February is National Heart Health Month, which means that there has been no shortage of advice about how you can prevent heart disease by making certain lifestyle changes. In addition to exercise, your diet is an important factor in staying heart healthy as you age. The food choices that you make can have a direct impact on your cholesterol levels, blood pressure and insulin levels, so making smarter decisions about what you’re snacking on can have a big impact.
Making healthy snack swaps is an excellent way to ease into making bigger changes to your eating habits. Whether you are craving something sweet, salty or crunchy, there are healthy food swaps you can make to ensure you are doing everything you can to protect your heart.
Here are a few heart healthy foods you can add into your regular snack routine:
Swap: Edamame Instead of Pretzels
Although you may have cravings for savory snacks from time to time, salty foods are not ideal for preventing cardiovascular disease. On average, Americans consume around 3,400mg of sodium per day, which is well over the recommended amount of 1500mg per day. A salty diet can lead to high blood pressure, which can damage the walls of your blood vessels and increase the buildup of plaque, leading to cardiovascular dysfunction.
Pretzels are a notoriously salty food, and cutting them out of your diet can help you reduce your overall daily salt intake. Try swapping it out for some edamame, a heart healthy food that also packs a big nutritional punch. Low in calories and cholesterol-free edamame beans are loaded with protein and calcium. A delicious snack on its own, edamame can also be sprinkled with garlic powder, red pepper flakes, or oregano to add a little more flavor.
Swap: Popcorn Instead of Potato Chips
Potato chips are another salty snack that can be detrimental to your heart health. The American Heart Association has found that 77 percent of the sodium we consume on a daily basis comes from packaged or processed foods.
Healthy snack swaps for potato chips can include making your own by baking them in the oven, making kale chips in the oven, or choosing to eat low-sodium popcorn instead. In fact, Shape Magazine found 25 ways to flavor your popcorn without salt, and all of them are delicious!
Swap: Fresh Fruit Instead of Canned Fruit
When you are craving something sweet and think that reaching for a jar of canned fruit is a better option than reaching for that candy bar, think again. Canned fruit, in addition to having the natural sugars found in fresh fruit, is also packaged with a good amount of high-fructose corn syrup, which keeps the fruit preserved on your shelf longer. The controversial syrup has been linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, insulin resistance and obesity and doctors warn that you should limit your intake.
Healthy snack swaps for canned fruit include fresh fruit like apples, pineapple, bananas and melon, such as honeydew or cantaloupe, which have a slightly longer shelf life in your pantry than other fruits like raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries, which have to be refrigerated immediately.
Swap: Hummus And Veggies Instead of Cheese And Crackers
Cheese and crackers, while delicious, can increase your cholesterol and sodium levels if not eaten in moderation. While cheese and crackers aren’t bad for you, there are heart healthy foods that you can substitute instead.
Packed with protein, heart healthy fats, and fiber, hummus is low on the Glycemic Index, meaning that eating it won’t cause a major spike in your blood sugar levels. Like cheese, however, the calories can add up pretty quickly, so if you are watching your weight, you should practice portion control (no more than 2 tablespoons per sitting). Although swapping out crackers for crunchy veggies like cucumbers, celery, cherry tomatoes and bell peppers is a great way to counteract the calories in the hummus.
Heart Health At Home
Changing your diet is a great way to help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, but it’s not a fail safe. Should you have a diagnosed heart condition, or have a heart condition that runs in the family, consider purchasing a Medical Guardian medical system to ensure that you always have access to help in an emergency.