With the New Year comes New Years resolutions for a lot of us. And with everything that has been going on the past year with the pandemic, health is high up on the list of things to change. While COVID has been a real threat recently, heart health is still a top killer here in the U.S. So, this is a great area to focus on when it comes to overall health. Focusing on your heart health doesn’t have to cost you a ton of money and can actually save you money in overall health care costs down the line. So, we have come up with a list of 13 of our favorite budget-friendly heart-healthy foods and activities to get you started.
One of the easiest things to change when it comes to your heart health is your food choices. And eating healthy food doesn’t have to be expensive. So, here is a list of 8 of our favorite heart healthy foods to incorporate into your diet. Plus, they won’t cost you an arm and a leg to purchase either. Bonus!
1. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate is a fantastic heart healthy food, and a sweet treat at the same time. Dark chocolate is pretty high in both magnesium and fiber, which are great heart healthy nutrients to incorporate into your diet. When looking for dark chocolate, try to find one that is at least 70% cacao whenever possible. And check the ingredients to make sure they haven’t added a bunch of extra preservatives that aren’t really serving the immunity purpose well.
Either way, adding in a square (or two if it’s been a rough day) can be great for your heart health, immunity and mental state. So, grab a few different dark chocolate bars to have on hand for whenever you are feeling a sweet craving. They really come in handy!
Beans are extremely high in both fiber and magnesium also. And depending upon which type of bean you are incorporating, they can also potentially be high in other heart healthy nutrients, such as folate. By adding beans into your diet, you can be naturally reducing your cholesterol while feeling full longer. Both of which are very crucial to overall heart health. Some of my favorite beans and/or legumes to add into our diet regularly are:
- Black Beans
- Kidney Beans
- Pinto Beans
- Garbanzo Beans
- Navy Beans
Try adding these into your salads, casseroles, soups, stir fry or even make hummus. We also add them into our breakfast burritos and the kids love them!
3. Whole Grain Rice
Having whole grain rice on hand has been one of our staples for years. And, as an added bonus, it also happens to be a fantastic heart healthy food. Since whole grain rice still has the bran on it (as opposed to white or polished rice where the bran is removed) this is still a fiber rich food. Plus, the bran contains all of the vitamins and minerals of the rice grain, so you get plenty of magnesium to boot.
And on top of those great benefits, rice is super cheap. Both to buy and make. In fact, we keep a huge bag of it on hand in our pantry at all times because we incorporate whole grain rice into our diet regularly. This is one of my favorite budget-friendly foods to stock the pantry with that is also very diverse. Plus, most kids will eat it too, which is great for those of us who have picky eaters.
Out of this list of foods, walnuts are probably going to be the most expensive item. Depending upon where you shop and what type of walnuts you get, of course. Walnuts are a naturally good source of Omega 3 fatty acids and Vitamin B6. Both of these are crucial to overall heart health. In fact, we like them so much that we usually have a small handful for breakfast every day to help start our day out right.
The best way I have found to purchase them is in halves and pieces as opposed to whole. The whole walnuts seem to cost more money and I am perfectly fine with them being broken. The trick to keeping walnuts fresh is to store them in the refrigerator once you have opened the package though. Since they can oxidize fairly quickly once subjected to oxygen. This will keep them fresh longer and prevent them from going rancid as quickly.
Avocado is another one of my favorite foods. But growing up in California near the avocado farms might have had a little bit to to do with that. Since they are exceedingly high in Omega 3 fatty acids, they are a natural heart healthy food. While some people aren’t huge fans of the avocado, give it a try if you haven’t recently. Sometimes, the avocado may not be ripe and when that happens, they really aren’t that good. Choosing a ripe avocado is key to a good experience, and also important in order to reap all of the nutritional benefits.
The best way to tell if an avocado is ripe is to palm it and give it a light squeeze. If the skin gives a little bit in your hand then it is ripe and ready to eat. If it is still a bit firm, then give it another day or two on the counter to ripen. But, if it easily squishes in your hand, then you have let it go too long. You can store them in the refrigerator crisper for a few days to prevent further ripening if your avocados are just right or almost there. Which is what we do since we go through so many of them in our house.
Berries are fantastic heart healthy additions to any diet, when you can get your hands on them. Not only are they very low in sugar, for a fruit, but high in a lot of crucial heart healthy nutrients. Some of these include:
- Anthocyanins (the berries with any blue hue)
- Vitamin C
Berries are well known for a lot of their health boosting qualities. But when it comes to heart health, they can help to decrease cholesterol levels and help reduce inflammation in the arteries.
Some of our favorite berries to incorporate into our diet are:
- Gooseberries (sometimes called Cape Berries)
No matter which berries you choose to incorporate, these are some of the best (and most delicious) heart healthy foods out there.
7. Leafy Greens
Leafy greens are extremely high in magnesium and fiber. Both of these are essential to good heart health. I, personally, love leafy greens and even eat them for breakfast. Due to the higher fiber content, extremely low caloric content and the diversity of vitamins and minerals, they can be very diverse. Most people associate leafy greens with a salad, but they can easily be added to a myriad of other things for more diversity.
I like to add leafy greens to my:
- Stir fry
No matter how you choose to add leafy greens into your diet, they are both delicious and nutritious. And, if you want the best leafy greens, growing your own garden is the best way we’ve found to get them. When the different greens are in season, we can just go out in our backyard with some scissors and cut off what we need for a meal. It simply doesn’t get any better than that!
While veggies may seem like a broad category, there are quite a few that can directly benefit your heart health. One of my favorites is asparagus. Not only is it delicious if you prepare it correctly (and it’s not too stringy) but the level of Vitamin B6 found in asparagus is pretty darn high. And since there is a direct correlation between Vitamin B6 and cardiovascular disease, this makes it a fantastic heart healthy food.
But, you can also throw bell peppers into the same category as asparagus due to their high levels of folate. Some other great veggies to throw in to the mix that have heart healthy properties are:
- Broccoli – high in folate and Vitamin C
- Carrots – high in carotenoids
- Potatoes – high in potassium
- Squash (yellow and green) – high in folate, potassium, Vitamin C and magnesium
- Tomatoes – high in lycopene
- Garlic – high in immune boosting phytochemicals
- Onion – high in immune boosting phytochemicals
There are many ways you can cook all of these veggies, but steaming or sauteing are my two favorites. This way a lot of the flavor and nutrients are kept and whatever spices I add are brought out in the final dish. Plus, both ways of cooking are pretty easy to achieve and you don’t need a lot of fancy tools to get the job done.
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Heart Healthy Activities
Once you have considered incorporating more heart healthy foods, then adding in some easy heart healthy activities is a great way to round it out. All of these activities can be done fairly inexpensively, or completely free. It’s always good to switch it up also, so get creative with your activities.
Walking and/or running is something most of us can do without having to buy any extra equipment. Plus, by walking or running outside you get the extra benefit of fresh air. Where we live, we are lucky enough to have a lot of Greenway’s and trail hiking options. So we also get the added benefit of being out in nature with trees and other plant life. Since plants produce the oxygen we breathe in, this is an awesome way to re-energize and re-oxygenate your body naturally. Plus, walking and running are very well known to be excellent heart healthy activities. Bonus!
10. Jump Rope
When I was a kid, we did jump rope in school all the time. And it could really get your heart pounding, especially while playing double dutch. Now that game will get you moving! However, as adults most of us have forgotten how much fun a jump rope can be. They are fairly inexpensive to come by and extremely easy to use. If you don’t want to pay for a class or an app, just put on some of your favorite heart pounding music and jump to the beat. Or throw on your favorite show and jump rope during commercials, or during the show and take a break during commercials. Whatever you do, just grab a rope and start jumping!
If you don’t own a bike, then this activity could cost you some money. Or, if you live in an area where it’s not really safe to bike, then getting a stationary bike for your home is another option. I, personally, have both. Since I live in the south, some times of year can be extremely hot, so I prefer to ride inside instead. Plus, when I ride my stationary bike, I can listen to a podcast or read a book while I ride. Either way, if you have the opportunity to grab a bike of any sort, adding biking into your mix is a great way to boost heart health.
Swimming is another great heart healthy activity. Just like the other cardiovascular activities mentioned previously, this one will get your heart moving. You may not sweat as much either, which some of us really like. Plus, if you don’t have your own pool (which can be really expensive to maintain), you can try to find an indoor pool near you to swim laps in. I know that in our area our Parks and Rec system has a lot of indoor pools built for public use. These are great for all year round use and are usually pretty cost effective also.
13. Interval Training
Interval training has been proven to really boost overall heart health, and in some cases, metabolism also. Interval training is fairly simple and straightforward. You engage in an activity full force for a smaller period of time and then reduce your expenditure level. Overall, you are forcing your heart to switch between really hard work and recovery, which helps to strengthen the heart muscle. This is very important for overall heart health. So, take any of the aforementioned activities and partake in them using an interval training method. This can help you get the best overall heart health results.
Heart Healthy Foods and Activities Summary
Overall, there are plenty of ways to help boost your heart health this year. And by adding in some of these great heart healthy foods and activities, you will only help increase your overall health and wellness. So, don’t forget to incorporate the following:
- Dark Chocolate
- Whole Grain Rice
- Leafy Greens
- Walking and Running
- Jumping Rope
- Interval Training
Even if you choose to only incorporate some of these suggestions, they can only help you in the long run. And by helping increase your overall health, you can directly affect reducing your long term medical care costs. Now that is what I call a health care win!
What are some of your favorite budget-friendly ways to increase your heart health?