Eating for Your Heart

By Charlyn Fargo

February 7, 2020 5 min read

Chocolate and Valentine's Day seem to go together, and while dark chocolate may have some heart-healthy benefits, there are plenty of other foods that love your heart and keep it beating strong.

Heart-healthy foods include the foods that make up the U.S. Department of Agriculture's MyPlate: whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean protein and low-fat dairy. Not so heart-healthy foods — processed and fatty red meat, added sugars, sodium — are to be eaten in moderation.

Here are some tips for implementing a heart-healthy diet.

No. 1: Replace enriched grains with whole grains. Choose oats, barley, whole wheat, corn, brown rice and sorghum.

No. 2: Emphasize fruits and vegetables. The more fruits and vegetables you eat, the lower your risk of heart disease.

No. 3: Include dairy. Fermented dairy, including kefir, cheese and yogurt, is being studied for its ability to protect against heart disease. New research indicates that while low-fat dairy is still recommended because it's lower in saturated fat, full-fat dairy may not be as harmful to your heart health as originally thought.

No. 4: Pour a cup of coffee or tea. Moderate coffee drinking (three to five cups a day) is associated with a modest reduction in cardiovascular risk, and drinking three cups of tea a day has been linked to a decrease in coronary heart disease.

No. 5: Celebrate with red wine and chocolate. The bioactive components in dark chocolate improve blood pressure, blood clotting and dilation of blood vessels. Studies show people's risk of heart disease goes down when they eat dark chocolate in small amounts — between three and six servings per week. Moderate consumption of red wine (one to two drinks a day for men; one for women) is linked to improved heart health. The key, like with any food, is moderation.

Q and A

Q: Should I switch to a plant-based diet?

A: Including more fruits, vegetables and whole grains has always been a healthy way to eat. Now there is more emphasis on transitioning toward a plant-based diet. That's not to say you have to make it all plants and no meat. But including more plants in your diet can help prevent and reverse heart disease, reduce blood pressure, manage diabetes and may help with weight loss. Start slow with a meatless Monday or a second side of vegetables.


Cooking Light magazine is back, publishing four times a year, and the latest edition features comfort food. Here's a recipe for Banana Walnut Bread. The recipe features whole-wheat flour and heart-healthy walnuts. Walnuts have significantly more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids than any other common nut.


3/4 cup whole buttermilk

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons quick-cooking oats, divided

6 ounces (1 1/2 cups) plus 1 tablespoon white whole-wheat flour, divided

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

5/8 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar, divided

6 tablespoons roasted walnut oil, divided

1/4 cup walnuts, chopped

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 1/3 cups very ripe bananas (about 3), mashed

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350 F. Stir buttermilk into 1/2 cup oats in a bowl; let stand 10 minutes. Place 1 1/2 cups flour in a bowl. Stir in baking powder, baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Combine 3 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons oil, nuts, cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon salt, remaining oats and flour in a small bowl. Add bananas, vanilla, eggs and remaining brown sugar and oil to buttermilk mixture; fold in flour mixture. Spoon batter into a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle walnut streusel over top. Bake at 350 F for 55 to 60 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack 15 minutes. Remove bread from pan; serve warm, or cool completely. Serves 16 (serving size: 1 slice).

Per serving: 190 calories; 4 grams protein; 27 grams carbohydrates; 8 grams fat; 2 grams fiber; 16 grams sugar (10 grams added); 208 milligrams sodium.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Illinois, and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRD. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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