Your diet and lifestyle matters a lot when it comes to your heart health. At work, when reaching for a snack, you want something instant and satisfying—salty, sugary or fried as opposed to a healthy snack that is good for your heart. This is because at work you’re often in a rush to meet deadlines and crave instant satisfaction.
But eating healthy doesn’t mean your taste buds should suffer. All you need to do is make minor adjustments to your snacks for a heart-healthy alternative. “Plan all your snacks out, not for the day, but every day. When you are hungry, it’s the worst time to ‘think’ of a snack you wish to eat,” says Gerianne Cygan, a certified nutritionist & health coach, and the co-founder of the national fitness studio, The Exercise Coach.
Stash these healthy snacks in your desk drawer to keep your hunger at bay.
Apples are low in calories, have little sodium, no fat or cholesterol, strong antioxidant compounds, and are high in fiber—pectin, a soluble fiber helps lower cholesterol levels, which in turn helps prevent heart disease.
If you don’t want to eat it raw, try baked apple chips. Cygan suggests eating it with a dip—chop up an apple in the morning, put a splash of lemon juice to keep it from from browning and eat it with nut butter. “Apples are a good source of fiber. Pairing them with nut butters will add heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, reducing your risk of heart disease. Just make sure there are no added sugars in the butter,” says Shane Allen, certified weight loss specialist, personal trainer and sports nutritionist with PersonalTrainerFood.com.
The key here is dark chocolate and not the sugar-packed milk chocolate. Allen says to choose something with 75 percent cocoa, or more. “Having 1.5oz of chocolate a day may lower your risk of stroke and heart attack. Be sure to keep your chocolate habit limited to no more than 1.5oz a day though, so the fat-producing sugar doesn't add up,” he says.
Dark chocolate is known for its antioxidants, and the presence of flavanols, which can lower blood pressure and improve blood flow.
Protein, vitamins, minerals, and heart-healthy fats—nuts such as walnuts, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, and pistachios are an obvious snacking choice. But keep to a small serving size—a handful is enough. If you want to eat more, stick to pistachios. “The magnesium and natural fats and oils in nuts and seeds are heart-healthy,” says Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, a medical doctor and nutrition expert. “Add some dried cranberries instead of raisins for more antioxidant Vitamin C and less fructose sugar.”
Studies have shown that eating nuts regularly reduces your risk of heart disease by 30 percent. Pick your favorite nuts and prepare small bags or containers with them in advance. You can also add a few dark chocolate pieces (with no added sugars) to the nuts to enhance the taste.
Allen suggests dry, unsalted sprouted almonds. “Soak the almonds for 24 hours, causing them to begin to germinate. The process of sprouting, then drying the almonds eliminates enzyme inhibitors, allowing our bodies to digest and absorb more nutritional value from the nuts,” he adds. Almonds are a great source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, which lowers bad cholesterol and raises good cholesterol and antioxidants, which can reduce the risk for heart disease and stroke.
Popcorn is a smart office snack—the whole grain contains polyphenols, an antioxidant linked to improving heart health. Avoid the butter and salt, and instead season with herbs, olive oil or spices. Make sure the bag you pop it in is free from PFOAs (perfluorooctanoic acid) that have been linked to cardiovascular disease.
Junk the potato chips and turn to kale chips, instead. “You can even make them at home by tossing chopped kale in a little bit of olive oil and baking them in the oven until they are crispy. This cooking method helps retain all the nutritional value of the kale, creating a nutrient-dense, heart-healthy snack,” says Allen.
Kale has no unhealthy saturated or trans fats, making it a good choice for cardiovascular health. The healthy oils used in making the kale chips is a good source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which help to lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise your HDL (good) cholesterol.
“Have one or two—only about 70 calories each and tons of nutrition packed into this easy-to-eat snack (have some salt or pepper on hand to season),” suggests Cygan.
Fresh Fruit & Vegetables
Chop them and put in snack packs. Cygan suggests mixing and matching—carrots, celery, peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, mushrooms or cucumbers. The same goes for fruit—blackberries, raspberries or strawberries are low on the glycemic index if you have blood sugar problems. Avocados are healthy, too.
And let's not forget the dips—nut butters, guacamole, or home-made vinaigrette dressing. “Avocado dip, Macadamia nut dip, or yogurt dip work well with sliced carrots, celery and zucchini,” says Dean.
Cygan suggests whipping up a protein shake with cacao powder, almond or coconut milk, protein powder, a little bit of ice and various fruits or nut butter to the mix to keep it interesting.
Heart-Healthy Recipes You Can Make Yourself
Antioxidant dark chocolate bark
- 15 ounces dark chocolate
- ¾ cup sweetened shredded coconut
- 1 cup dried cherries
- 2 tablespoons chia seeds
- ½ cup raw pepitas
- sea salt
Place coconut flakes in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir frequently and toast until the flakes are mostly brown. Melt chocolate in microwave or a double boiler. Add melted chocolate to a large mixing bowl. Add in half of the toasted coconut, cherries, and pepitas. Add in all of the chia. Stir until all elements are evenly distributed.
Pour bark mixture on a pan lined with parchment paper. Spread to ¼-inch thickness. Top with remaining coconut, cherries, and pepitas.
Sprinkle with sea salt. Put in freezer for at least 30 minutes. Once chocolate has firmed up, break or cut the bark into pieces. Store in refrigerator.
Credit: Gerianne Cygan, a certified nutritionist & health coach
Cinnamon apple snack mix
- 3 cups raw almonds
- 2 apples
- 2 tbsp vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp coconut sugar
Toss the almonds in the coconut oil and add the vanilla and sugar. Mix to combine. Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and bake at 350°C for 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Slice the apples. Dehydrate at 125°C for 3-4 hours. Add the dried apples to the almonds and serve.
Credit: Kathryn Farrugia, ZeNutrition.com