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Heart Health Starts at the Grocery Store

Brenna Stein, Dietetic Intern, NDSU Extension Service

February is American Heart Month. That’s a great time to commit to a healthy lifestyle and make some changes that can lead to a lifetime of heart health. 

Eating right starts with what you put in your shopping cart.  Making smart food choices can be confusing with all the health claims, messages and logos on food.  Use these tips to help you make heart healthy choices at the grocery store.

  1. Read all food labels. Ingredients and nutrient content can differ depending on the brand and the way the food was prepared. Compare labels of similar foods.  Choose the item with the lowest amounts of sodium, saturated fat, trans fat and added sugars.
  2. Be a label reader. Sodium and added sugars can go by many different names.  High-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, agave nectar and barley malt syrup are names for added sugars.  Sodium is present in table salt, sodium benzoate, disodium or monosodium glutamate (MSG) and many others. 
  3. Choose frozen or canned produce when fresh is not available. Choose canned fruit packed in water, light syrup or its own juice.  With canned or frozen vegetables, choose the product with the lowest sodium content.  Heavy syrups and sauces can add unwanted ingredients to your fruits and vegetables.
  4. Choose whole-grain foods. Always read the nutrition label when buying whole grains.  Many products claim to be, but really are not.  Look for the word “whole-grain” as the first item in the ingredients list.  This includes crackers, cereals, tortillas, pasta and bread. 
  5. Look for the Heart-Check mark.  This is a quick and easy way to identify if foods are a part of a heart-healthy eating plan.  This labeling means that the product is certified by the American Heart Association to meet specific requirements.

Are these heart-healthy foods in your cart, cupboard or refrigerator?

  • Leafy greens – Kale and spinach are easy to find and can be used in many different recipes.  They are a good source of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. 
  • Extra-virgin olive oil – This is a heart healthy alternative to butter.  It promotes healthy cholesterol levels and could protect you from a heart attack or stroke. 
  • Tomatoes – Tomatoes are very versatile, can be added to many different dishes and are high in antioxidants. 
  • Fish – Salmon and tuna are examples of heart-healthy fish.  They are high in Omega-3 fatty acids that may reduce inflammation, decrease triglyceride levels, reduce blood clotting and decrease stroke and heart failure risk. 
  • Grapes – Grapes are high in antioxidants and they contain phytochemicals, which provide anti-inflammatory effects that help the cardiovascular system. 
  • Nuts – Almonds and walnuts are among the heart-healthy nut choices that have been studied.  They have been shown to lower the levels of total cholesterol and increase good (HDL) cholesterol. 
  • Beans – Beans can be canned or dried.  They are high in fiber, fat free, and rich in calcium, iron and protein. 
  • Whole grains – Whole grains provide your diet with more fiber and are more filling than white flour products.
  • Quinoa – Quinoa is a great source of protein and fiber.  Put on top of salads or mix with beans or vegetables. You can find it by the rice in most stores.
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Sponsored in part by the Sanford Health Foundation.

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