When it comes to eating right for your heart, you can’t get healthier than vegetables. The Cleveland Clinic recommends eating an abundance of different types of veggies, noting it’s one of the best nutritional decisions you can make to keep your heart—and body—running smoothly. Whether fresh, frozen, dried, or canned, vegetables are low in calories and high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber—a winning combination when it comes to heart health.
According to the Mayo Clinic, vegetables (as well as fruits) also contain substances found in plants that may help prevent cardiovascular disease. What’s more, by filling up on healthy veggies, you’ll likely have less appetite for high-fat temptations such as meat, cheese, and salty snacks, which can increase your blood cholesterol level as well as your risk for coronary artery disease. Research has shown that when it comes to reducing risk factors for heart disease—such as lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugars, triglycerides, and body weight—adding certain foods to your diet is just as important as cutting back or eliminating others.
How much is enough to get your veggie fix? The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests that you aim for 4.5 cups of vegetables and fruits each day. When it comes to combined servings of vegetables with fruits, aim for a minimum of a full seven servings per day. (A serving equals a half-cup of cooked veggies or a full cup of raw or leafy vegetables.)
If you’re not used to making vegetables a mainstay of your diet, finding ways to incorporate more of them into your meals can feel challenging. And you aren’t alone—the Cleveland Clinic reports that only 3 percent of Americans consume the recommended amount of vegetables and fruits. It might help to know that there are many delicious and interesting ways to enjoy your greens (and reds, oranges, and yellows). If carrot sticks aren’t your thing, you have a wealth of other options. Here are a few ideas to consider:
The Mediterranean diet is well-known for its heart-healthy, cholesterol-reducing effects. Extensive research has proven this diet to offer “cardio-protective” benefits, both for heart disease prevention and to help prevent further heart damage.
The Mediterranean diet centers on eating an abundance of food from plant sources, particularly vegetables (as well as fruits, legumes, and whole grains). The diet also emphasizes using vegetable oils low in saturated fats. Another component of the diet involves eating produce that is seasonally fresh, to maximize retention of the nutrients that fight heart disease.
Although the Mediterranean diet involves more than just vegetables, following a Mediterranean food plan offers many ways to “jazz up” standard veggie fare and provide you with new textures and tastes. Use the following tips to incorporate more vegetables and other foods from plant sources into your daily diet:
- Try a vegetable and bean soup for lunch instead of a meat-and-cheese sandwich.
- Take a trip to the farmer’s market and gather seasonal vegetables and fruits to eat for snacks during the day.
- Add vegetables or dried beans instead of meat to your favorite casserole or dish.
- Replace animal fats with olive or canola oil.
If Mediterranean isn’t your thing, there are lots of other ways to beef up on veggies. Try some of these tips from the AHA to help you enjoy more vegetables throughout the day while keeping your taste buds inspired:
- Instead of adding cheese or meat to your eggs or potatoes, add some chopped veggies instead—spinach, onions, or bell peppers of any color or variety make great choices.
- Try 100 percent vegetable juice for your morning beverage, to help drink your way to your daily veggie servings.
- Have a vegetable salad with your lunch, and include as many colors and varieties as possible.
- Add a variety of veggies to your sandwich instead of just lettuce, such as avocado, tomato, sprouts, or cucumber.
- Make a bowl of homemade vegetable soup (most canned soups are high in sodium).
- Include steamed or microwaved veggies with your meal.
- When the oven is on to cook your meal, add a whole potato, sweet potato, or yam to cook alongside it.
- When cooking rice, add frozen peas for the last three minutes on the stove.
- Add vegetables like mushrooms, celery, or chopped onions and garlic to spaghetti sauce.
A Few to Avoid
While vegetables are healthy in most cases, some preparations may do more harm than good. The Mayo Clinic recommends steering clear of vegetables made with creamy sauces, as well as those that are fried or breaded. If using canned veggies, choose low-sodium or no-sodium options.
Beyond that, all vegetables are good for you, and can help you make strides toward a healthy heart for life. By focusing on variety and creativity, you can make eating healthy more fun.