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12 Heart-Healthy Snacks – by Nobel Prize Winner Dr. Lou Ignarro

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Snacking is often associated with junk food—potato chips, candy or other unhealthy options. Yet, eating between meals doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In fact, choosing healthy snacks can be a great way to support health.

Your body benefits from healthy snacks in a variety of ways. Recent research presented at the 2013 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting & Food Expo in Chicago® summarized studies showing that certain snack foods promote fullness and reduce the amount of food you eat during subsequent meals—a definite benefit if you’re trying to lose weight. I’d like to add to that: By choosing the right snacks, you are making good dietary choices and not eating less-healthy options. That means you’re making healthy decisions instead of eating foods full of saturated fat, refined flour, added sugar and other ingredients that offer no benefits to the cardiovascular system. Healthy eating habits will get you one step closer to a healthy heart.

Next time hunger strikes, skip the convenience store or vending machine, and try one of my favorite heart-healthy options:

  • Avocado: Depending on size, one avocado has about 320 calories and contains about 20 grams of monounsaturated fat. When eaten in moderation, and when used to replace saturated or trans fats, monounsaturated fats can have beneficial effect on your health, including heart health. A whole avocado also contains high amounts of potassium, dietary fiber and vitamin C. Since avocadoes are relatively high in calories, though, I recommend limiting your intake to about one per day. Try chopped avocado sprinkled with garlic seasoning as a mid-afternoon snack.
  • Apples: The sweet fruit of the apple tree has about 95 calories in one medium-sized apple. It’s a good source of dietary fiber, packing about 17 percent of the amount recommended per day. Dietary fiber is best known for its benefits to bowel health but it’s also an important component in helping maintain a healthy weight and supporting heart health. Soluble fiber found in oat and barley supports healthy cholesterol levels within normal range.
  • Raw almonds: A half cup of almonds has approximately 414 calories. While that’s a lot of calories for the portion size, the food also carries a good amount of nutritional benefits. In addition to providing magnesium and calcium, one serving of almonds also provides amino acids, particularly L-arginine. L-arginine is an important nutrient in supporting the health of the endothelium, the organ that produces Nitric Oxide, or NO. As you may know, NO is a critical signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system that improves circulation by helping blood vessels signal the surrounding smooth muscle to relax, which widens the arteries, increases blood flow and helps maintain normal blood pressure.

Other healthy snack foods include:

  • Carrot or celery sticks
  • Unsalted sunflower seeds
  • Cherry or grape tomatoes
  • Raisins
  • Red or green pepper sticks
  • Plain low-fat or fat-free yogurt with fresh berries
  • Low-fat or fat-free cheese
  • Grapes
  • Banana

There are many other snacks that support the health of your heart. As a general rule, choose fresh foods—the less processed, the better. Over time, you’ll start craving these heart-healthy options.

What are your favorite healthy snack foods?


[2] http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/FatsAndOils/Fats101/Monounsaturated-Fats_UCM_301460_Article.jsp#

[3] American Heart Association. Healthy Snacking. December 13, 2012. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyCooking/Healthy-Snacking_UCM_301489_Article.jsp

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