4 Heart-Healthy Foods for Seniors
World Heart Day is on the 29th of September, and that means it’s the perfect time for seniors to take charge of their heart health by choosing the right food! The American Heart Association recommends eating a heart-healthy diet to help manage high blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes, which we know are more common in older adults. Our long-term care team in Cape May County has put together a list of heart-healthy foods, as well as a few healthy alternatives to comfort food favorites.
#1 – Fresh vegetables and fruits
When choosing fruits and vegetables, go for seasonal, local produce that’s good quality. Your heart will love the extra fiber (which is great for bowel health too!). The nutrients, vitamins, and minerals found in these foods will help keep the heart healthy while reducing the risks of high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, and high cholesterol.
It’s best to stay away from canned fruit and vegetables, creamy sauces, and fried or breaded vegetables as these have a lot of extra sugar, salt, and fat. If you’re looking for a healthy, long-lasting option, frozen fruit and vegetables are a great choice. You can also cut up and freeze individual portions to make mealtime easy and reduce waste.
If you’re craving something creamy with your vegetables, enjoy an avocado, or use natural yogurt or low-fat, low-salt cheeses to make a healthier sauce.
#2 – Whole Grains
Whole grains like whole-wheat flour, high-fiber cereals, brown rice, buckwheat, barley, and oats are more nourishing, tastier, and healthier for your heart. They help regulate blood pressure and digestion, are versatile to cook with, and are easy to find in grocery stores.
If you’re craving the sweetness of refined carbohydrates, try to keep your portion size small and choose the healthiest option you can. We love making cooked oats for breakfast with grated apple, cinnamon, and a touch of honey. Making your treats at home means you can control the amount of sugar, fat, and salt in the food, which is often very high in store-bought products. Whole grains are also a great excuse to exercise those baking skills and try your hand at oat cookies, date balls, homemade granola, bran muffins, and popcorn.
#3 – Lean or plant protein
The fat in meat is known as saturated fat and is unfortunately very bad for our hearts, causing high cholesterol and accelerating heart disease. Luckily, there are some healthier, tasty alternatives out there! Start by eliminating processed red meats like bacon, sausage, ham, canned meat, and hot dogs, as these have a lot of salt, fat, and even sugar in them. The next step is to cut out as much red meat (think steaks, lamb, and pork)as possible. Alternatives like salmon, skinless chicken, lean pork, and extra lean ground beef can give you all the flavor and protein you need in your diet, and some (like oily fish) can even help lower cholesterol!
Of course, you can go a step further and increase the number of vegetarian or vegan meals you have each week, substituting veggie burgers, tofu, soy, and vegan products for animal protein. Just be careful to read the labels on any products you buy, as some popular vegan and vegetarian foods are also high in salt and fat.
#4 – Healthy desserts
Unfortunately for those who have a sweet tooth, it’s time to cut down on all that sugar. In the U.S., the average adult consumes as much as 22 teaspoons of sugar a day, which is harming our health. While the occasional treat is not off the menu, it’s important to be more aware of how much sugar is in our diets.
Sugar dramatically increases the risks for type 2 diabetes, which puts your blood vessels and heart under severe strain. It also increases our risks of being obese by spiking our blood sugar levels rather than keeping them constant, stopping our bodies from breaking down fats, lowering levels of healthy cholesterol, and increasing blood pressure.
It can be challenging at first, but get into the habit of reaching for fresh berries and fruit when you’re craving sugar. You can also keep your sugar intake down with healthy sweeteners and small portion sizes. A few low-sugar, natural alternatives to your favorite sweet treats are banana-based ice cream, fresh smoothies, dark chocolate, and avocado chocolate mousse.
At UMC at The Shores, an assisted living community in South Jersey, we take a holistic approach to caregiving that supports a full and independent life for all seniors. We care deeply about each person in our care with our focus on active, healthy aging through regular fitness classes and nutrient-rich meal preparation.
For more information on our health and nutrition services in South Jersey, please contact us today or visit our website at