For American Heart Month, “Good Morning America” enlisted top experts to share advice, food tips and nutritious recipes that can help home cooks maintain a diet that focuses on heart health.
The increasingly popular Mediterranean-style diet, which is supported by the American Heart Association, includes lean, unprocessed red meat, whole fruits and vegetables, dairy, beans, nuts and whole grains, and has been hailed as a great way for anyone hoping to help support their heart health in their everyday diet.
Top tips for a heart-healthy diet
Stefani Sassos, a registered dietitian and nutrition director for the Good Housekeeping Institute, told “GMA” that “instead of thinking about all of the foods that you have to restrict on a heart-healthy diet, I like to focus on an abundance of heart-healthy foods that you can incorporate into your daily routine.”
One tip she shared is to opt “for more nutritious fats that can improve blood cholesterol levels and lower your risk of heart disease.” You can find those healthy fats in things like olive oil, avocados and avocado oil, raw nuts, nut butter, flaxseeds, chia seeds and fatty fish, she said.
Most Americans don’t meet their daily fiber requirements, according to the American Society for Nutrition, and Sassos said the key is to incorporate more fiber-rich foods into your diet gradually.
“These foods can help lower your LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol, manage weight and provide a slew of beneficial nutrients that can help protect you against heart disease. The most heart-healthy fiber-rich foods include berries, cruciferous vegetables, oatmeal, nuts, legumes and beans,” Sassos said.
Overconsumption of sodium, meanwhile, puts people at risk for high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes, and since 70% of the sodium we eat comes from processed and restaurant foods, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Sassos suggests “cooking more meals at home” to help cut down on salt and save money.
For folks still reaching for processed and packaged foods like canned soups or lunch meats, Sassos said to “opt for reduced sodium and lower-sodium varieties when you can.”
Top ingredients to incorporate for heart health
Tara Schmidt, a lead registered dietitian for the Mayo Clinic, further explained why certain ingredients are better than others.
“We want to encourage foods that provide fiber, vitamins, minerals and fats that can be beneficial for cholesterol, blood pressure, or be protective for those without a diagnosis,” she said. “This often boils down to an eating plan high in plants and low in ultra-processed foods.”
Sassos said “fresh herbs are your friend when it comes to keeping dishes heart-healthy.” On top of adding flavor, she said herbs like parsley, basil and mint “supply special vitamins and minerals that can support a healthy heart.”
Staples like legumes and beans that “pack in fiber and plant-based protein” are another favorite of Sassos, and act as a filling, heart-healthy base for an array of meals.
“If you’re buying the canned options, look for lower-sodium or no-salt-added varieties and be sure to rinse and drain them,” Sassos said.
“Don’t be afraid to experiment with different cuisines and unique spices. Garlic, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and cayenne all have powerful anti-inflammatory properties and add bold flavor to dishes. Start small and then add more after you have taste tested your dish,” she suggested.
Best cooking methods for heart healthy meals
“Air frying uses significantly less oil than deep frying and pan frying, so it can provide a lower-calorie and lower-fat heart-healthy meal alternative that still delivers a crisp texture,” Sassos said, calling out air fried wild-caught salmon as a go-to dish with omega-3 fatty acids for lean protein. “I’ll serve it alongside roasted sweet potato wedges and braised spicy kale for a dose of antioxidants and fiber.”
Heart-healthy recipes for American Heart Month
2 small zucchini, shredded
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 1/2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red onion, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 cup Swiss chard, firmly packed, shredded
2 tablespoons cheddar cheese, reduced fat
2 tablespoons part-skim ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon parsley or basil, fresh
4 slices whole-grain bread, toasted
Place shredded zucchini into a clean tea towel, gather the edges and squeeze the excess liquid. Discard liquid.
Preheat the oven to broil. Whisk the mustard and eggs together until well combined.
Heat the olive oil in the base of 7-inch (base), 10-inch (top) non-stick ovenproof frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion, cook for 1 minute stirring occasionally, until soft. Add the zucchini and tomatoes, cook for 5 minutes until the vegetables have softened and the moisture has evaporated. Stir in the Swiss chard and half the cheddar cheese. Spread evenly over the pan. Dollop over the ricotta.
Pour over the egg mixture and allow the egg to run to the base. Cook for 4 minutes or until the egg is almost set. Sprinkle the remaining cheese.
Place the pan under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes or until the top is set and lightly golden. Scatter over the parsley or basil. Season to taste with black pepper. Cut in half and serve with slices of toast.
Schmidt said “both apples and oats have cholesterol-lowering properties,” making this a great heart-healthy breakfast. “It would also be appropriate for a DASH-style eating plan for hypertension,” she added.
1 cup old fashioned (rolled) oats
1 medium apple, diced (leave skin on)
1 cup cranberries, whole, fresh or frozen
2 tablespoons brown sugar, unpacked
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
In medium pot, bring 2 cups water and milk to a boil. Add oats and wheat bran and cook about 3 to 5 minutes.
Stir in diced apple, cranberries, brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and cloves.
Cook for an additional 3 minutes or until oatmeal reaches desired consistency.
Grilled Lemony Chicken and Kale
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
8 thin chicken cutlets (about 2 ounces each) pounded to 1/4-inch thick
2 bunches Tuscan kale, thick stems stripped
1 ounce Parmesan, shaved, plus more for serving
Heat grill or grill pan to medium-high. In large bowl, combine lemon juice, 1 tablespoon oil, oregano, garlic powder, Aleppo pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add chicken and toss to coat. Let sit 3 minutes (resist marinating longer, as the lemon juice could start cooking the chicken).
In second large bowl, toss kale with remaining 2 tablespoons oil and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper.
Grill chicken until charred and cooked through, about 2 minutes per side; transfer to plates. Grill kale, turning often, until charred and just tender, 3 to 4 minutes total; transfer back to bowl. Grill lemons, cut sides down, until charred, 1 to 2 minutes.
Squeeze half of grilled lemon over kale and toss to combine, then toss with Parmesan. Serve over chicken with additional shaved Parmesan and grilled lemon halves.
Prep step: Strip kale leaves by holding the end of each stem and pulling each side down and off in one motion, or fold like a closed book (think of the stem as the spine) and cut away the leafy part.
Poblano and Black Bean Loaded Baked Potato
4 medium russet potatoes (about 8 ounces each), scrubbed and dried
2 poblano peppers, cut into small pieces
15.5-ounce can black beans (including liquid)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon lime zest, plus 2 teaspoons lime juice and more for serving
1 large plum tomato, seeded and chopped
Grated cheddar for serving
Heat oven to 400 F. Prick potatoes and microwave on high 10 minutes. Brush potatoes with 1 tablespoon oil, sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, place directly on middle oven rack (with baking sheet on rack below to catch oil drippings), and bake until tender, 18 to 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in large skillet on medium. Add peppers and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until tender, 5 to 7 minutes; transfer to plate.
To skillet, add black beans, cumin, smoked paprika, and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until beans are slightly thickened, 4 to 5 minutes. Fold in poblanos.
In bowl, combine sour cream and lime zest. In second bowl, toss tomato with lime juice and a pinch of salt.
Split potatoes, top with cheddar if desired, then top with beans, tomatoes, and sour cream. Sprinkle with additional lime zest if desired.
Best Seared Salmon with Charred Green Beans
2 tablespoons, plus 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 1/4 pound-skinless salmon fillet, cut into 4 portions
1 pound green beans, trimmed
4 cloves garlic, smashed and thinly sliced
1 small red chile, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons capers, drained, patted dry
Lemon wedges, for serving
Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet on medium-high. Season salmon with 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper, add to skillet, flesh side down, reduce heat to medium, and cook until golden brown and just opaque throughout, 5 to 6 minutes per side.
Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large cast-iron skillet on medium-high. Add green beans and cook until browned, 2 1/2 minutes. Turn with tongs and cook until browned and just barely tender, about 3 minutes more.
Remove from heat and toss with 1/4 teaspoon salt, then garlic, chile, and capers. Return to medium heat and cook, tossing until garlic is golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve with salmon and lemon wedges if desired.