Put your hand over your heart and take a personal pledge to feed your ticker the kind of taste-good, feel-great foods that will keep it pumping efficiently for the long haul. Nowadays, heart-healthy eating doesn’t just focus on what to avoid (namely, those artery-clogging saturated fats and dastardly trans fats); science shows that it’s equally important to dish up foods brimming with powerfully protective antioxidants and nutrients. That includes standbys like good-fat fish, olive oil, and avocados, along with fiber- and vitamin-filled stars like flaxseed, bulgur, and berries. These six recipes make filling your plate with a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins delectably satisfying.
Serves 4 / Fatty fish like tuna, salmon, and trout are rich sources of omega-3 fats, which may help ease inflammation as well as lower levels of blood fats called triglycerides. Tuna and lima beans also deliver a punch of blood pressure-lowering potassium. Ingredient tip: If you prefer, edamame makes a nice substitute for lima beans, but is higher in fat. Serving tip: Garnish with sliced avocado. View recipe.
Studies suggest that drinking wine can boost levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, reduce the likelihood of artery-clogging blood clots, and reduce inflammation. Now researchers are adding a new twist to the wine-as-protector story: omega-3 fats. No, wine isn’t rich in the good fats found in fish like salmon and tuna; but wine does help raise omega-3 levels in the blood. In a yearlong study across Italy, Belgium, and England, scientists noticed much higher blood levels of omega-3s among moderate wine drinkers. Beer drinkers, or those who quaffed other types of alcohol, saw no hike in the heart-protecting fats. Despite this good news, wine drinking is more about pleasure and flavor than any medicinal magic, says Harvard nutrition expert Walter Willett, PhD. More adept strategies for protecting the heart include exercise, not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, reducing stress, and eating a healthy diet, he says.
Serves 8 / Significant fiber and plenty of antioxidants make whole grains like wheat berries (barley, bulgur), as well as beans, lentils, and split peas, key players in the arsenal of heart-healthy foods. Ingredient tip: Porcini or shiitake mushrooms give this a nice, almost meaty flavor. For any kind of mushrooms, halve them if large. Serving tip: Easy to make ahead. As leftover soup sits in fridge the wheat berries will absorb some of the liquid, but that’s easily remedied by adding more water. View recipe.
Serves 4 / Lean proteins, including skinless chicken, are low in artery-clogging saturated fat. Paired with whole grains for antioxidants and fiber, pine nuts for monounsaturated fats, and beta-carotene-packed mangoes, and you have a nutrient-rich lunch or supper. Ingredient tip: Look for black rice, also called forbidden or Chinese black rice, in well-stocked bulk sections, or packaged. View recipe.
Serves 12 / Some commercial bakery treats nix unhealthy trans fats but then go overboard with other fats or sugars. This less sweet but moist and delectable quick bread boosts nutrition by swapping canola oil for butter, using less sugar than typical, and adding flavor-boosting, heart-smart ingredients: flaxseed, walnuts, bananas, and oats. Ingredient tip: Store any leftover ground flax in the refrigerator and stir into oatmeal, smoothies, or a bowl of cereal. View recipe.
Serves 4 / Beans, whole grains, and garlic excel at lowering blood cholesterol levels, and tomatoes boast heart-healthy antioxidants. Prep tip: This open-face sandwich works best with a sturdy peasant or country-style loaf that stands up to the hearty bean topping. Serving tip: Serve with a side of soup or salad. View recipe.
Serves 4 / Nuts and nut butters are rich in good monounsaturated fats, and vegetables in the dish contribute antioxidants and fiber. Using whole-grain noodles adds a heart-healthy dose of fiber. Ingredient tip: Look for chile-garlic sauce in the Asian section of your market. View recipe.