Heart-healthy snacks

From almond butter to orange juice, consider these heart-healthy snacks.

If you want to munch on snacks that are good for your heart, you’ve got plenty of tasty options, says Amy Gorin, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Stamford, Connecticut.

“There are many ways to include heart-healthy foods in what we eat, including snacks,” Gorin says. “In general, plant-based eating, which can include healthy snacks, provides additional fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.”

In 2021, the journal Cardiovascular Research published a review of meta-analyses of studies looking at dietary strategies for atherosclerosis prevention. Atherosclerosis is a narrowing and hardening of the arteries caused by the build-up of cholesterol plaque. The condition is associated with cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks. Researchers wrote that “for the healthy adult population, low consumption of salt and foods of animal origin and increased intake of plant-based foods — whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts — are linked with reduced atherosclerosis risk.”

Emphasize whole-plant foods.

Snacking can be good for your heart if you munch on natural foods. “When it comes to loving your heart, minimally processed foods are best,” says Dr. George E. Guthrie, a board-certified family medicine physician at AdventHealth. Guthrie, who’s based in Winter Park, Florida, is the author of the 2019 book “Eat Plants Feel Whole: Harness the Healing Power of Plants and Transform Your Health.”

Diets low in saturated/animal fat and ultra-processed foods and high in fiber from fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains are typical of an anti-inflammatory diet pattern. The findings of research published in 2019 in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences support the “pivotal role of inflammation in the development and progression of both cardiac and vascular diseases.”

Most plant foods have high levels of potassium, magnesium and fiber, which are each important for heart health for different reasons. Potassium is a mineral that plays an important role in maintaining a regular heartbeat and keeping the heart muscle stable. Magnesium works with calcium to ensure a healthy heartbeat; calcium stimulates the heart muscle tissue’s muscle fibers, causing them to shorten and contract. Magnesium blocks calcium so that muscle fibers can relax, creating a stable heartbeat.

Fiber helps rid your body of LDL cholesterol, the so-called “bad” cholesterol that gathers in the walls of your blood vessels, which can lead to a heart attack. Another advantage of whole plant foods is that they’re usually filling, so you won’t need to fill up on large quantities of less heart-healthy foods, such as animal proteins or less nutrient-dense snack foods.

Here are nine heart-healthy snacks:

Almond butter

The nut spread not only tastes good, it’s versatile as a snack. Spread almond butter on celery sticks or over toast, or mix it into Greek-style yogurt to create a tasty dip, for example.

“Almond butter also makes an awesome addition to berry smoothies,” Gorin says.

Almond butter contains monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which research suggests are good for your heart. Too much saturated fat can harm your heart health by increasing “bad” cholesterol in the body, which leads to blockages of heart arteries that can eventually lead or contribute to a heart attack. Sources of saturated fat include animal-based foods, such as beef, pork and poultry, eggs, full-dairy products and tropical oils, like coconut oil.

Monounsaturated fats, on the other hand, can help lower your risk of heart disease by reducing harmful cholesterol levels in your blood. Canola oil, olive oil, avocados, peanut oil and safflower oil are good sources of monounsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats also help reduce the level of bad cholesterol in your body and therefore protect your heart health. Walnuts, seeds (including flax, chia, sunflower and hemp seeds), fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, soybeans and tofu are good sources of polyunsaturated fats.

A meta-analysis published in 2020 in the Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews concluded that “reducing saturated fat intake for at least two years causes a potentially important reduction in combined cardiovascular events. Replacing the energy from saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat or carbohydrate appear to be useful strategies, while effects of replacement with monounsaturated fat are unclear.”

Apples

There’s a reason for the saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Apples are highly nutritious and full of antioxidants that benefit heart and vascular health, Guthrie says. The vascular system is also called the circulatory system. It comprises the vessels that carry blood to various parts of the body, including to the heart. A healthy vascular system is crucial to heart health.

For example, apples contain quercetin, an antioxidant that research suggests can help fight inflammation. In turn, studies suggest inflammation may be a risk factor for heart problems.

Apples are also quite versatile. You can eat a whole apple as a snack, cut an apple into slices and top them with peanut butter or chop them for use in salads.

Apples contain a healthy amount of soluble fiber, which is not absorbed in the GI tract and can bind to cholesterol and remove it from the body. Dietary cholesterol comes from animal sources of food, such as beef, eggs, shellfish and pork, says Lisa Jones, a registered dietitian based in Philadelphia. Such foods also contain saturated fats, which can increase your risk of heart disease. Keeping cholesterol levels in check helps protect your cardiovascular health.

Avocados

Avocados not only make your taste buds happy, they’re also good for your heart. In addition to being tasty, avocados have plenty of monounsaturated fat, which can help lower your LDL cholesterol, commonly known as “bad cholesterol” because it gathers in the walls of your blood vessels, narrowing the arteries.

A major study published in March 2022 in the Journal of the American Heart Association suggests that eating avocados can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Higher avocado intake was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease among men and women who were part of the study, researchers wrote. “The replacement of certain fat?containing foods with avocado could lead to lower risk” of cardiovascular disease, researchers concluded.

Avocados are great for snacking, Gorin says. You can eat fresh avocado slices or snack on avocado toast. To make avocado toast, mash up about a third of an avocado, top it with your favorite spices and place it on top of a slice of toasted whole-grain bread.

Beans

Beans are a great source of soluble fiber, says Leah Kaufman, a nutritionist at NYU Langone Health in New York City.

Research suggests that eating canned beans can, for some people, help decrease two types of cholesterol in the body, including LDL cholesterol, known as the “bad cholesterol.” Eating a cup, or 180 grams, of a variety of canned beans, compared to a cup of white rice, “decreased total and LDL cholesterol in adults with elevated LDL cholesterol, supporting a practical strategy for cardiovascular disease risk reduction,” according to research published in 2021 in the Journal of Nutrition.

Beans can be used in a snack by pureeing them and making them into a dip, such as a black bean dip or hummus, Kaufman says. “I also like to season and roast chickpeas for an on-the-go high-fiber snack.”

Hummus with cherry tomatoes and mini red bell peppers

Legumes — including chickpeas, which can be used to make hummus — are another great source of soluble fiber, Kaufman says.

Hummus with cherry tomatoes and red bell peppers makes for a tasty snack. The tomatoes and peppers also help safeguard your heart health. Cherry tomatoes and red bell peppers contain lycopene, a natural antioxidant compound found in certain red-colored fruits and vegetables. Lycopene — which gives tomatoes and other foods their red color — has a protective cardiovascular effect, studies suggest.

For example, research published in 2022 in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences concludes that “epidemiological studies show a number of favorable properties between the consumption of lycopene in the diet and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.” There is “growing evidence” that suggests that lycopene is beneficial for the heart, blood vessels and the endothelium — which is a single layer of cells that line all of the body’s lymphatic and blood vessels.

Kale

Kale is packed with nutrients, especially vitamin K and vitamin A. A single cup of chopped kale has 700% of the daily recommended intake for vitamin K, which research suggests can help prevent cardiovascular disease. Kale also contains a modest amount of magnesium, which helps to lower blood pressure and calm the heart and blood vessels. This decreases the risk of some common heart arrhythmias, Guthrie says.

That same cup of kale also contains 200% of the daily value of vitamin A from beta carotene, which can be beneficial for eye and brain health. Plus, kale is low in calories, with 33 calories and 7 grams of carbohydrates in one cup.

“Try roasted or dried kale” as a snack, Guthrie suggests.

Nuts

Many people like nuts because of their crunchy, sometimes savory taste. Nuts aren’t just tasty, they’re good for your ticker, studies suggest.

A major study published in 2017 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggests that eating nuts guards against heart disease. Researchers followed the participants for a number of years and concluded that “higher consumption of total and specific types of nuts was inversely associated with total cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease.”

Walnuts in particular are heart-healthy snacks, Gorin says. That’s because they’re high in polyphenols and omega-3 — natural compounds that are found in plant-based foods — that research suggests can fight inflammation, which in turn reduces the risk of heart disease.

For example, research published in 2018 in the journal Nutrients suggests that numerous studies “highlight the promising role of polyphenols in prevention and therapy of diseases with underlining inflammatory conditions, including cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.” Nuts are also a healthy snack for older people.

Nuts that are good for snacking include:

— Almonds.

— Brazil nuts.

— Cashews.

— Pistachios.

— Walnuts.

100% orange juice

One hundred percent orange juice contains hesperidin, a powerful flavonoid that can be helpful to the heart and vascular health, Gorin says. Flavonoids are natural substances derived from plants that, research suggests, have beneficial heart health effects. They are found in fruits, vegetables, grains, bark, roots, tea and wine.

Research published in the journal Hypertension in 2021 suggests that consuming foods rich in flavonoids can help lower blood pressure. Untreated high blood pressure can lead to a heart attack, coronary artery disease and heart failure.

Consuming citrus fruits — as well as other fruits, cruciferous vegetables, leafy greens and salads — is associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, according to research published in 2017 in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

Gorin recommends pairing orange juice with a snack that contains protein or fiber, such as a handful of popcorn or nuts.

Plant-based spread on a whole-grain cracker

Spreads that are plant-based, rather than made from dairy, are heart-healthy and readily available in mainstream grocery stores, Gorin says. A lot of grocers sell vegan spreads made from almonds, cashews and sunflower seeds, such as almond- or cashew-based butter. Many mainstream stores also offer legume-based spreads made out of beans, chickpeas and lentils. Olive tapenades and baba ghanoush are good options, as well.

Plant-based spreads contain heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, as well as omega-3 fatty acids. “The whole-grain cracker is a bonus, as you get fiber, which can help your cholesterol levels,” she says.

9 heart-healthy snacks:

— Almond butter.

— Apples.

— Avocados.

— Beans.

— Hummus with cherry tomatoes and mini red bell peppers.

— Kale.

— Nuts.

— 100% orange juice.

— Plant-based spread on a whole-grain cracker.

More from U.S. News

How 16 Fruits Boost Your Health

Uses for Apples

Low-Calorie Snacks

Heart-Healthy Snacks originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 11/22/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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