The Best Snacks to Eat for a Healthy Heart
Snacks tend to get a bad rep, but snacking on the right foods can actually be an important part of a healthy diet. Think about snacks as an opportunity to bring more nutrition to your day, while also keeping you energized and focused in between meals. Instead of reaching for traditional snacks like chips, cookies, and crackers—which can contain a lot of sugar, salt, and saturated fat (all of which, in excess, can raise your risk for heart disease)—try to snack more on whole foods. Fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole-grain products add fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to your day, all of which can contribute to a healthier heart.
That said, the snack category has evolved in recent years and you can find many nutritious snacks in a package. You just have to know what to look for! Kim Murachver, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., C.D.E., owner of Greene Nutrition recommends choosing snacks that have at least 3g of fiber and under 200 mg of sodium. "When it comes to saturated fat, consider how much you're eating at meals and how snacks fit into that. If you are at risk for heart disease, I recommend your total saturated fat intake is no more than 15-20g per day," she adds.
Even keeping that in mind, you may be wondering what to grab when you're hungry between meals but still want to take care of your heart. Here are 10 of the healthiest snacks to eat for your heart.
1. Apple with nuts or nut butter
It's no secret that nuts are good for your heart. In fact, one analysis of 25 studies found that regular nut consumption may reduce your risk of heart disease by up to 30 percent. "Apples contain phytonutrients and pectin, both of which are associated with improvements in cardiovascular risk factors," notes Murachver. Combining an apple with nut butter creates a powerful snack for your heart, plus the mix of fiber and healthy fats helps keep you full.
2. Roasted chickpeas
Eating beans, like chickpeas, is linked to reduced risk of heart disease. "Much of the benefit comes from the fiber as well as the plant sterols, including sitosterol, which help reduce cholesterol and contribute to better heart health," adds Murachver. Roasted chickpeas are the perfect snack to satisfy a crunch craving, and they can be made savory or sweet. For a flavor burst, Murachver likes to toss them with a little olive oil, garlic, and smoked paprika. This recipe for Spiced Chickpea "Nuts" is a great place to start. If making your own at home feels like too much, buy a bag of roasted chickpeas. Just watch out for flavors that contain a lot of salt or added sugar. Aim for less than 200mg of sodium or less than 4g of added sugar per serving, if possible.
3. Energy balls
Many homemade energy balls pack a lot of heart-healthy ingredients into one small bite. Choose ones with oats and nuts, seeds, or nut butter for both cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber found in oats and unsaturated fats found in nuts and seeds. For an even bigger punch, add chia, flax, or hemp seed for some omega-3 fatty acids, which may help reduce inflammation, a risk factor for heart disease. Need some inspiration? Try our Carrot Cake Energy Bites.
4. Whole-grain crackers with hummus
"Whole grains contain fiber, which helps lower cholesterol," says Murachver. Look for crackers that list whole wheat or another whole grain as the first ingredient and be mindful of sodium and added sugar in crackers. Pair with hummus for some extra fiber, a little plant-based protein and healthy fats.
5. Roasted carrots with dip
Roasting carrots not only brings out more flavor, but the olive oil used to roast them adds heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Roast a bunch at the beginning of the week for an easy grab-and-go snack. Pair with an avocado or tahini-based dip for even more heart healthy fats packed into your snack. And if you prefer the crunch of raw carrots, that's a great option too.
6. Roasted spiced nuts
Bored with raw almonds? We're with you. Try adding some flavor by tossing your favorite nuts or seeds in olive oil and then add your favorite spices. "Nuts and olive oil provide a combination of mono and polyunsaturated fats, which are associated with lower LDL cholesterol," says Murachver. Her favorite combo is a drizzle of maple syrup, pumpkin pie spice and a pinch of salt or try our recipe for Spiced Spanish Almonds. Packaged flavored nuts can be a good option as well, just watch the excess salt and sugar.
7. Roasted pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds are a good source of magnesium, which may lower blood pressure and reduce your risk for heart disease. They also contain fiber, unsaturated fat, and plant-based protein, all of which contribute to heart health and make for a satisfying snack. Similar to nuts and dried chickpeas, store-bought versions are a good convenient option. Or, try our Pumpkin Seeds with Everything Bagel Seasoning.
8. Green smoothie
Smoothies are the perfect way to pack in a lot of nutrients that promote heart health. For example, try our Really Green Smoothie which is filled with good-for-you ingredients. Bananas, which contain potassium, a mineral linked to lower blood pressure, add sweetness to the smoothie, while the avocado contributes heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, and creates an incredibly creamy texture. Pair that with the omega-3s and fiber in chia seeds and nutrient-packed spinach, and you have an incredibly heart-healthy snack in a glass.
9. Greek yogurt with berries
There's a great debate around whether or not dairy is good for you and your heart. Hover, a recent study says that eating yogurt may reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. In general, it's recommended that you stick to low-fat dairy products to limit saturated fat and it's best to choose plain yogurt to limit added sugar. Greek yogurt contains more protein than regular yogurt, which can make your snack more satisfying. Pair the yogurt with berries, such as blueberries, which have been linked to improved heart health.
Not only is edamame fun to eat when in the shell, but eating soy protein has actually been linked to lower cholesterol. Edamame also contains fiber, polyunsaturated fat, and other phytonutrients that contribute to heart health. Try edamame with a squeeze of lemon or lime and some cayenne pepper for a low-sodium snack option.
When snacking think about what you can add to your diet rather than what to take away. Both homemade and packaged snacks have a place in your kitchen, but in either case, choose snacks that include heart-healthy ingredients like nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.