Just about everything is red during the month of February. After all, February is heart month! But in case you’ve indulged in a few too many chocolates or conversation hearts, the next step is to focus on what you can do to keep your heart pumping strong for years to come. Choosing the rights foods is a big part of making sure that your blood lipids and blood pressure get and stay in a safe range. So, in the spirit of February and all things red, here are some foods to help you do just that!
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Beets were probably one of your least favorite vegetables when you were a kid, but now that you’re older, it’s time to give this root vegetable the respect it deserves. Beets are bursting with antioxidants, as well as fiber, folate, potassium and vitamin C. They also contain a couple of other substances that provide additional health benefits, such as nitrates that can lower blood pressure and help improve physical performance during high-intensity exercise. Plus, the betaine found in beets can lower homocysteine levels that can contribute to inflammation.
One cup of sliced beets contains just 37 calories, 9 grams of carb and 2 grams of fiber.
Try tossing sliced beets with a bit of olive oil and a dash of ground pepper for an earthy, satisfying side dish. (By the way, beet greens can be sautéed and enjoyed, too!).
It’s pretty hard to say anything bad about lentils — after all, they’re high in fiber, protein, potassium, folate, magnesium and iron. And while they do contain carbs, they have a low glycemic index, which means they fit very nicely into a diabetes eating plan. When it comes to heart health, the fiber can help lower cholesterol, folate helps lower homocysteine levels, and magnesium and potassium help lower blood pressure.
Red lentils, which admittedly are more orange than red, are less common than the brown and green lentils that you may be used to seeing. They’re a little harder to find, so check out Middle Eastern or Indian markets (where they’re often called mansoor). Because red lentils break down more so than other varieties of lentils, they’re great for thickening stews and soups.
One-half cup cooked red lentils contains 150 calories, 25 grams of carb, 4 grams of fiber and 12 grams of protein.
Mix cooked red lentils with tofu, tomatoes and your favorite Mexican seasoning, and use as a meatless filling for tacos or burritos.
You’ve seen pomegranates in the supermarket — they get their bright red color from polyphenols, natural substances that are powerful antioxidants — but do you know how to eat one? In case you’re not sure, the seeds of the pomegranate, called arils, are the edible part of the fruit. And pomegranate seeds, which look like little jewels, are bursting with fiber, vitamin C, potassium and antioxidants, which are heart-friendly nutrients. Eating the seeds can help you lower your cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
To easily get the seeds out of a pomegranate, cut the fruit in half and scoop out the arils into a bowl. You can even buy just the seeds — minus the fruit. What about drinking pomegranate juice? While pomegranate juice is touted as having more antioxidants than other foods and beverages, juice, in general is higher in calories and carbs than the seeds, so it’s not the best choice if you have diabetes. Besides, it’s more fun to eat the arils!
One-quarter cup of pomegranate arils contains 36 calories, 14 grams carb and 3 grams of fiber.
Top off your morning oatmeal or yogurt with a sprinkling of arils, or brighten up your salad by mixing in arils to lend a festive flair.
Quinoa is a popular food that is usually considered to be a grain, although it’s technically a seed. It’s high in protein and contains all essential amino acids, plus it’s gluten-free. In addition, quinoa boasts a number of other nutrients including fiber, iron, potassium, calcium, B vitamins, phosphorous and vitamin E, not to mention the antioxidant quercetin which is thought to protect against heart disease.
Like lentils, quinoa come in different colors, including red. Red quinoa is native to South America and was a favorite of the Incan army, who believed that this grain (or seed) fortified them for doing battle. When cooked, red quinoa turns brownish in color and it has a chewier, heartier texture compared to white quinoa. It also holds its shape a little better than white quinoa. But it does require a few more minutes of cooking time.
One-half cup cooked red quinoa contains 111 calories, 20 grams carb, 3 grams fiber and 4 grams protein.
Quinoa for breakfast? Why not? Combine cooked red quinoa with a drizzle of vegetable oil, ground cinnamon, chopped nuts and, if desired, a dollop of Greek yogurt.
Lettuce is lettuce, right? Not if it’s red leaf lettuce. This lettuce sports dark red at the tips. Besides standing out in a sea of green lettuce, red leaf lettuce has a pretty impressive nutrition resume, to boot. Sure, it’s low in calories and carbs, but what makes this leafy green a star is its vitamin K and vitamin A content, along with a decent dose of both beta carotene and anthocyanins, which are antioxidants. In terms of heart health, vitamin K can prevent calcium from being deposited in arteries, helping to lower heart disease risk. And studies show that people with a higher anthocyanin intake are less likely to have and die from heart disease.
Three cups of red leaf lettuce contains 13 calories, 2 grams carb and 1 gram of fiber.
Switch out your usual lettuce with red leaf lettuce in salads and in sandwiches for a pop of color.
Pretty much everyone knows that tomatoes are good for us. They boast vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium and folate, as well as the antioxidant lycopene. But tomato sauce? Yes, with a couple of caveats.
Nothing beats a farm-fresh tomato, but there’s a case for cooking your tomatoes, too. Cooking tomatoes increases the amount of phytochemicals, especially the phytochemical lycopene, that can be absorbed by the body. Lycopene is known for its potential to lower the risk of cancer and heart disease. However, before you reach for a jar of store-bought tomato or spaghetti sauce, keep in mind that they may contain a sizeable amount of sodium, which can raise blood pressure and increase the risk of stroke, as well as sugar. It’s easy and a whole lot healthier to make your own tomato sauce. Check out this recipe for Penne with Tomato Sauce.
One-half cup of no-salt added tomato sauce contains 35 calories, 8 grams of carb and 2 grams fiber.
Tomato sauce goes with more than just pasta. Use it to poach fish or cook eggs. Whip up a batch of ratatouille, which is made with bell peppers, zucchini, onion and eggplant.
Want to learn more about keeping your heart healthy with diabetes? Read “Tips for a Healthy Heart,” “Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease” and “Fight Off Heart Disease With These Five Heart-Healthy Foods.”
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