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Posted August 07, 2023 by Roger Chaffee, M.D., FACC
When it comes to heart health, you’ve probably heard about the foods you shouldn’t eat at summertime gatherings. Ahem, we’re looking at you typical cookout fare: hamburgers, hot dogs, macaroni salad and pie, which are chock full of saturated fats, added sugars and sodium.
Instead, let’s talk about foods we can and should be incorporating into our summer diet—and throughout the year. Fresh fruits and veggies can brighten up your plate and pack your meal with vitamins and minerals. Whole grains and lean proteins can kick up the flavor and add a twist to the classics.
There are even certain superfoods that can play a major role in heart health, while reducing your risk for heart disease. These foods can actually influence blood pressure, cholesterol levels and inflammation, all of which are risk factors for heart disease.
As the saying goes, “You are what you eat.” What you put in your mouth can influence almost every aspect of heart health—for better or worse. Summa Health offers seven superfoods that are a perfect fit for your summertime menu to maximize your heart health. Who said summer fare had to be unhealthy to taste good anyways?
Salmon—and other fatty fish, including tuna, trout and sardines—is one of the best sources of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to lower levels of cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure. They also can help to prevent erratic heart rhythms and reduce the likelihood of blood clots inside arteries.
There are a variety of ways to prepare fish: steamed, sauteed, grilled or smoked. Instead of beef hamburgers on the grill this summer, try salmon burgers instead. You can prepare it with a marinade or rub of your choice. You also can grill some vegetable kabobs as a healthy, yet scrumptious side.
This little root vegetable packs a punch—in more ways than one! Garlic contains a chemical called allicin, a type of antioxidant, which has been shown to prevent cell damage, reduce blood pressure and cholesterol.
So this summer, don’t be afraid of a little garlic breath. Your heart will thank you. Add flavor to your pasta dishes, grilled lean meats and veggies with chopped garlic. It’s also a great addition to hummus and salad dressings.
Spinach and other dark leafy greens, including kale, Swiss chard and collard greens, offer a wealth of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. In particular, they are great sources of vitamin K and nitrates, which have been shown to reduce blood pressure and improve artery function. Also, dark leafy greens are rich in fiber, which can lower cholesterol and reduce risk for heart disease.
Mix in spinach and fresh berries in your summer salad recipes, or sauté it with garlic and olive oil as a yummy side dish. You can even throw in a bunch in your breakfast fruit smoothies for an added vitamin boost.
Berries, including strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries, are a berry good choice for your heart. They are rich in antioxidants, which protect against inflammation that can contribute to heart disease, a great source of fiber to help manage cholesterol, and offer flavonoids, which can improve blood flow and counteract plaque buildup.
There are tons of options to add berries into your summer diet. Berries are great on oatmeal or Greek yogurt for breakfast, or made into a smoothie for something quicker. They’re also a great addition to a summer salad. For dessert, add a dollop of whipped cream to a bowl of fresh berries and mint leaves for a refreshing—and nutritious—treat.
Avocados are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, which have been linked to reduced levels of cholesterol and inflammation in the heart. They also are loaded with potassium, which can help lower blood pressure.
Try spreading avocado on your toast in the morning, or whipping up some homemade guacamole for a cool summer app. Instead of dipping chips, get creative and cut up fresh veggies, whole wheat bread cubes, pita, pretzels or veggie chips to keep it heart healthy.
Tomatoes are packed with vitamins and high in lycopene, which offers powerful antioxidant properties to reduce inflammation in the heart, lower blood pressure and increase good cholesterol (HDL). Higher levels of HDL can help remove excess plaque from artery walls to protect against heart disease.
Ripe summer tomatoes are delicious raw, served in salads, on a sandwich or added to scrambled eggs. Try making homemade tomato sauce or oven roasting them to add to fresh pasta dishes.
Go nuts for walnuts this summer. Walnuts provide a good source of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids. Nuts also contain monounsaturated fats, fiber, vitamin E and other vitamins that keep cholesterol levels and blood pressure in check. What’s more, walnuts contain “good” fats that increase good cholesterol (HDL).
Walnuts are a great crunchy addition to your summer salads or grilled fish filets. You also can sprinkle them on top of fresh fruit or warm oatmeal for breakfast. For a sweet afternoon treat, grab a handful of walnuts and a little dark chocolate (just be sure it’s at least 70 percent cocoa)!
Try including some or all of these heart-healthy superfoods into your diet this summer and beyond to help keep your heart ticking for the long haul.