If you have a sweet tooth like I do, you’ll want to find treats that you can enjoy regularly that won’t raise your blood cholesterol or blood pressure. Sure, you can treat yourself to birthday cake or a special dessert once in a while, but it’s smart to have a plan for the craving for something sweet.
Enter, sweets and treats that love you back. (check out this Instagram live)
Heart Healthy Treats for Two
If you love someone, treat them to foods that have potassium, antioxidants and other disease-fighting phytochemicals in them. Potassium helps keep your blood pressure in check. Even though vitamin C may seem like a common anti-oxidant vitamin, it really is important to our overall heart health and immune system. It helps keep our blood vessels, cartilage, muscle, and collagen (in bones) healthy. It helps your wounds heal and also helps your body absorb iron. These treat suggestions also contain flavonoids, which are compounds that have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. They may help reduce heart disease and cancer risk. Try incorporating some of these foods into your meal planning:
You can’t go wrong with berries. These sweet little gems are naturally cholesterol free and low in calories. They are a good source of potassium and vitamin C.
Strawberries, raspberries and blueberries all have important nutrients to help keep us healthy. Berries add some fiber to your diet too. In fact, just a cup of raspberries provides 7 grams of fiber. They get their beautiful color from anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are a flavonoid with antioxidant properties linked to reducing heart disease. Several studies have shown a connection between this compound found in blue-red foods and a reduction in coronary artery disease (heart disease).
You can add berries to your baked goods, smoothies, oatmeal or yogurt. Or simply enjoy them from a bowl. Or, make a rustic galette with fresh mixed berries. Be sure to keep fresh berries dry, and in the refrigerator. Don’t wash them until you are ready to eat them.
While berries can be more pricey during certain times of the year, you will find frozen berries to be more affordable and available all year long.
Chocolate dates back to about 2000BC. Lots of folks are self-described “chocoholics.” But if you’re looking for health benefits, it’s the percentage of cocoa that’s important. Flavanols found in cocoa is what brings along the health properties. Flavanols help blood vessels relax. This helps lower blood pressure and may even help us think more clearly.
For heart health, you want to enjoy the dark stuff. A high quality dark chocolate contains 50-90% cocoa solids, cocoa butter, and sugar, whereas milk chocolate contains anywhere from 10-50% cocoa solids, cocoa butter, milk in some form, and sugar. For heart and brain health, look for 70-85% cocoa in a dark chocolate bar. The higher the cocoa however, the more bitter the chocolate. So if it’s too bitter for you but you still want those heart-healthy benefits, try melting it to pour over fruit or adding dark chocolate shavings to your morning coffee. Keep in mind, dark chocolate is still high in calories (about 15o per ounce).
Another option to eating dark chocolate, is enjoying a nice cup of homemade hot cocoa. Cocoa powder is 100% cocoa, so it’s super rich in healthy flavanols. By making it yourself, you can cut back on the sugar found in processed hot cocoa mixes. Plus you’ll get the benefit of blood-pressure lowering, potassium-rich milk. Simple mix 2 tablespoons of cocoa with 2 teaspoons of sugar. Add it to a 10-ounce of mug of hot, low-fat milk and stir. You can also add a teaspoon of cocoa to your coffee.
Like dark chocolate and berries, cherries are rich in antioxidants (like the berries, they get their color from anthocyanins). They’re great source of vitamin C, and offer some potassium and magnesium as well – nutrients that help support our immune system (and, what we eat can help support healthy skin too). Cherries are also rich in polyphenols, which may help with heart disease, arthritis and gout due to their anti-inflammatory properties.
When fresh cherries aren’t in season, you can use frozen cherries instead. They are already pitted and always ready to use. I use them in smoothies, baking, or to make a delicious cherry sauce to pour over pork or beef. You can even make a frozen dessert with them. Add 1 1/2 cups of frozen cherries, 3 tablespoons plain greek yogurt and 1/4 cup low fat milk to your high speed blender and pulse until smooth. Enjoy it as a smoothie bowl, or make a “nice cream” by spreading into a parchment-lined loaf pan and freeze.
All nuts are a great source of healthy unsaturated fat. They contain fiber and protein, plus magnesium and vitamin E. They also contain anti-inflammatory properties and may help lower blood cholesterol. Almonds, pistachios, peanuts (technically a legume), cashews, pecans or walnuts – they’re all good for you. Walnuts contain high levels of ALA omega-3 fats and they may help support gut health as well.
Nuts are so easy to incorporate into your diet. One serving is not big – just a small handful (or about 1/4 cup) – but they’re a nutrition powerhouse. You can eat them as a snack, top salads with them, add them to stir-fries, add them to baked goods, or use pulverized nuts to coat fish or chicken. How about a mini cheesecake cup with berries and and oat-walnut crust?
Enjoy any of these foods, anytime, every week, and you will be doing your heart, and your body, a favor. Enjoy!