top of page

Love Your Heart: Heart Healthy Eating Tips from a Registered Dietitian.

Happy Valentine's Day! It seems like a pretty good day to post this little

heart story... so blog #2, here we go!

As you enjoy those chocolate hearts today, take a moment to give some thought to your heart and the hearts of those you love.

Disclaimer: You will see website links in this blog. I include these to give you access to accurate and potential helpful information. I receive no compensation for including these links.

If I could do only one thing for all the people whom I've been fortunate enough to meet in my career as a dietitian, it would be to tell them that the time to pay attention to the health of your heart is BEFORE something happens to it.

However, humans being the eternally optimistic folks we are have this belief that oh, that will never happen to me.

I hate to break it to you. If you are reading this, you have a heart. And if you have a heart, the likelihood of you experiencing some form of cardiac health event in your lifetime is pretty high. The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada states that nearly 8 in 10 cases of premature heart disease are preventable. I hope for your sake you never have any heart problems, but take a piece of advice from me. Preventative maintenance is always a good bet.

This is the short and the sweet list of eating for heart health. If you stop at the end of the list, no worries. Your heart will thank you for any of the points that you already do now or start to do as a result of reading the list. If you want details, on the hows and the whys, read on.

Get more fibre:

1: Eat more veggies and fruit.

2: Choose whole grains most often.

3: Have at least 4 meals each week that include legumes (dried beans, peas or lentils).

Increase unsaturated (healthy) fat:

1: Have at least 3 meals using fish and seafood each week.

2: Eat a handful of nuts and seeds every day.

3: Cook with and spread healthy fat.

Reduce saturated (unhealthy) fat:

1: Choose lean meats and poultry.

2: Include lower fat dairy products.

3: Eat fewer highly processed foods.

Some of these ideas are swaps that can be made and others are foods you can add to your meal plan. Most people expect dietitians to tell them what they have to stop eating. It's way more fun to excite people with what they can add to meals.

If you are experiencing a heart health event, or have a specific condition, you need personalized suggestions. Talk to your health professional.

Why these tips? The big picture for heart health is that more fibre and less saturated fat reduces heart disease risk. Reduced risk is a good thing.

There are lots of ways to eat for heart health and your way should be tailored to you.

So, let's talk about getting more fibre.

Plant foods, like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes (beans, chickpeas, split peas, lentils), all have fibre, in addition to a host of other valuable nutrients. Some plant foods, like nuts, seeds and legumes have fibre, protein and healthy fat.

These foods should be part of your meals and snacks every day.

Eat more fruit and vegetables.

Same song, same dance. Half of what you eat at most of your meals should be vegetables and fruit. Fresh, frozen or canned; cooked or raw. The best vegetables and fruit to buy are the ones you like. And no, you don't have to like all of them.

What does more look like? Depends on you. It might be adding more to your meals. It could be eating veg or fruit as a snack. Or both. I try to jam as many vegetables as possible into one pot meals, because hello - one pot means fewer dishes to clean up!

While all veggies and fruit have fibre, some pack a little more than others. Apples, pears, berries and avocado are some of the highest fibre fruit choices. Green peas, edamame, squash, sweet potatoes with the skin and artichokes will give your meal a fibre boost too.

Frozen vegetables and fruit are my "no excuses" fruit and veggies.

My go-to fruit and veggies are the frozen ones. I call those my 'no excuses' fruit and veggies. They are already washed, peeled and chopped. All I have to do is add them to whatever I'm making.

Some of my frozen favs:

  • Spinach cubes: add to scrambled eggs or spaghetti sauce.

  • Stir fry mix vegetables: sautéed and tossed with salad dressing.

  • Broccoli and cauliflower: tossed with oil and curry powder and roasted at 400˚F until tender.

  • Frozen cherries or mango: thaw and eat these sweet morsels just like fresh.

  • Frozen berries: mixed with yogurt and oatmeal for a sweet and crunchy breakfast lunch or snack.

If you need inspiration on fruits and vegetables, check out Half Your Plate. You will find information on selection, storage and recipes for a huge selection of fruits and vegetables available in Canada.

Choose whole grains foods most often.

Eating mostly whole grain foods means you get more fibre than eating refined grains. Aim for your meals to be one quarter whole grains. Foods like bulgur, brown rice, oats, quinoa, barley, teff, buckwheat or corn (yes, corn is a grain, not a vegetable) are whole grains. Products like bread, tortillas, cereals, pasta or crackers may be whole grain, but to know for sure, check the ingredient list. Look for the words "whole grain" followed by the type of grain, for example whole grain whole wheat. Enriched wheat or white flour are not whole grains.

Whole wheat foods may not be whole grain, but they can still be good choices as they have fibre in them. Look at the Nutrition Facts table and choose grain products with a % Daily Value (%DV) of 15% or more.

Whole grain popcorn

Some of my whole grain favs:

  • Barley, brown rice or whole grain pasta in soup (it holds its shape and texture better)

  • Whole grain bread products, like sliced bread, bagels, naan and tortillas

  • Oatmeal sprinkled on yogurt and berries

  • Whole grain cold cereals for a snack

  • Fruit crumbles made with whole wheat flour and oats

  • Popcorn!

Want inspiration on whole grains? Search for whole grains recipes at Canada Food Guide Kitchen here.

Add legumes to your meal plan at least 4 times each week.

If you are like me, the only beans you ate when you were a kid were baked beans and red kidney beans in chili. And I can truthfully say that I wasn't a big fan of either.

Fast forward a bunch of years and I have come to appreciate some members of the legume family. Not all mind you, but a lot. The same as all food categories, we do not have to enjoy all of them. We can choose the ones that are right for us.

You will get a big fibre boost and improve your heart health by having at least 4 meals that include legumes every week.

Well, first, what are they?

Legumes are dried beans, dried peas and lentils. Beans include white, navy, kidney, black, romano, pinto, Jacob's cattle, Aduki, mung, black-eyed peas to name a few. Chickpeas, green split peas, red, brown and green lentils are also legumes. You can buy them in the dry form, which requires soaking and boiling before you can use them. But three cheers for canned beans! Let me tell you, this is a top-notch convenience food that I always have in the cupboard.

Pro tips:

  • Look for no salt added canned beans, chickpeas or lentils. Drain and rinse all canned beans and they are ready to add to whatever you are making.

  • Freeze leftover canned beans to use when you need a handful to add to eggs, nachos, salads or soups.

  • Introduce legumes slowly. If you add them to familiar foods, you can reduce the amount of meat in the recipe. You still get the familiar flavour of the meat and you add fibre, reduce saturated fat and stretch your meat dollars.

  • You don't need to have four different legume meals. If you make one meal that has legumes and you eat it for two meals, voila, two of your four meals are done.

Did you know... that peanuts are a legume, not a nut?
Peanut butter and banana toast with flax seeds

My fav ways to add legumes to meals:

  • Have a peanut butter sandwich.

  • Snack on hummus and veggies.

  • Add black beans to salsa.

  • Stir white beans into chicken soup.

  • Add red lentils to spaghetti sauce.

  • Make bean and vegetable curry.

  • Mix canned lentils with cooked ground meat for a taco filling.

Need some legume inspiration? See the Canadian Pulse or Love Canadian Beans sites.

Next up: Fat. And before we dive into the types of fat that the human body NEEDS to have to function properly, let me clear up a little misconception that exists out there.

Cholesterol is NOT what you should be focused on when you are reading those labels. It's saturated and trans fat. Blood cholesterol is affected more by the saturated and trans fat you eat than by cholesterol in foods. In fact, 80% of the cholesterol in your body is made by your body. Only 20% of the cholesterol you eat impacts your blood levels. Bottom line: Most people don't need to limit foods that have cholesterol, but most people should choose foods with less saturated and trans fat and more foods with unsaturated fats.

Increase unsaturated (healthy) fat.

Serve fish and seafood at least three times each week.

This may be a tough one for you, but hear (or read) me out. Fish and seafood are protein foods that have Omega-3 fat, which is helpful for heart health, but also for brain and eye health. It's hard for us to get enough Omega-3 fat without including fish and seafood.

Having fish and seafood at least three meals each week can help you get enough.

Fresh, frozen and canned fish are all good choices. Pick the one that works for you. And you don't have to have 3 different meals of fish. Leftovers are a meal too.

My tips in this category:

  • Have fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, arctic char, sardines, herring or trout to get the most Omega-3 fat.

  • Choose unbreaded, uncoated fish and seafood. If you want fishsticks, make them yourself by coating pieces of fish or shrimp in breadcrumbs and bake in the oven or cook in your air fryer.

  • Go for canned! Tuna sandwiches, sardines on toast, mackerel on crackers or a shrimp salad (yes, you can eat shrimp). Choose no salt added canned fish whenever possible.

  • Use leftover cooked fish or canned fish in sandwiches, salads or fish cakes.

  • Make a speedy stir-fry with vegetables and shrimp or scallops.

Eat a handful of nuts or seeds every day.

Nuts, seeds and nut butters are another protein food with healthy fat and fibre. Eat a handful every day. Or use nut butter as a spread or dip.

Nuts and seeds

Tips for nuts and seeds:

  • Leave the candy coated ones on the shelf.

  • Choose unsalted ones if you can. But if you just can't, mix unsalted ones with salted ones. You'll reduce the amount of salt you eat and get used to less salty taste.

  • Add nuts to foods or just enjoy a handful.

  • Sprinkle sesame seeds or almonds on a vegetable stir-fry or salad.

  • Add your favourite nut to your cereal.

  • Have a snack of crackers and nut butter.

Cook with and spread healthy fat every day.

Increase your unsaturated or healthy fat intake by swapping saturated fats like butter, lard or coconut oil for unsaturated fats like vegetable oils and soft margarine.

Include healthy fats every day.

What does that look like?

  • Toss vegetables with oil and roast in the oven.

  • Use oil when sautéeing foods.

  • Made salad dressing with olive oil.

  • Use soft margarine instead of hard margarine when spreading.

  • Dip warm bread or toast in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Reduce saturated (unhealthy) fat.

Reducing does not mean eliminating.

Choose lean meats and poultry.

Reduce the amount of saturated fat in your meals by choosing lean meats and poultry rather than fatty cuts. People don't need large amounts of meat to get the important nutrients these protein foods have. Aim for one quarter of your meal to include protein foods.

Pro tips:

Canada Food Guide Healthy Plate

  • Change the proportions on your plate to reduce saturated fat. If your meal usually has more meat than vegetables or grains, by increasing vegetables and grain products and decreasing meats, you will reduce the saturated fat in your meal and still be able to enjoy your meat of choice.

  • Reduce saturated fat when cooking. Bake, broil or grill more often. If you sauté, use unsaturated fats or a non-stick pan.

  • Choose lean cuts or beef, pork and game. Look for round or loin cuts.

  • Remove skin from poultry.

  • Make meals that using cut up meats with vegetables to get a taste in every bite. Try a beef stir-fry, a pork chili or a chicken curry.

  • Choose lean ground meats, ground chicken or turkey for burgers, meatloaf or meat balls.

Include lower fat dairy products.

Dairy products include milk, yogurt and cheese. Look for lower fat dairy products most often.

  • Choose milk, yogurt or cottage cheese that is 2% M.F. (Milk fat) or less.

  • Look for reduced fat hard cheeses.

  • Swap sour cream based dips for yogurt based ones.

  • Top baked potatoes, soup or nachos with plain yogurt instead of sour cream.

  • Swap cream in your coffee for lower fat blend or whole milk. Gradually work to using milk.

If you choose soy beverages, choose ones that are unsweetened and fortified with calcium and vitamin D.

Eat fewer highly processed foods:

Highly processed foods are foods that have higher amounts of added saturated fats, sugar or sodium. They are foods like snack crackers, chips, salty snacks, fast foods, frozen meals, packaged noodle and rice mixes, processed meats, baked goods, chocolates, candies, sugary drinks, sweetened cereals and frozen desserts.

These are foods we should eat less often. Eating these foods less often or in smaller amounts will reduce the saturated fat we eat AND will also reduce the added sugar and added sodium we eat. This can lead to a reduced risk of disease, and who doesn’t want that?

So, you made it to the end. Heart healthy eating is not about cutting out, it's about all the great foods you can add and enjoy to improve your heart health. If you want even more recipe inspiration, Dietitians of Canada has a collection of recipes at Unlock Food.

One last note before I head off to the kitchen to make Valentine's Day dinner for Pete. Everyone knows about the classic signs of heart attack. But what you might not know is that those signs are different for men and women. Learn the signs so you know what to do. Read more about women's unique risks at the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

12 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page