I am always looking for ways to make my favorite recipes healthier without sacrificing their flavor. Heart healthy food substitutes are one of the first steps in managing heart disease and improving overall general health. I have put together a list of many replacements that you can incorporate into your daily diet that taste good and are really good for you and your heart.
Heart Healthy Food Substitutes
You may have heard the saying healthy foods healthy lives and you are what you eat. The reason for the sayings is that the food you consume makes a huge difference in your overall health, energy level and even the look of your skin and hair.
One of the first steps that a person can take in creating a more healthy lifestyle is taking a good look at their diets. Substituting more healthy foods for some of those that are not so good for you can go a long ways towards managing coronary artery disease.
Since my father passed away from this disease, I have a vested interest in keeping my diet as healthy as I can. The following food substitutes will be a very good start in your quest for a more healthy lifestyle.
Note: These food replacements are suggestions only from my personal experience. Not all heart-healthy food swaps are right for everyone. Before you make any changes to your diet, you should talk to your doctor and follow your doctor’s advice and dietary restrictions for heart disease.
For a quick reference to this page for 30 heart healthy foods, print out this chart and attach it inside a cupboard door. When you need to make a food swap, you’ll have a handy chart ready to choose from.
Plant Based Substitutes for Meat
Meat is high in saturated fat and can be a contributing factor in heart disease. Even if you don’t feel that you can cut it out altogether, limiting it a few days a week can help.
Try incorporating plant based proteins into your diet plan as healthy meat replacements. The following plant proteins nutritious, easy to prepare and very good for you and are some of the best meat substitutes.
Black Beans – Who doesn’t love the taste of a Mexican inspired chili recipe? Using black beans is my favorite way to use plant based proteins. They are not just for savory dishes, either.
Black beans are also often substituted in dessert recipes such as brownies, cakes and cookies to add their nutrient-packed benefits to sweets.
These tasty recipes all feature black beans and are easy to make and meals that the family will love:
- Mexican vegetable casserole with black beans
- Gluten free black bean pizza with veggies
- Black bean salsa with corn and tomatoes
Chick Peas – These nutritious seeds are the main ingredient in hummus and are used in many types of Indian curries. It has become one of my favorite lunch time options to use hummus as a dip with thick slices of raw mushrooms, carrots and cucumbers. Oven roasted chick peas also make a great tasting snack.
Try one of these recipes for Meatless Monday:
Large Seeds – Pumpkin Seeds and Sunflower seeds are not only good for you, they are a great way to snack, as well! They can be eaten raw or roasted in the oven with olive oil and spices.
Nuts – Cashews and almonds high in protein. Choose unsalted raw nuts for the healthiest snack to keep the salt content down. Don’t miss out on opportunities to include nuts in recipes, either. Many Thai recipes call for nuts as a part of savory dishes. See my Tikka Masala Curry with cannelloni beans and cashews.
Spinach – This healthy vegetable is high in protein and so many nutrients. I use spinach all the time in a frittata or a quiche with loads of other vegetables. The dish is filling but still light and the taste is amazing!
Wilted spinach and cooked vegetables also makes a great base for poached eggs while keeping breakfast gluten free.
Small Seeds – Seeds like Chia seeds and Flax seeds are easy to incorporate into energy bites and home made granola bars that pack a nutritious punch as well as adding more protein to your diet.
Whole Milk Substitutes
Whole milk has a high percentage of saturated fat. Try using one of these healthy milk substitutes instead for a healthier option. You might find that it takes a while to get used to the difference in taste, but I actually prefer many of these now over whole milk. It’s best to use the sugar free version rather than the sweetened varieties.
Hemp Milk – very high in plant based proteins as well as Omega – 3 fatty acids.
Almond Milk – also high in iron and magnesium. I use this all the time on cereal or in a breakfast smoothie. It tastes great!
Rice Milk – offers lots of B vitamins and minerals.
Cashew Milk – good source of healthy fats and plant based proteins. See how I used cashew nut milk as a dressing for a roast vegetable salad in this recipe.
Coconut Milk – I use this often to make curry recipes. It gives a lovely creamy finish to the dish with a slightly sweet taste that is amazing. Check out these recipes:
This tasty and creamy yogurt is a good swap for full fat yogurt, and sour cream. I often use it with fresh fruit and a grating of dark chocolate to make a healthy parfait that is the perfect light ending to dinner.
To start getting used to the taste of milk alternatives, try using these milk substitutes in recipes first and then on your morning cereal and in smoothies. It won’t be long before you love the taste!
Whole Grains vs Refined Grains
Whole grains contain a lot of fiber which may help reduce blood cholesterol levels and may also lower your risk of heart disease.
What are whole grains? Whole grains contain all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain kernel. This includes the bran, the germ, and the endosperm.
It is easy to include whole grain in your diet. They are filling and tasty and keep you very full between meals, so you won’t have the temptation to snack on less healthy foods. The list of whole grains is long. Don’t restrict yourself with just whole wheat pasta.
Start by introducing some of these filling whole grains into your diet. Here are a few whole grains that are very heart healthy and taste great.
Organic rolled oats or Steel Cut oats
Nothing beats a bowl of these whole grain oats and some fruit and almonds for heart healthy cereals that do a great job of keeping you full until lunch time. For a really tasty and healthy breakfast on the go, try this recipe for Blueberry Granola bars made from rolled oats.
Rolled oats are great on their own with some almond milk, and taste fabulous with a bit of honey, a sprinkle of nuts and some fresh fruit.
This whole grain cooks up in about the same amount of time as pasta does, which makes it ideal for quick side dishes, pilafs, or salads.
Great in soups and as a side dish, lentils are a really good source of folate and magnesium, which are big contributors to heart health.
Whole Grain Barley
My personal favorite whole grain. I love to add barley to homemade soups. It has a lovely smooth finish and delicate taste that takes on the flavor of the sauces. Pearled barley is also quite chewy and nutritious, but not to quite the same degree as the whole grain barley because the outer husk and bran layers have been removed.
Try this recipe for Vegetable Beef and barley soup. It is really filling and so tasty.
When you talk about superfoods, quinoa is at the top of the list. It has 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber for each 1- cup-cooked serving, and it’s also one of the few plant foods to be considered to be a complete protein.
The rainbow quinoa cooks up into several colors which adds a nice look to dishes. Use quinoa in place of oatmeal, in smoothies or as a base for eggs for breakfast. Incorporate it into energy bars and add it to a quiche recipes. You can also add quinoa to salads or soups and stews. It is SO versatile!
Heart-healthy Salt Substitutes
If you consume too much salt, your body will store extra fluids, which can raise your blood pressure. This puts a greater strain on your heart and many other organs. While there is no real replacement for the taste of salt, bold flavors can satisfy the craving for it.
I first cut down on salt several years ago and now it is hard for me to go out to restaurants to eat because everything tastes so salty. You will get used to less salt, I promise!
Instead of reaching for the salt shaker try using fresh herbs and spices. I have fresh herbs growing all year round and use them in almost every recipe I make. They add so much flavor to meals and are all good for you. The herbs that I in most of my recipes are:
And for an extra burst of flavor so that you won’t miss the taste of salt as much, try these dried spices:
- Red Pepper Flakes
- Cracked Black Pepper
Other Options also add loads of flavor without adding sodium to your diet.
- Fresh onions
- Lemons and lemon zest
Best Sugar Substitutes
One of the main problems with a diet high in sugar is that sugar is calorie dense and can crowd out other, more healthy foods, from your diets. A high sugar diet can also leads to higher blood pressure, weight gain and many other factors that lead to heart disease.
Sugar is also highly addictive for many people, but once you break the desire for it, the good news it that it’s easy to keep the sugar dragon under control.
Instead of relying on refined sugar, try some of the healthier sugar substitutes. Maple syrup and honey both have a have a lower glycemic index than normal table sugar, so insulin spikes tend to be lower if you use one of these options instead.
Fruit is naturally sweet but many types also contain quite a lot of calories. Stone fruits and berries are good choices if you are watching your calorie intake.
Dried fruit is a very concentrated source of natural sweetener that does a great job of sweetening baked goods.
I also use dates and flaked coconut as a sweetener for many healthy snacks. I find that if I use these, I don’t need to add any extra sweetener, and they add crunch, fiber and texture to desserts as well.
Note that any sweetener, even a natural one, is adding extra calories to your diet and should be used in moderation.
Stevia and Truvia
Stevia is a natural herb with a sweet taste that can be used to add the taste of sugar to many foods. It is a natural plant native to Peru and Brazil, and it is made with little-to-no chemical additives and no calories. Stevia is the main ingredient in the popular sweetener called Truvia.
List of Healthy Fats to use for Heart Health
The most helpful fat substitutes are those that are mainly unsaturated. This is a type of fat found in a variety of foods and oils. One of the reasons that they are better for you is that they help to reduce LDL cholesterol which is the type that clogs your arteries.
Also try to eat foods rich in omega-3. Some good food choices for healthy fats are:
Not all fats are created equal. Even though avocados are high in fat, it is the good kind of monounsaturated fat. I like to use them as a spread on whole grain bread instead of mayonnaise for replacing saturated fat and adding taste, as well.
The recommendation used to be that we should limit eggs, but this is not the case any more. Not only are eggs a great source of lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids, but they contain some important nutrients.
Salmon, mackerel, trout, tuna and sardines are all full of omega-3 fatty acids. Try to incorporate them 1-2 times a week for heart health.
Try some of these recipes using fatty fish
- Herbed salmon with Dijon Mustard Sauce
- Tuna Lettuce Wraps
- Steel head trout with a lemon Parmesan Sauce
Healthy Cooking Oils
The American Heart Association says that the consumption of saturated fats can raise the level of LDL cholesterol in your blood. This can, in turn, increase your risk of heart disease. This thinking is not quite as clear cut as it used to be, but limiting saturated fats is a good choice. Unsaturated oils have been found to lower your blood cholesterol levels and your risk of heart disease.
There are several healthy oils to cook with that are good substitutes for butter and also add flavor to your food.
I use extra virgin olive oil to cook most of the time, but many other oils are also hearty healthy, such as avocado oil, grape seed oil, safflower oil, peanut oil and canola oil. Some are better for a sauté pan and others are better for deep frying. Olives themselves are also a good source of healthy fats.
Coconut oil is a saturated fat but there is some evidence that it gives HDL cholesterol a bit of an extra boost. I use it sparingly but like it for some recipes because it has a high smoke point.
Avoid nuts packaged or roasted in oil; instead, enjoy them raw or dry roasted for the most nutritious punch.
Nut and Seed Butters
Nut and seed butters such as almond butter, sunflower nut butter (my favorite!) and cashew butter contain healthy fats that benefit heart health. I use them often when I make energy bites, or as a drizzle over fresh fruit.
By making some of these healthy food swaps, you will be contributing to your overall health, giving your heart what it needs, and might even shed a few pounds in the process. Why not try one or two of them this week?
What is your favorite heart healthy food swap? What is on your heart healthy food list? Let me know in the comments below.
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