Foods with Heart Health Benefits

February is Heart Health Month, making this a good time to look at the choices we make every day, especially what we eat. Michelle Dudash, Registered Dietitian, Chef and Author of “Clean Eating for Busy Families,” has tips on how to work more foods into your routine for heart health.

Michelle says:

It’s important to have good blood flow, since the blood gets nutrients and oxygen to all parts of the body.

There is a natural compound in the body called nitric oxide that keeps blood flow working properly in the body. With aging, diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high blood cholesterol, nitric oxide levels may go down, which can impair blood flow.

There are certain foods and nutrients that can improve nitric oxide levels and blood flow, which is what I have to show you today.

1. Nuts and seeds, especially pumpkin seeds, walnuts and peanuts

These foods supply the amino acid arginine, which the body converts into nitric oxide in the body.

Pumpkin seeds:

Enjoy as a snack. Sprinkle with chile powder and cumin. Sprinkle on salads.


Sprinkle walnuts on yogurt and in oats. Eat walnut butter on toast.

A study showed how walnuts helped improve blood flow in postmenopausal women with high cholesterol, due to the types of fats in walnuts that improve cardiovascular function. In a couple studies, walnuts have been shown to improve blood flow in diabetics.

1 to 2 ounces (1/4 to 1/2 cup) is the quantity used in these studies. Or 12 to 14 walnut halves in one serving.


Enjoy peanut butter on toast and peanut butter with apples.

Nuts and seeds often get a bad wrap for being high in fat. However, they contain good fats and can help you feel fuller longer. Just stick to the recommended serving size, which is typically 1/4 cup.2. Cocoa flavanols

Do you love chocolate? You’ve probably heard how chocolate can be good for you. The part that gives you the health benefits are the flavanols in the cocoa beans, which are a plant-based nutrient found naturally in cocoa.

Numerous scientific studies have demonstrated that these cocoa flavanols help maintain healthy levels of nitric oxide, which help maintain healthy blood flow of oxygen-and-nutrient-rich blood to your entire body.

One way you can get these cocoa flavanols is from CocoaVia cocoa extract supplement. The flavanols are gently extracted from cocoa beans and put into a convenient powder stick form.

I’m working with the CocoaVia brand to educate people about the health benefits of cocoa flavanols. And I love the CocoaVia Cran-Raspberry Stick pack in a bottle of water, with only 25 calories per serving and provides 375 mg cocoa flavanols. You can also add try adding a packet to your smoothie.

And I love using the unsweetened dark chocolate flavor in my coffee with my favorite creamer.

You can find this in the supplement section at Kroger, Walgreens and GNC.3. Dark leafy greens, like spinach, kale and arugula, and beetroot

These foods contain nitrates, which helps with production of nitric oxide.

I love making a tasty salad with spinach or arugula. One of my favorites is my Arugula & Shrimp Salad with Orange Vinaigrette from my book Clean Eating for Busy Families.

Contains just 330 calories per serving and has 22 grams protein and 3 grams fiber.

Also if you’ve never had freshly roasted beets, you are missing out! They are worth giving them a try in a salad.

How to Make Sweet Potato Toast

1. Sweet potatoes are an easy and tasty way to fit more vegetables into your routine. 1 small sweet potato provides more than twice the Daily Value for vitamin A, plus some vitamin C, fiber, and potassium

2. The best part about making sweet potato toast is how easy it is.

You put sliced sweet potatoes directly into your toaster or toaster oven.

It can take two to three cycles on your toaster on the darkest setting. Or you can also make them in your oven.

3. You can top the sweet potato toast with a variety of delicious ingredients. Some of my favorite toppings are avocado, hummus and pomegranate arils, salsa. Even pulled pork. Seasonings like sea salt, ground cumin and smoked paprika areArugula & Shrimp Salad with Orange VinaigretteFor the vinaigrette:

3 tablespoons (45 ml) freshly squeezed orange juice (juice of 1 orange)

2 teaspoons (10 ml) rice vinegar

1 teaspoon (6 g) honey

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon (15 ml) extra-virgin olive oil

1 pinch saltFor the salad:

5 ounces (140 g) cooked shrimp (about 1 1/4 cups), peeled, tails removed

4 cups (80 g) lightly packed fresh arugula (or [120 g] baby spinach)

8 thin slices Asiago or Parmesan cheese, halved diagonally

1/4 cup (33 g) slivered dried apricots

1 medium shallot, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons (14 g) sliced almonds, toasted

Freshly ground black pepper

TO MAKE THE VINAIGRETTE: Whisk orange juice, vinegar, honey, and mustard in a medium bowl. Drizzle in the oil while whisking. Add warm shrimp and marinate for a few minutes in the dressing.

TO MAKE THE SALAD: Combine arugula, cheese, apricots, shallot, almonds, and pepper in another medium bowl. Pour in vinaigrette, holding back the shrimp. Toss salad with tongs and divide among salad bowls. Place shrimp atop salad in each bowl and enjoy immediately.

Total Prep and Cook Time: 25 minutes • Yield: 2 main dish servings or 4 appetizers

Per serving: 330 calories; 17 g total fat; 5 g saturated fat; 22 g Protein;

23 g carbohydrate; 3 g dietary fiber; 154 Mg cholesterol.Recipe note:

You can use frozen, precooked tiny salad shrimp or medium shrimp, thawed. Or, to cook your own, bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add a pinch of salt to the water and then add the shrimp; turn off the heat immediately and remove the shrimp as soon as they are opaque in the center, after about 5 minutes for medium


Reprinted with permission from Clean Eating for Busy Families: Get Meals on the Table in Minutes with Simple and Satisfying Whole-Foods Recipes You and Your Kids Will Love, by Michelle Dudash, RDN (Fair Winds Press, January 2013).

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