Is your afternoon pick-me-up a downer for your heart health? Packaged grub tends to have more sodium, sugar, and trans fat than your bod needs for its best (and longest) life.
Solution: Sub in in some heart-healthy snacks to keep your ticker happy and your belly full.
Our 15 favorite heart-healthy snacks
- Apples with peanut butter 🍏
- Blueberry smoothie
- Hummus with celery
- Popcorn 🍿
- Dark chocolate
- Chia seed pudding
- Banana-topped oatmeal 🍌🥣
- Energy bites
- Greek yogurt
- Sardines in olive oil 🐟
- Citrus water
- Matcha tea
- Hibiscus tea 🌺
Picking a heart-healthy snack basically means choosing noms that:
- maintain (rather than spike) your blood sugar
- help reduce your blood pressure
- go easy on the saturated fat (a la the Mediterranean and DASH diets)
Why? Because high blood pressure and cholesterol make your circulatory system work harder, straining your heart and damaging blood vessels.
And high blood sugar — an issue for many people with diabetes — can also damage your blood vessels, raising your risk of a heart attack.
What to look for
So, how do you know which snacks meet the heart-healthy criteria?
Research suggests that heart-healthy plans like the Mediterranean diet prioritize whole grains, veggies, and legumes. Look for snacks that focus on those food groups and fall into these general serving suggestions:
- Nuts, seeds, and legumes. Most folks can optimize their health with four to five servings a day, according to researchers.
- Heart-healthy dairy. The same researchers recommend two to three daily servings of fat-free or low fat dairy.
- Veggies. Taste the rainbow! There’s really no cap on your veggie snacking, so have fun trying new types and flavor combos.
What to avoid
When shopping for heart-healthy snacks, keep an eye out for these ingredient red flags:
- High sodium. Experts recommend capping your sodium intake at 2,000 milligrams per day. Sodium can be sneaky, so check product labels.
- Added sugar. The DASH diet recommends no more than five servings of sugar (about 1 tablespoon each) per week.
- Saturated and trans fats. One research review recommends trying to eat less saturated fat and trans fat to reduce your risk of heart disease.
- Hard-to-pronounce ingredients. Tricky, unrecognizable names on an ingredient list are a red flag. If it’s too hard for you to say, that means it’s likely an artificial additive (and the product is prob highly processed.)
Feeling hungry? We’re falling head over heels for these tasty, heart-healthy bites.
1. Apples and peanut butter
PB goes with pretty much anything. Pair it with an apple for next-level snacking.
This is an excellent heart-healthy snack because peanut butter and apples are high in fiber — great for maintaining balanced blood sugar!
2. Blueberry smoothie
Blueberry smoothies are packed with heart-healthy antioxidants, which could reduce pancreas inflammation, according to some research. Your pancreas plays a big role in balancing blood sugar. #TheMoreYouKnow
Blueberries also contain fiber, which can help maintain healthy blood sugar levels… and keep your digestive system moving smoothly.
3. Hummus with celery
Questioning this combo? First, don’t knock it till you try it. It’s surprisingly tasty. Second, your heart will *love* the flavones in celery — compounds that can help regulate your blood sugar.
Bonus: One small study found that snacking on hummus might positively affect your glycemic control (aka blood sugar level).
Not all packaged popcorn would be considered heart-healthy (some products are loaded with salt and trans fat), but low sodium popcorn is a great snack. It’s high in fiber and protein, which research suggests can help you can feel full between meals.
Popcorn is also pretty low cal, so it’s a great heart-healthy snack for folks trying to lose weight.
5. Dark chocolate
Chocolate is good for the soul, and it turns out it’s good for your heart too!
The darker the chocolate, the higher the percentage of cacao, which is rich in antioxidants. Research suggests that eating products with cacao may help reduce blood pressure, lowering your risk of heart disease.
6. Chia seed pudding
Chia seed pudding is an easy addition to this list. Chia seeds are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which studies show can help lower triglyceride levels.
Why is that good news for your heart? Because having too many of these energy-storage systems floating around in your cells can increase your risk of developing heart disease.
Going nutty for almonds? Munch on! Research suggests almonds can help reduce your risk of heart disease *and* help manage blood sugar in people with diabetes.
This heart-healthy snack is also high in fiber, so it’ll fill you up while supporting a healthy digestive system.
8. Oatmeal with banana
A good ol’ bowl of banana-topped oatmeal is basically the perfect heart-healthy snack.
First, there’s the oatmeal: A 2016 review of studies noted that eating three or more servings of whole grains per day can lower your risk of developing heart disease.
Then, the ’naners: Bananas are rich in pectin, which researchers say could help moderate blood sugar levels.
Speaking of the produce section, don’t forget the avocados!
There’s a reason these creamy delights have become a household staple. High in fiber and monounsaturated fat, avocados may help boost heart health by preventing postmeal blood sugar spikes.
10. Energy bites
The best thing about this snack is that you can customize it to your tastes and nutritional needs. Most energy bites are super heart-healthy and — as the name implies — energizing.
Energy bites are usually made by rolling a combo of nuts, grains, and berries and a little drizzle of honey or PB into tiny little balls. These cuties are high in fiber, protein, and healthy fats — nutrients that help stabilize blood sugar.
11. Greek yogurt
Greek yogurt is super versatile — and heart-healthy in every way. Why? Because it’s brimming with protein, which can help maintain a healthy weight. It’s also got probiotics, which support your body’s metabolism by improving your gut microbiome, aiding in digestion.
12. Sardines in olive oil
Sardines are one of the richest sources of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Studies suggest omega-3s could lower your triglyceride levels, which spells good things for your heart. In the end, noshing on sardines could help reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Cheers to heart-healthy drinks!
It’s no secret that our bevvies can be just as calorie-dense as food. In a pinch, sugary smoothies, lemonades, and juices *can* tame a rumbling tummy. But consider swapping some of these sweetened sips for heart-healthy drinks instead.
13. Citrus water
Juicing removes all the fiber from fruit while leaving the natural sugars intact, so drinking juice can cause spikes in blood sugar.
Try swapping your favorite juice for citrus water by muddling a slice of lemon, orange, or lime in a glass of H2O. Studies suggest that citrus consumption can help lower blood pressure.
Matcha is a type of green tea. It’s full of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a compound known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. EGCG consumption has also been linked with better heart health. #winning
15. Hibiscus tea
Even though it’s not quite as popular as its matcha cousin, hibiscus tea is a delicious, heart-healthy swap for lemonade or sweet tea.
Hibiscus flower extract (basically, the stuff in hibiscus tea) is a potent source of polyphenols, a type of antioxidants that have been linked to lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels.
Your afternoon pick-me-up does *not* have to be a strike against your health! Snacking can be nourishing and heart-healthy if you pick the right foods — like whole grains, veggies, and low fat dairy.
So add some of the snacks above to your weekly rotation. Then rest easy knowing you’re taking care of your cravings and your ticker too. Bon appétit!