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Hacks for Heart-Healthy Meals

Diet and Nutrition

February 12, 2024

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Jaki Portolese/Stocksy United

Jaki Portolese/Stocksy United

by Sarah Garone

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Medically Reviewed by:

Kathy W. Warwick, R.D., CDE

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•••••

by Sarah Garone

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Kathy W. Warwick, R.D., CDE

•••••

•••••

Looking for a way to prioritize heart health? Here are tried and true ways to tweak your existing meals instead of starting from scratch.

Your heart deserves some extra love.

While most people know that diabetes involves the pancreas, it often also affects the heart in a major way. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to experience heart disease than the general population.

One tactic to protect your ticker? Eat heart-healthy meals as often as possible. I hear you: Easier said than done.

As a nutrition and dietetics technician and certified nutrition coach, I understand how dizzying it can be to juggle the guidelines of both heart-healthy eating and the low carb diet your doctor may have prescribed.

Below, I’m sharing my top recs for hacking your meals to make them healthy for both your blood sugar and heart.

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Where to start with heart health

Believe it or not, there’s plenty of overlap between a diabetes-friendly diet and a heart-healthy one. (Phew!)

Often, a few tweaks are all it takes to create a better-for-you version of a meal you’re already eating. Here’s how to eat right for your heart at every meal of the day.

Breakfast

Many common breakfast foods start the day on a sweet note. However, dialing down the sweet knob is a good idea not just for your blood sugar but for your heart too.

Diets higher in sugar have an association with a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.

If you’re used to sweet cereal at breakfast, consider a whole-grain blank canvas like plain oatmeal or cereals with low sugar content like Cheerios instead.

These grains will load you with fiber — a bonus for blood sugar and heart health.

Plus, this allows you to keep track of how much sweetener you add. Top them with fresh fruit, nuts, and a drizzle (1 tablespoon) of lite or sugar-free maple syrup.

More of a savory breakfast eater? Eggs, the old reliable morning protein, are one of nature’s true superfoods. Amp up the fiber and antioxidants in your scramble with veggies like spinach, kale, bell peppers, and tomatoes.

Lunch

As a busy working mom, I totally get that, some days, swinging through the drive-thru is the only way to make lunch happen. If restaurant meals are a must in your schedule, consider ways to increase their health factor.

Opt for restaurant meals that include fresh fruit or veggies, such as salads, and skip anything fried. Grilled and roasted choices typically have better nutrition for diabetes and heart health. Toss half the bun.

Otherwise, start with unprocessed proteins like turkey, salmon, or lentils when DIYing your lunch.

From there, think of how you can make a sandwich, salad, or Bento box by adding whole grains, fruits, veggies, and/or heart-healthy fats like olive oil or avocado.

Dinner

At dinnertime, you can repeat the same protein-centric strategy as at lunch — just be sure to limit highly processed proteins like bacon, sausage, and hot dogs.

They’ve been linked with a greater risk of developing or dying from T2D and heart disease.

Instead, look to other proteins with extra benefits. For example, fatty fish like salmon, bluefish tuna, or whitefish contain omega-3s known to support heart health, according to the American Heart Association.

Plus, beans contain the fiber that’s a friend to blood sugar, according to the CDC.

Once you’ve got your protein picked, fill your plate one-quarter full with it, per the American Diabetes Association’s plate method.

Then round out your meal with half a plate full of non-starchy vegetables (think leafy greens, broccoli, or peppers) and an additional quarter-plate of carb foods like quinoa, whole wheat pasta, or brown rice.

Snacks

If there’s any eating occasion where highly processed, less-than-healthy foods are likely to show up, it’s snack time.

Opt for a healthier version of convenience with less processed choices that offer a source of protein, fat, and fiber.

Some examples are a piece of fruit with peanut butter or some cheese, baby carrots and hummus, or Greek yogurt with berries.

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Other ways to be heart-healthy

Keep a heart-healthy lifestyle going with other healthy habits. Some of these may involve:

  • adding a daily walk to your routine
  • making physical activity a family affair, such as a bike ride after dinner or a game of catch
  • choosing physical exercise that brings you pleasure and joy
  • setting healthy work-life boundaries for stress management
  • promoting quality sleep by establishing a regular bedtime routine
  • making time for favorite hobbies that reduce stress

Takeaway

Eating well for type 2 diabetes and eating well for your heart doesn’t look all that different.

Build your plate around fruits and vegetables, unprocessed proteins, whole grains, and healthy fat sources as much as possible. You’ll do both your blood sugar and your heart a favor.

Medically reviewed on February 12, 2024

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About the author

Sarah Garone

Sarah Garone is a nutritionist, freelance writer, and food blogger. Find her sharing down-to-earth nutrition info at A Love Letter to Food or follow her on Twitter.

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