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Shopping tips for heart healthy foods

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Shop smart for your heart

A heart-healthy diet is a key weapon in reducing your risk of heart attack or stroke. Eating nutrient-rich foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean proteins and unsaturated fats, can lower your cholesterol, blood pressure, weight and risk of developing diabetes. Knowing how to navigate the supermarket can ensure your cart gets filled with heart-healthy fare. Here are nine grocery shopping tips to help you shop smart for your heart.

Shopping tip #1: Stay on the outside

The outside perimeter of most supermarkets is usually the healthiest — most noted, the produce aisle is typically located along an outside wall as is the fish and meat counter. The interior aisles tend to be filled with packaged, processed goods high in sugar, salt or sodium, preservatives, and "bad" fats like trans or saturated fats.

Shopping tip #2: Stock up on fresh produce

The produce aisle is bursting with delicious color, essential nutrients, tantalizing textures and many mouthwatering opportunities to create healthy snacks and meals. Buy in season, if possible, and choose a variety of fruits and vegetables.

Shopping tip #3: Buy frozen fruits and vegetables

When fresh isn't an option, choose frozen produce. Frozen fruits and vegetables have more nutrients — and authentic flavor — than their canned counterparts and don't have added sodium. If you do buy canned, read the label and opt for the brands with the least sodium. With canned fruit, be sure to choose brands packed in water or light syrup as opposed to heavy syrup.

Shopping tip #4: Choose fat-free or low-fat dairy

Reduced-fat dairy foods offer creamy texture, protein, calcium and other nutrients without the amount of saturated fat found in full-fat products. Go for skim milk, cheeses made with skim or 2% milk, low-fat yogurt and fat-free sour cream. Opt for egg whites or egg substitute in place of whole eggs or egg yolks. Bypass the butter and purchase a margarine that is trans fat free. Low-fat buttermilk is also a good buy.

Shopping tip #5: Select lean meats

Animal meat, including beef, pork, poultry, and lamb, contain saturated fat. However, choosing leaner cuts and eating modest amounts of animal meat can provide you with adequate protein and other nutrients without all the fat. Buy skinless breast of chicken or turkey, red meat and pork labeled "loin" or "round", beef that is "choice" or "select," and trim off excess fat regardless of the cut.

Shopping tip #6: Go fish

Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and some white-flesh fish, has been associated with a lower risk of heart disease. Aim to have a serving of fish (3 to 4 ounces) twice a week and be sure to grill, broil, bake, steam or poach it — pan-frying and deep-frying require added fat and increase your calorie and fat intake.

Shopping tip #7: Try meat substitutes

To decrease your intake of saturated fat, replace a weekly meat-based meal or two with a meatless meal containing protein-rich nuts, seeds, beans, peas, lentils, tofu or tempeh. You will be boosting your vitamin and mineral intake as well as increasing your dietary fiber. Pick up a vegetarian cookbook to learn how to make scrumptious meat-free meals.

Shopping tip #8: Grab the whole-grains

Eschew the white bread and white-flour products and go for whole-wheat and whole-grain goods instead. Choose whole-grain, high-fiber breads, rolls, pita, and tortillas as well as whole grain cereal, brown rice, quinoa, wild rice, oats and popcorn. Because of trans fat and added sugar, limit your intake of commercially baked or fried foods like muffins, biscuits, doughnuts, pies, cakes, cookies and crackers.

Shopping tip #9: Cut the fat

A diet high in fat is often high in calories, which can contribute to obesity. Use fats and oils in limited amounts and always select those lowest in saturated and trans fats and cholesterol when cooking (read the labels to compare). Cut back on foods that list hydrogenated vegetable oil or shortening (aka trans fat) in the ingredients. In addition, pick up a can of nonstick vegetable spray or a nonstick skillet for cooking. And when choosing dressings, dips or sauces, opt for reduced-fat products.

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