A heart-healthy diet may sound boring if you’re not used to eating this way. This eating pattern calls for lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, poultry, and limited amounts of red meat, whole-fat dairy products, salt, and added sugar.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some of your favorite treats. Here are a few popular snacks that are kind to your ticker:
It’s true! A lot of past research has looked at the effects of chocolate—usually dark chocolate—on the heart. For instance, research showed that chocolate lowered blood pressure. Other data found it reduced the risk of an abnormal heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation (Afib). Both of these problems are risk factors for heart attacks and strokes. Read about chocolate’s other heart benefits here.
A team of scientists recently combined the results of the best heart disease–related chocolate studies involving more than 336,000 people. Their data, in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, showed that eating chocolate once a week was linked to a lower risk for heart disease.
The benefit is probably due to substances in dark chocolate called flavanols. To make the most of this sweet treat, look for bars with a high amount of cacao beans (70% cacao or more), the plant that chocolate is made from. Stick to no more than a square or 2 a day so you don’t gain weight!
You may have been staying away from eating nuts because of their high fat content. The good news: The main fat found in nuts, called monounsaturated, is heart-healthy. So a small handful of nuts makes an excellent between-meal snack.
A 2017 Harvard study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that people who ate more nuts had a lower risk for heart problems like heart attacks and stroke. Eating tree nuts such as almonds, pecans, walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, and/or cashews at least 2 times a week was linked to up to a 23% lower risk of heart disease.
You probably don’t think of popcorn as a whole grain or high in fiber, but it’s both! That means it can help improve your heart health—but only if you don’t drown it in butter or margarine.
A large serving of popcorn from a movie theater can contain more than 1,000 calories and 2,650 milligrams of sodium, according to the American Heart Association!
The key is to use an air popper. Drizzle popped corn with a little olive or canola oil, and season it lightly.
Grapes—particularly the red kind—may help reduce cholesterol, a major heart disease risk factor. When people with high cholesterol ate 500 grams (about 3 cups) of red grapes a day for 8 weeks, they lowered their total and “bad” LDL cholesterol, according to a study in the journal Food and Function. White grapes didn’t have the same effect.
Red grapes contain a substance called resveratrol, which helps reduce inflammation. Eat them fresh or freeze them for a refreshing treat on a hot day or a heart-healthy dessert.
Studies also suggest that dried grapes—raisins—have helped reduce gum disease. Since gum disease is linked to higher risk of heart attacks and strokes, eating them might be beneficial. But raisins also contain a lot of sugar, so it’s wise to eat them in moderation—about a heaping tablespoon per serving.
The trick with snacks is not to go overboard. As long as you watch your portions, you can keep both your taste buds and your heart happy!