Take your snacks and protect your heart

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February combines two of my favorite campaigns: American Heart Month and National Snack Month. Snacks often have a negative health connotation. Many of us think of packaged, ready-to-eat, ultra-processed snacks and desserts that, while delicious, are typically high in added sugars, sodium, and fat.

Snacks can be an essential bridge between meals to help us stay full and energized. Snacks can also help increase our intake of food groups that we don’t get enough of. According to 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans80-90% of us don’t eat enough fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Helps manage blood pressure and cholesterol

We also miss eating enough nuts, seeds and beans. These foods naturally contain dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which are helpful in managing blood pressure and cholesterol.

Fruit, also known as nature’s candy, can be a healthy and delicious way to satisfy a sweet tooth. Here are some fruit snack ideas:

  • Perfect made with Greek yogurt and the fresh or frozen fruit of your choice.
  • Nice cream», a frozen dessert made from bananas.
  • Slices of fresh fruit dipped in a melted square or two of dark chocolate.

Vegetables probably aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when making a snack list, but they’re full of fiber, which can be good for your heart. When paired with salad dressings or savory spreads, vegetables are an equally healthy and delicious option.

We don’t eat enough fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Examples include:

  • Celery sticks filled with natural peanut butter and raisins (“ants on a log”).
  • Homemade baby carrots ranch dressing.
  • Cucumber slices topped with hummus or salsa.

Whole grains are an important part of many heart-healthy diets, including therapeutic lifestyle changes (CCM) plan to lower cholesterol and dietary approaches to stop hypertension (HYPHEN) diets. Many packaged snacks are made from refined grains which lack fiber.

These whole grain snacks are great alternatives:

  • Pop your own popcorn using plain kernels and olive or avocado oil. Season with a mixture of Italian-style dried herbs or a pinch of Parmesan cheese instead of salt.
  • 100% Whole Wheat Unsalted Crackers with Part Skim Cheddar or Low Sodium Swiss Cheese.
  • energy balls made from oats.

Nuts, seeds, and beans are often underutilized snacks with many health benefits. Did you know that snacking on nuts regularly can help reduce your cholesterol level?

  • Chickpeas roasted with oil and the seasoning of your choice for a crispy and tasty snack. Try paprika, chili powder, or garlic powder instead of salt. Use low-sodium canned beans that have been rinsed and patted dry before putting them in the oven.
  • Make your own trail mix with your favorite unsalted nuts and seeds, like pumpkin or sunflower seeds.
  • Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds or chia seeds to your smoothie.

As you can see, snacks, when chosen wisely, can help protect your heart. If you would like more information on heart-healthy eating or any other nutrition-related topic, contact your PACT team dietitian.

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