Foods for the heart

Whether you’re recovering from a heart attack or trying to prevent one, a healthy diet should be part of the plan. As you start building your healthy eating strategy, it's important to know which foods to avoid and which foods to target. To help you, this slideshow highlights several heart-healthy substitutions and suggests tips on making them taste great. With a few simple swaps, you can keep your ticker in top shape and still enjoy delicious food.

1. Mayonnaise

Low-fat and light mayonnaise are better than the real thing for a heart-healthy diet, but which is better? The answer depends on what you’re going to use it for.

The lower the fat content, the sweeter the mayonnaise tends to be, which may be most noticeable on sandwiches. You may want to stick with light mayo (4.5 fat grams per tablespoon) for that next turkey sandwich. Reduced-fat mayonnaise (2 fat grams per tablespoon) is best in dips, salads, or baked recipes.

Taste Tip: Stirring in chopped chipotle peppers adds a nice smoky kick to potato or pasta salads while reducing the sweetness of reduced-fat mayo.

2. Cheese

Low-fat cheese offers a great-tasting alternative to the full-fat versions. Although fat-free cheese may seem like the better option, most brands tend to be very gummy, don’t melt well, and are more like plastic than cheese. Instead, try reduced-fat cheese, which has the same great flavor and melting qualities as the original but with significantly less fat.

Expert’s Tip: Buy blocks of reduced-fat cheese and grate it yourself. It’s not only cheaper, but it also melts better.

3. Salt

Most doctors, along with the American Heart Association (AHA), recommend a diet containing less than 2,000 milligrams of sodium per day. That’s less than one teaspoon. If you already have high blood pressure, aim for less than 1,500 milligrams per day.

Instead of reaching for the saltshaker, add a splash of vinegar or a squeeze of fresh lemon to your food. Using herbs and spices is a great way to give a familiar dish a new twist. Try creating your own salt-free spice blends to have on hand when you need a boost of flavor.

Taste Tip: The flavor of fresh herbs fades quickly when cooked, so add them just before serving.

4. Eggs

Eggs are an excellent source of protein and essential nutrients, but they do contain saturated fat. Instead of cutting eggs out completely, try to consume them in moderation, or up to six whole eggs a week. Removing the yolk, which contain all the cholesterol, is another option. Use 1/4 cup of commercial egg substitute or two large egg whites for every whole egg in baked goods.

Expert’s Tip: To make your own egg substitute, whisk together six egg whites, 1/4 cup of nonfat dry milk, one tablespoon of canola oil, and four drops of yellow food coloring.

5. Ground beef

When you’re craving a juicy burger or a thick slice of meatloaf, mix equal parts lean ground turkey breast and grass-fed, lean ground beef. The ground turkey adds moisture and makes cooked burgers less crumbly. For recipes like chili, pasta sauce, or casseroles that call for ground beef, you can substitute with ground turkey without noticing much of a difference.

Expert’s Tip: Most supermarkets offer a variety of great-tasting low-fat sausages made from ground turkey.

6. Chocolate

Chocolate does have a place in heart-healthy diets, but you should forgo white chocolate and milk chocolate varieties. Eaten in moderate amounts, dark chocolate (70 percent cocoa or higher) may reduce blood pressure and LDL (bad cholesterol) levels, according to the International Journal of Molecular Science.

For baked goods like cookies and cakes, finely chop the dark chocolate to evenly spread it throughout the recipe and reduce the amount of sugar called for by one quarter or one half.

Taste Tip: Want more chocolate flavor? In appropriate recipes, substitute1/4 cup cocoa powder for 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour.

7. Sour cream

Like many other dairy products, sour cream is an ingredient incorporated into a wide variety of recipes. Get the same tangy flavor without all the fat by pureeing equal amounts of low-fat cottage cheese and nonfat yogurt in a blender and using it in place of the sour cream. In baking, you can substitute an equal amount of low-fat or nonfat yogurt in many recipes.

Expert’s Tip: Try Greek yogurt, which is considerably thicker and creamier than regular yogurt because a lot of the whey has been strained.

8. Steak

Steak often gets a bad reputation as being unhealthy. However, there are a number of cuts that are great lean meat substitutions. Your best bets are:

  • eye of round
  • sirloin tip side
  • top round
  • top sirloin

Portion size is key. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a 3-ounce serving of these cuts has 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol.

Taste Tip: For a cut of beef with an intense, beefy flavor, ask your local butcher about dry-aged beef.

9. Whole grains

Diets rich in whole grains have been shown to reduce high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and the risk of strokes, according to the AHA. You can substitute up to half the amount of all-purpose flour with whole-wheat flour in almost all of your favorite baking recipes. For added texture, try using 1/4 cup of rolled oats in place of all-purpose flour.

Expert Tip: Don’t like the flavor or texture of whole wheat? Look for white whole-wheat flour. It’s milder in flavor, but still has all the nutrition.

10. Sugar

New heart-healthy guidelines from the AHA urge people to consume no more than 100 to 150 calories from added sugars — that don’t naturally occur in food — a day. You can substitute stevia or erythritol for up to half of the sugar in most baked goods without any difference in texture or flavor. Try using 100 percent natural fruit juices to sweeten sauces and beverages.

Expert’s Tip: High quantities of sugar can be found in items like ketchup, salad dressings, and sauces, so read the labels carefully. Every 4 grams of sugar is a teaspoon.

More heart-health information

A healthy diet is only one step on the path to a healthy heart. Check out these helpful articles for other great tips for your ticker: