6 ways to give your meals a heart-healthy spin

Making heart-healthy meals doesn't need to be hard or expensive. Here are six simple ways to get more heart loving foods into your day.

A heart-healthy way of eating isn't about single foods or nutrients. It's about your whole diet and how it fits together. Instead of focusing on one meal, think about what you eat over a week and how you can eat as many heart-healthy foods as possible.

There are lots of small ways you can give your meals a makeover to make them good for your heart. You don't need to buy a new recipe book or go on a special diet.

Below are six ways to help you add healthy foods into your meals from breakfast to dinner. Over time these changes will become easier and part of your normal routine.

1. Make plants the main part

Plant foods like vegetables, fruit and legumes (like chickpeas) are an excellent source of fibre. Add lots of colourful non-starchy vegetables like leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, eggplant, and carrots to your meals. They'll help nourish and look after your heart.

Ways to use vegetables:

  • Stuff vegetables like capsicum, tomatoes, eggplant, courgette with grains and vegetables.
  • Plan meals around vegetables. Try soups in winter and salads in summer.
  • Grate vegetables like carrot or courgette into pasta, mince and couscous dishes.
  • Try cauliflower rice or courgette pasta to get more vegetables into your meal.
  • Roast vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, carrot and pumpkin with olive oil and spices to maximise flavour.

Learn more about plant-based, vegetarian and vegan diets.

stuffed aubergines

2. Give grains the green light

Whole grains like oats, brown rice and quinoa contain fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Using whole grains instead of refined grains, like white rice and pasta, is an easy way to make your meals better for your heart.

Ways to use grains:

  • Use oats instead of breadcrumbs in burger patties and meatballs.
  • Try brown rice, barley or quinoa instead of white rice, like this barley and pea risotto.
  • Use whole grain breads, wraps or pita instead of white versions.
  • Try a grain you may not have used before like wild rice, farro, millet, bulghar wheat.

Learn more about grains with our six tips to eat more whole grains blog.

oats and grains

3. Try new ways with nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds are versatile and delicious. They can easily add extra protein, fibre and good fats to your meals to make them heart-healthy. Seeds can often be cheaper than nuts and nut/seed butters are a great option too.

Ways to use nuts and seeds:

  • Toast almonds, walnuts, sunflower, or pumpkin seeds in a fry-pan or in the oven and add to a salad for extra crunch.
  • Add cashew nuts or sesame seeds to a stir-fry and pine nuts or walnuts to a pasta dish.
  • Spread peanut butter on sliced fruit like apple or banana or add tablespoon of peanut butter to a smoothie.
  • Use chia seeds to make a chia and berry spread or seeded crackers.
  • Add any nuts or seeds into porridge or muesli.

almonds, cashew nuts, walnuts, pine nuts in bowls

4. Build meals around heart-healthy protein foods

Try to eat a variety of protein foods like legumes, nuts, seeds, fish, and seafood, as these foods add heart-healthy nutrients to your meals. Chicken and red meat can also be part of meals but try to balance with other protein foods and remember to trim or remove the fat where you can.

Ways to use protein foods:

  • Use tofu instead of chicken, beef or pork in a stir-fry.
  • Grill or pan-fry fresh or frozen fish and seafood.
  • Add drained, canned chickpeas or lentils to a salad.
  • Add black beans or red kidney beans to any Mexican dish like nachos or burritos.
  • Use hummus as a sandwich filling or dip.

Learn more about choosing heart-healthy protein foods.

5. Swap to good fats

The best fats for our heart are mainly poly and mono-unsaturated fats. Swap to one of the heart-healthy fats below and for a whole food, less processed option use nut butter, avocado or hummus.

Heart-healthy fats include:

  • Vegetable oil, like olive oil
  • Nut butter
  • Avocado
  • Hummus
  • Table spread or margarine.

Choose healthy fats. Swap butter, coconut oil, ghee and palm oil to vegetable oil, avocado, nut butter or hummus

Heart-healthy cooking techniques like grilling, stir-frying, poaching, roasting can also help you use less overall fat too.

6. Use less salt without losing flavour

The sodium in salt raises blood pressure and increases our risk of heart disease and stroke. Choose the following ‘salternatives’ to reduce the salt in your meals and boost the flavour.

salt alternatives. Fresh chilli, cirtrus, vinegar, dried chilli, spices, dried herbs, fresh herbs, garlic

These ingredients add flavour to meals without the need for more salt:

  • fresh chilli
  • citrus fruit
  • vinegar
  • dried chilli
  • spices
  • dried herbs
  • fresh herbs
  • garlic
  • ginger
  • a dash of olive oil.

Focus on the positives

To eat a heart-healthy diet think about all the delicious foods you can eat everyday instead of trying to stop eating certain foods.

Preparing and cooking your own food is a great way to start making healthier meals. There are lots of benefits to making your own food like saving money and having control over the ingredients.

Life can get busy though, and you may not always get to the supermarket or have time to spend in the kitchen. Learn more about how to make quick and easy meals.

More on heart-healthy eating
Lily Henderson, NZRD

Lily Henderson, NZRD

National Nutrition Advisor

I am passionate about improving the health of all Kiwis from young through to old. I have enjoyed working in nutrition in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.