For most Americans, adding virtually any vegetable or fruit dish to the menu constitutes a meaningful step toward a more heart-healthy diet. Research shows that few Americans get the recommended number of daily servings of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. That’s unfortunate, because diets rich in these foods have been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and other serious—yet common—illnesses.
Certain “superfoods” pack more protective punch, ounce for ounce, than others, however. Consuming raw beets, for example, has been linked to significantly reduced blood pressure among people with high blood pressure.
Other foods, such as those in the mustard family, contain potent chemicals with promising effects in the body. This family includes the cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, arugula, and many others). These plants feature unique compounds called glucosinolates. Research suggests these compounds are transformed in the body into potent health-promoting, disease-thwarting chemicals.
Still other plant foods, such as tree nuts and seeds, have been linked to better weight control and enhanced cardiovascular health.
Mixed salted roasted nuts
Although relatively high in fat, nuts feature heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, and a who’s who of beneficial vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, potassium (linked to blood pressure control), and selenium (an essential micronutrient that plays a key role in maintaining a healthy immune system). In fact, it’s a good idea to try to eat a few Brazil nuts daily. They supply the immunity-boosting essential nutrient, selenium.
Pulses and legumes (e.g. beans, chickpeas, etc.) are extraordinarily heart-healthy foods. Chickpeas form the basis of this classic Middle Eastern dip, which also features heart-healthy garlic. Serve with carrot and celery sticks and/or broccoli and cauliflower florets, for dipping—and extra nutritional benefits.
- 1 15-oz. can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
- 1/4 C. bottled tahini (sesame paste)
- 1/2-1 tsp. ground cumin (to taste)
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1/3 – 1/2 C. extra virgin olive oil
- Fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, rinsed and roughly chopped, about 1/8 C.
Working on the countertop, gently roll the chick peas in ample quantities of loose paper towels or a clean dish towel, to loosen skins. Rinse to remove skins. Add clean, drained chick peas to the bowl of a food processor or blender. Add other ingredients and pulse until a smooth consistency is achieved. Add salt to taste. Sprinkle with paprika or za’atar (Middle Eastern spice blend), if desired. Serve with carrot and celery sticks, broccoli and cauliflower florets, pea pods, etc., for dipping.
Ginger Beets with Orange and Pine Nuts
Ginger is one of nature’s most potent natural anti-inflammatories. Beets benefit the heart and the digestive system, while pine nuts, like other tree nuts, are heart-healthy. Together, these delectable superfoods combine to provide a side dish with comfort food appeal.
- 4-6 medium-large beets, chopped into bite-size chunks; about 6 C.
- Leeks, thoroughly rinsed, white parts only; chopped, about 8 Tbsp.
- 6 Tbsp. dried cherries and/or golden raisins, soaked in warm water for 10 minutes
- 6 Tbsp. pine nuts, lightly toasted
- 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar de Modena
- 2 Tbsp. fresh ginger root, peeled and finely grated
- 2 Tbsp. freshly grated orange peel (orange parts only; avoid inner white pith)
- 1 Tbsp. fresh orange juice
Mix beets and leeks. Steam beet mixture for approximately 15 minutes, until fork tender. Allow to cool. Place beets in serving bowl, add remaining ingredients, and toss thoroughly. Serve chilled. Serves 4-6.