5 Surprising Food Swaps for Healthy Hearts

February 9, 2018 Tawnya Dorn, RD, CDE

These simple changes can boost heart health - without sacrificing flavor.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States -- one in four deaths are caused by cardiovascular disease. But it is never too late to begin taking better care of your heart, and one of the most important paths to preventing cardiovascular disease is to improve what you eat..

"Even small diet changes can help lower the risk of heart disease, and is a great start to establishing an overall healthy lifestyle," Tawnya Dorn, RD, CDE, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Queen of the Valley Medical Center.

Dorn recommends that people of all ages eat more fruits and vegetables, limit unhealthy fats and choose whole grains over refined products. It is also best to limit red meats, sugary beverages and foods high in sodium. The good news is eating healthier doesn’t necessarily mean giving up all the foods you love. These easy food swaps are just as delicious as they are heart-friendly!

1. Instead of: Butter | Try: Avocado

When people think of avocados, they usually think of guacamole or salads. But mashed avocado can actually be used as a substitute for butter in baked goods and more. Swapping avocado for butter not only slashes calories, avocado offers less cholesterol and saturated fat than butter. The richness of avocado mostly comes from heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. “These are the fats that can actually lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and boost HDL (good) cholesterol,” says Dorn. “Also, avocados offer more protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals than plain butter.” Fruit muffins, cakes and even chocolate frosting can be made with avocado instead of butter. Bonus tip: Use whipped avocado instead of mayonnaise on sandwiches – it binds perfectly with tuna, egg or chicken, and is just as satisfying as mayo.

2. Instead of: Oil | Try: Applesauce

Here’s another “secret” ingredient for baking that works well: Use applesauce instead of cooking oil. The pectin in applesauce coats flour, the role oil usually plays in the chemical process of baking. Applesauce actually can take the place of eggs in baking as well, a plus for vegans. Banana bread, pumpkin bread, oatmeal cookies, muffins and breakfast breads all turn out moist and naturally sweet with this simple swap. “Just make sure to use unsweetened applesauce,” says Dorn. “You don’t want to add extra sugar calories where they’re not needed.” If you can’t find unsweetened applesauce, it’s easy to make it yourself –just boil chopped apples until liquefied.

3. Instead of: Rice | Try: Cauliflower

Instead of white rice, swap out heart-healthy cauliflower instead. Use a box grater or food processor to grate out rice-sized morsels of raw cauliflower, then steam or braise. The tender, moist “grains” of cauliflower are perfect with tossed vegetables, fish or any savory entrée – and are packed with heart-friendly nutrients. “As a cruciferous vegetable, cauliflower improves blood pressure and lowers inflammation, two key elements of heart maintenance,” says Dorn. “There are few better vegetables for the heart than cauliflower, and substituting it for rice is another good way to add it into one’s diet.” And with its high vitamin and mineral content, cauliflower offers a wide range of health benefits that are hard to top.

4. Instead of: Pasta | Try: Shredded Zucchini

Pasta lovers can still enjoy a rich-tasting plate of spaghetti while skipping the heavy carbs by simply substituting shredded or “spiralized” zucchini squash. Use a spiral vegetable slicer to create long, noodle-like strands of zucchini, then steam, boil or saute in light olive oil. Toss with a vegetable-based sauce for a flavorful, heart-healthy entrée that satisfies. Spaghetti contains 10 times as many calories as zucchini, and doesn’t offer the nutrient bonanza of squash. “Zucchini is high in potassium and antioxidants, known to control blood pressure and lower the odds of developing heart disease,” says Dorn. “By swapping out typical side dishes like rice and potatoes for vegetables, you’re doing your heart a lot of good without losing the enjoyment of a meal. That’s important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle over time.”

5. Instead of: Ice Cream | Try: Frozen Bananas

Rich, homemade ice cream that only takes one ingredient? Yes, please! Simply slice and freeze two whole bananas; blend until smooth and fluffy. That’s all there is to it. Enjoy frozen banana in its soft-serve state, or re-freeze for more of a traditional ice cream texture. For flavor variations, add strawberries, raspberries or chopped nuts – the healthy nutrients in these super-foods add even more benefits for your heart. But even a plain banana is considered one of the most heart-healthy foods around. “The potassium in bananas has been shown to help maintain healthy blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke,” says Dorn. “The fiber, vitamin C and B6 in bananas are all good for heart health, too. And at just over 100 calories per banana, this is one dessert anyone can be happy about.”

“Incorporating more healthy foods into your existing diet, and swapping out heavy ingredients, doesn’t have to be hard,” adds Dorn. “Explore your options, think creatively, and try simple, everyday changes that can help jumpstart a healthier lifestyle.”

Do you have a heart-healthy food swap recipe? Share a comment here.

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