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Your heart works hard to allow you to do the things that you love day in and day out. So protecting it and keeping it healthy should be a top priority, even when it’s snack time.
Fortunately, following a diet high in heart-healthy nutrients is not only easy but it can drastically reduce heart disease risk and promote optimal cardiovascular functioning. We spoke to a few Texas Health dietitians to get their favorite heart-healthy snack ideas.
While this may not be the first thing you’re craving when feeling peckish, sardines are packed with healthy fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, especially if they’re stored in olive oil. Sardines also happen to be one of the richest sources of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats you can eat.
Omega-3 fatty acids are unsaturated or “healthy fats” that your body can only get from the consumption of food or supplements.
What makes omega-3s so important is that they help protect the cells in your body. They provide a starting point for making hormones that regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and inflammation, which explains why they can be so beneficial for heart, vascular and neurological health.
“I personally think sardines with some crackers or a plain rice cake are a great non-perishable snack to take with you on a hike,” says Denice Taylor, a registered dietitian nutritionist on the staff at Texas Health Arlington. “Tins of fish are popular, portable and many do not need a can opener making them travel-friendly.”
Dried Tart Cherries and Walnut Mix
Filled with fiber, monounsaturated fats, omega-3s, and nutrients that support heart health, nuts and seeds are a foolproof addition to your diet.
Research shows that nuts can help balance cholesterol and blood pressure levels, reduce heart disease, and keep arteries clear.
Additionally, tart cherries are packed with polyphenol antioxidants that can help reduce inflammation, prevent cellular damage, and protect your heart.
Taylor suggests throwing together equal parts of each, then storing the mix in smaller portioned containers for an easy grab-and-go snack.
While small, the chickpea packs quite a health punch. Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are loaded with plant protein fiber, and plant sterols, notes Courtney Wilson, a registered dietitian and diabetes care and education specialist with Texas Health.
Give chickpeas a whir in your blender or food processor with tahini and olive oil and you get hummus. Hummus is a good source of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which in moderate amounts can help lower your risk for heart disease and improve cholesterol.
“I like scooping up hummus with some cut-up vegetables,” Wilson adds. “Some of my favorites are cucumber or bell pepper.”
If you’re craving a crunchy, savory snack, roasted chickpeas can help satisfy your craving, says Kelly King, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist on the medical staff at Texas Health Plano.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and rinse one can of no-salt-added chickpeas. Drain them on paper towels and pat dry before spreading them out on a large, nonstick or foil-lined pan. Spray the chickpeas with olive-oil cooking spray and sprinkle with a low- or no-sodium seasoning blend, such as Mrs. Dash. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until crunchy.
“Roasted seasoned chickpeas are low in sodium, saturated fat and cholesterol,” King says. “They provide some nice variety, especially if you’re tired of turning to roasted or raw nuts to have some crunch. You can change up the seasoning to match whatever mood you’re in and they’re great additions to salads, as well.”
Avocado Whole-Grain Toast with Seeds
Avocado toast on whole-grain bread can be an easy and heart-healthy meal or snack.
“Whole grains are a rich source of fiber which supports healthy digestion and weight management, and can lower both blood pressure and cholesterol,” says Kaylee Jacks, a sports dietitian at Texas Health Sports Medicine. “Avocados and chia seeds also have fiber and are an excellent source of healthy fats. Avocado and chia seeds have omega-3 fatty acids which lower triglycerides.”
Toast a slice of whole-grain bread and smash half an avocado in a separate bowl. Add a dash of lemon juice to the avocado mixture and spread the avocado on the toast. Then top with a teaspoon of chia seeds!
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