oils, look for plant seed oil like olive oil, canola oil and grape seed oil,” Beal says. “They are heart protective and have the least amount of saturated fats.”

If you use margarine, look for brands that have been fortified with olive oil or canola oil. And always make sure that it is trans-fat free. For those who think butter is better, limit the amount you use and go for the unsalted variety when possible. 

4. Fiber. There is a lot of good soluble fiber in the pulps, skin and seeds of fruits and vegetables, and you can also get soluble fiber from beans.

Try reduced-sodium canned black beans, red beans, kidney beans or navy beans. Lentils and split peas are also a great source of fiber. And hummus, which can be made with most beans, is an excellent snack.

5. Whole grains. Whole grains are essential for good health. They are a good source of dietary fiber and may improve cholesterol levels and lower the risk of heart disease.

“If you are looking for breads, rice, cereals or pasta, make sure the first ingredient on the package says ‘whole grain,’” Beal says. “You can also get grains from flax seeds, quinoa, couscous oatmeal or barley.”

6. Meat. “Make sure you get the leanest cuts of meat,” Beal says. “Loin equals lean, so look for tenderloin or sirloin. And when you are preparing your meat, the rule is to bake, boil or grill.” 

7. Sauces and sweeteners. It is important to limit added fat, salt and sugar in your diet. Sauces like pasta sauce or soy sauce, sweeteners like agave nectar and sugar, and salad dressings have all of those added ingredients, so it’s best to choose reduced-fat, reduced-salt or low-sugar varieties. Inspect ingredient lablels before you buy and choose products with as few ingredients as possible. 

“Eating too much fat and salt and maintaining an unhealthy weight are the biggest factors in increasing your risk for heart disease,” Beal says. “Anything that can help you keep those things in line is going to lower your cardiovascular disease risk.”

For more nutrition tips, click here.

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