In the winter, we tend to crave warm, heartier foods—and while many of those foods may be delicious, many are also not the healthiest. Luckily, there are plenty of foods that will deliver the warm-you-from-the-inside culinary experience you tend to crave in the colder months, while also supplying the nutrition you need to support your cardiovascular health.
But what, exactly, are some foods that tick both the “warm and hearty” and “heart-healthy” boxes—and what are some of the best ways to enjoy those foods in the cold winter months?
Let’s take a look at five heart-healthy foods to incorporate into your diet this winter.
There’s no better way to start the day on a cold winter morning than with a warm breakfast. And if you want that breakfast to also support your cardiovascular health? Make it a warm bowl of oats. Studies have consistently shown that whole grains (like oats) can offer a host of health benefits, including lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease.
“Whole grains like oats…contain soluble fiber, a type of fiber which acts like a sponge in your gut, absorbing cholesterol and sweeping it out of your body,” says Tracy Morris, Fitbit’s Lead Nutritionist.
How to incorporate oats into your diet this winter: If you want to get the most nutrition bang for your buck, top your oats with nuts (more on those in a moment!) and berries, which are rich in antioxidants and will add just the right hint of sweetness.
Most people spend more time inside during the winter months—and all that time inside can lead to more snacking. But if you’re going to nosh between meals, one of the heart-healthiest (and most delicious!) snacks you can work into your diet this winter? Nuts.
“Nuts are a rich source of fiber, antioxidants, and cholesterol-lowering healthy fats,” says Morris. “Eating just a small handful a day has been shown to reduce the risk of developing heart disease.” In fact, a 2017 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that people who consumed nuts five or more times per week had a 14 percent lower chance of developing cardiovascular disease than those who rarely or never ate nuts.
How to incorporate nuts into your diet this winter: A handful of almonds or walnuts makes a great snack on its own—or, if you want to incorporate different flavors and textures, try sprinkling almonds on top of your yogurt or spreading a few tablespoons of nut butter on sweet potato toast.
“Coffee gets a bad rap, but in moderation, your morning cuppa may actually reduce your risk of certain diseases and help you live longer,” says Morris.
And that includes reducing your risk for cardiovascular issues. “There’s a lot of emerging evidence about the benefits of drinking coffee including better heart health,” says Morris. Research has found that drinking coffee is linked with a reduced risk for heart failure, coronary heart disease, and stroke.
How to incorporate coffee into your diet this winter: To get the most health-boosting benefit from your morning coffee, “avoid adding unhealthy ingredients like sugar, cream, or butter,” says Morris.
It’s also important to keep in mind that, while a cup or two of coffee a day is considered heart-healthy for many, it’s not the right choice for everyone—and should always be enjoyed in moderation. “Pregnant women and those sensitive to caffeine should drink decaffeinated,” says Morris. “And it’s wise to avoid high amounts of caffeine which may cause heart palpitations.”
In terms of foods that are both packed with nutrients and help to support heart health, you’d be hard-pressed to find a food more effective than spinach.
“Dark green leafy veggies…[like spinach] are loaded with nutrients like soluble fiber and folate that make them particularly heart-healthy,” says Morris. Studies have consistently shown a link between the intake of leafy green vegetables (like spinach) and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Spinach also contains ALA, the plant form of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce inflammation—another major benefit to heart health.
And, as a bonus, eating more spinach can help you balance out the reduction of activity most people experience during winter. “[Spinach is] also low in calories, so [incorporating more spinach into your diet is] a great way to keep calories in check during the slightly more sedentary chilly months,” says Morris.
How to incorporate spinach into your diet this winter: Winter is the perfect time to enjoy soups, stews, and chilis—and if you want to boost the heart-healthy benefits, just add a handful of spinach to the pot when your dish is almost finished cooking.
As mentioned, adding spinach can be a great way to up the nutritional value of soups, stews, and chilis. But if you really want to take the heart-enhancing benefits to the next level? Try adding beans into the mix as well.
“Beans are humble heroes that are a rich source of heart-healthy nutrients like soluble fiber [which may help to] reduce blood cholesterol and potassium, which can help to beat high blood pressure,” says Morris.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.