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Well and Good: Eat For Your Heart

February is that time of year when my thoughts turn to matters of the heart – and not just because it’s the season for Valentines.

February is also American Heart Month, so this month is the perfect time to consider how well you’re taking care of yours. Not to scare you, but heart disease is still the leading cause of death among Americans. So, it’s important to cover the basics: Get enough exercise; get regular medical checkups, especially if you have risk factors like a family history of heart issues; and eat a heart-healthy diet.

But don’t get hung up on that last one. A lot of foods you already like – and more that you would, if you just tried them – are super-heart-healthy. Here are five of my favorites (all available, of course, at FRESH!)

Quinoa: This super-grain cooks up quickly, in 15 minutes or less, and is great as a substitute for rice or other starches, and terrific paired with beans. Or, let us do the cooking. At our chef-prepared area, we regularly offer black quinoa salad, with kale, onions and chunks of sweet potatoes in a light vinaigrette, and southwestern quinoa, with fresh corn, tomatoes,  and red quinoa tossed in a slightly spicy vinaigrette.

Salmon: Pretty much all fish is considered heart-smart, but salmon has particularly high concentrations of those omega-3 fatty acids that help keep hearts healthy. Choose from the fresh selections in our seafood market, or grab-and-go with the chef-prepared salmon fillets, perfectly cooked each day in our kitchens and available from our chef’s case.

Oatmeal: The familiar breakfast cereal is a great source of soluble fiber, which has been found to lower the “bad” cholesterol that can lead to heart problems. To change it up, try steel-cut oats, a tradition in Ireland; they have a rougher, slightly chewier texture. McCann now makes a quicker-cooking version, available in our cereal aisle, that is cooked in fewer than 10 minutes, as opposed to the 30+ you usually need for steel-cut oats.

Sweet potatoes: Loaded with antioxidants, sweet potatoes also provide lots of fiber, Vitamins A & C, and potassium, all at just 100 calories for a medium sweet potato. Skip the marshmallows and roast them up for a simple side dish: Toss cubed sweet potatoes with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, lime juice and a dash of maple syrup, and bake at 400 degrees for about one hour.

Dark chocolate: You’ve heard chocolate is good for your heart? Well, it’s true. Dark chocolate, anyway, which to me is the best kind. Treat yourself with one of these – after all, it IS Valentine’s Day:

  • Endangered Species: Their super-dark bars are jazzed up with mixins like cranberries and almonds; blueberries; or yacon and acai.
  • Newman’s Own: Their super-dark bar is 70 percent cacao.
  • Vosges: Sometimes oddball but always delicious. I especially like the dark Oaxacan bar, with pasilla chiles, and the Creole bar, with chicory and cocoa nibs.