Posted on February 3rd, 2016
February is American Heart Month, and what better way to kick it off than with some heart-healthy snacks. Your heart works hard for you each and every day. Show it how much you care with some antioxidant-filled, cholesterol-lowering treats!
Almonds, walnuts, pecans and peanuts are all healthy options. Choose the unsalted variety and keep your portion size to about 1 to 1.5 ounces, or approximately one handful. Nuts contain protein, fiber and healthy poly- and monounsaturated fats which can help lower your LDL (low-density lipoprotein) or "bad" cholesterol. Many nuts also include magnesium, which contributes to healthy blood pressure. Plus they are zero prep and easy to take with you if you're on the go.
Smoothies and Sundaes
Grab your blender, a cup of nonfat yogurt and a cup of berries. Blend in some ice if you want to drink it right away, or just put it in the freezer for a healthy frozen yogurt dessert. Nonfat yogurt gives you protein and calcium without the fat or sugar, and berries provide fiber and antioxidants. Frozen berries are great stand-ins for fresh berries, and easy to keep on hand. They retain almost all of their antioxidants which help protect the body from artery-damaging toxins.
Or, take your yogurt to the next level by turning it into a sundae! WebMD suggests creating healthy, yet satisfying snacks by combining 2-3 food groups, such as low-fat dairy, fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. Use this concept to whip up a tasty sundae combining non or low-fat yogurt, sliced banana (for potassium, which can help lower blood pressure and strengthen bones), and/or berries, plus crushed whole wheat cereal and unsalted sunflower seeds.
Apples with Nut Butter
Another snack combining two food group items is apples with peanut or almond butter. As mentioned, nuts, and nut butters contain monounsaturated fats, which may protect your arteries from harmful plaque and help decrease blood pressure and cholesterol. Apples are a powerhouse of health in that they are rich in fiber, loaded with antioxidants, full of pectin and are anti-inflammatory all good things when it comes to cardiovascular health.
Chickpeas, aka garbanzo beans, contain antioxidants, potassium and healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which help protect your heart, plus fiber, which can help lower cholesterol. For a quick snack, spread some hummus made from chickpeas on a whole wheat pita, or use it as a dip for veggies. If you have a few minutes to spare and are craving a little spice, try this crunchy spiced chickpeas recipe from nutrition and health expert Joy Bauer.
The one you were hoping for! Yes, chocolate made the list! Dark chocolate contains magnesium, antioxidants and a high percentage of cocoa, which includes flavanols that can help prevent clogged arteries. Again, remember portion control (a two-inch square, no more than an ounce) and look for chocolate with a high cocoa content of 70 percent or more. Obviously, dark chocolate is something to savor on its own. Other healthy combination snack options are chocolate-covered almonds or chocolate-dipped fruit, such as strawberries or bananas. Dip the fruit into melted dark chocolate and let it harden in the fridge. Enjoy!
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