Heart Healthy Recipes to Take your Meals from “Meh” to “Mind-blowing”

Heart healthy eating doesn’t mean skimming on the foods you love. Protect your ticker while enjoying these heart healthy recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.

3 heart healthy recipes showing chickpea salad on a tray, pineapple mango smoothie bowl and scrambled eggs with salad on a plate

Heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada, and affects many individuals and families. There are many factors that can affect your risk for heart disease. Some of these risk factors you can’t change –  like your age, gender, and ethnicity. The good news is that around 80% of premature heart disease can be prevented, by following a healthy and balanced lifestyle. This means, you have the power to lower your risk; by eating well, exercising, limiting (or avoiding) alcohol, quitting smoking, and learning how to manage stress. In this guide, we will answer some of your questions about what it means to eat well for heart health, and share some delicious heart healthy recipes, that you and your family can enjoy!

What foods will clog your arteries?

The answer to this question has been under considerable debate over the last few years. One thing that almost everyone in the scientific and healthcare community agrees on, is that industrially produced trans fats should be eliminated from our diets.

Trans fats, are found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils – used in processed foods; like:

  • Packaged baked goods – cakes, muffins, donuts, cookies made with shortening and vegetable margarine
  • Fried fast foods
  • Processed peanut butter
  • Non dairy coffee creamers
  • Pies
  • Pizza
  • Potato chips

There is strong evidence that industrially produced trans fats are linked to heart disease.  Fortunately, trans fats have been banned in Canada, and will soon disappear from our food supply.  

The big fat controversy is around our understanding of how saturated fats affect risk of heart disease. Saturated fats are found in animal foods, such as red and processed meat, higher fat poultry, higher fat dairy, and animal fats like butter, ghee, lard and cream. Saturated fats are also found in plant sources that are solid at room temperature, such as coconut oil and palm oil.

From the best available evidence, what we know is that saturated fats lead to an increase in “LDL” or lousy cholesterol. In other words, high “LDL” levels can increase the risk of heart disease. However, a few recent studies suggest that there was no association between eating saturated fats and heart disease.

Let’s dig deeper, and discuss some reasons for this.

One could argue that there isn’t sufficient research – to make a conclusive judgement. Not to mention, these studies are not of the highest quality. Some also believe that LDL alone  may not be the best way to measure risk for heart disease, and we need to learn more about the exact biological mechanisms of how blockages in the arteries form. This idea is not supported by others.

Let’s not forget, not all fats that fall under the umbrella of saturated fat are created equal. For example, saturated fat from butter and coconut oil are different chemically, and may be metabolized differently in the body (though both have shown to increase LDL levels).

The confusion around saturated fats doesn’t mean that “butter is back” or that coconut oil should be used as your main source of fat. In fact, studies have shown that having unsaturated fats from plant sources (think olive oil, avocados and oils from nuts and seeds) instead of saturated fats lowers  your risk of heart disease . So despite all the controversy, the recommendations to limit saturated fat in your diet – still stands.

The key with fats like butter, lard, ghee, cream and coconut oil is to eat them mindfully, and enjoy them in moderation rather than using them as your ‘go-to’ source of fat. For example, you can use olive oil as your main source of fat when cooking and mix in a little coconut oil to achieve a desired flavour profile for a recipe.

What is the healthiest diet for the heart?

When it comes to hearty healthy eating, we would encourage you to shift your thinking from individual nutrients; like saturated fats or cholesterol – to an overall dietary patterns instead. Research looking at the relationship between dietary patterns and heart disease consistently shows that predominantly plant-based diets can lower your risk of heart disease.

What about real population groups?

The Blue Zones are regions in the world, where populations live longer, healthier lives – compared to other areas of the world. These regions include Ikaria in Greece, Loma Linda in California, Sardinia in Italy, Okinawa in Japan and Nicoya in Costa Rica. When it comes to their dietary patterns, there is one thing all these regions have in common – they all follow predominantly plant-based diets, and eat animal foods like meat and high fat dairy in moderation. For example,  Ikaria and Sardina in the Blue Zones  follow a Mediterranean style pattern of eating.

Let’s delve deeper into the  Mediterranean Diet.

The Mediterranean Diet

infographic depicting the mediterranean diet with a plate of salmon fillet, salad, brown rice, fruits and veg with olive oil and a glass of water on the side

It’s one of the most well-researched diets in the area of heart health. The benefits of this pattern of eating was discovered when a group of researchers, in the 1950’s, completed the “Seven Countries Study,” to explore the relationship between heart disease, diet and lifestyle. The researchers found the population that lived on the island of Crete, in Greece, had less heart disease – than other countries that they looked at. What was unique about the residents of this small Greek Island was that they followed a Mediterranean style eating  pattern.

What do you eat on the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean Diet is primarily a plant based diet that countries around the Mediterranean Sea (Greece, Italy and Spain) follow. It is a diet that’s rich in:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils, split pleas)
  • Olive oil
  • Fish, 2-3 times per week
  • Higher fat poultry, dairy and red meat in moderation

You don’t have to eat like a Greek to reap the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. In fact, it’s a pattern that can be adapted to many different cultures.

infographic depicting the mediterranean diet - desi style with a plate of fish, salad, brown rice, fruits and veg with olive oil and a glass of water, roti and chai on the side

What is a good heart healthy meal?

A heart healthy meal is one that is rich in a variety of unprocessed plant foods and includes higher fat animal foods in moderation. The plate method is an excellent way to plan a heart healthy meal that will give you a good balance of all the foods that promote heart health.

To follow the plate model, choose:

¼ plate whole grains:

  • Whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, barley, freekeh, steel cut oats

¼ plate proteins:

  • Fatty fish like salmon, trout, tuna, sardines and mackerel
  • Plant based proteins including legumes, edamame, tofu and tempeh
  • Skinless chicken with any fat trimmed off
  • Red meat can also be part of a heart healthy diet when enjoyed in moderation. Choose leaner cuts of meat more often.

½ plate vegetables and fruits:

  • Enjoy a variety of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables at every meal

Healthy fats:

Complete your meals with healthy fats from foods like olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds

Take Home Message

A heart healthy diet is simply a delicious eating pattern that includes lots of plant based and whole foods! See the recipes below for some inspiration.

Heart Healthy Recipes

Breakfast

Homemade Granola | Easy, Healthy Breakfast
Now you can easily create your own homemade granola – minus the preservatives. A plant powered recipe, made with real pumpkin and fiber rich oats, heart healthy almonds and sunflower seeds, and naturally sweetened with maple syrup – this recipe is the perfect choice as a healthy breakfast or nourishing snack.

Check out this recipe

homemade granola parfait layered with yoghurt and dried prunes
Chia Chocolate Pudding With Mint | Vegan, Gluten Free
Need an excuse to eat chocolate chia pudding? Look no further. This easy and healthy chocolate chia pudding is perfect as a breakfast, snack or dessert. Vegan and naturally sweetened with dates, this is one sweet recipe you will make again and again. Made with brazil nuts and perfect as a make-ahead recipe to power you through the week.

Check out this recipe

two jars of chocolate chia pudding topped with fresh strawberries with strawberries around
Egg Bhurji Recipe (Indian Scrambled Eggs) | Low Carb Vegetarian
Weekend brunch doesn’t get any better than this. Enjoy a delicious plate of hot Egg Bhurji (Indian Scrambled Eggs). Pairs perfectly with toast, roti, bread, paratha or potatoes. Easy to pull off and packed with flavour, this is a show-stopping egg recipe.

Check out this recipe

plate of colorful salad with egg bhurji
Chia Peach Green Smoothie | Dairy-Free, No Added Sugar
Shake up your breakfast game with this vegan energy-packed Chia Peach Green Smoothie. A beautiful blend of sweet fruits and fresh green spinach to create a tasty and satisfying recipe.

Check out this recipe

Green smoothie bowl with chia seeds and berries on top
Easy Chia Pudding with Strawberry Banana Ice Cream | Vegan, Gluten Free
A cold and creamy dessert, this Easy Chia Pudding with Strawberry Banana Ice Cream will make your taste buds dance. Frozen strawberries and bananas are blitzed into a delicious soft serve ice cream that’s dolloped over a thick and creamy chia pudding – all without added sugar. Devour these as a breakfast, snack or dessert.

Check out this recipe

glass of chia pudding layered with strawberry banana ice cream and nuts
Pineapple and Mango Smoothie
Creamy, thick and with all the Summer feels, this healthy tropical Pineapple Mango Smoothie, is truly sunshine in a glass. Super easy to pull off; it’s made in under five minutes, and uses 100% whole foods to create the perfect refreshing treat to cool you down! Vegan and 5-year old approved.

Check out this recipe

two coconut bowls filled with pineapple mango smoothie decorated with sliced bananas and fresh strawberries
Masala Tofu Scramble
South Asian inspired masala tofu scramble – A twist to the classic scrambled eggs! Perfect for breakfast or brunch, this spicy tofu scramble recipe is high in protein. Super easy to make, bursting with flavour and done in 30 minutes. Vegan and gluten-free.

Check out this recipe

Tofu scramble on a serving spoon

Lunch & Dinner

Vegetarian Quinoa Pilau Recipe | Gluten Free, Family Dinner
Inspired by the traditional rice pilau, this enticing and super-healthy gluten free Vegetarian Quinoa Pilau Recipe, aka “qui-lau” is bursting with flavour, and so simple to pull off. Infused with the aroma of cumin, coriander and garam masala, this recipe is one you will want to add to your repertoire. Satisfying and finger-licking good!

Check out this recipe

plate of quinoa pilau with tomato, water and empty plates and forks on the side
Pumpkin-Bean Burger With Chilli Avocado Mash
This pumpkin-bean burger is vegan, hearty, wholesome, and 100% yummy! It’s also freezer friendly and a perfect lunchbox option.

Check out this recipe

Pumpkin Bean Burger recipe
Mediterranean Style Crispy Tofu | Vegan, Gluten Free
Switch up your meatless Monday routine and learn how to make this healthy Crispy Tofu recipe – Mediterranean style. It’s unbelievably easy to pull off, and trust me when I say, you’ll want to make it again, and again. Tofu bites are marinated in a zesty and delicious Mediterranean-style marinade – to add heaps of flavor. Yes, it’s possible to liven up tofu. The intense flavor of oregano and thyme take this to another level! We love to serve it Buddha Bowl-style.

Check out this recipe

Buddha bowl with brocolli, crispy tofu, peppers, rice, hummus and avocado slices placed on a tea towel
Tandoori Roasted Cashew Gobi (Cauliflower)
The curry powder-cashew marinade take these cauliflower tacos to another level! Grilled tandoori cauliflower florets; coated in a tangy marinade of cashew nuts, lemon, tandoori spices, chilli and coconut oil. Fragrant, finger-licking good and simple to pull off. This is the taco recipe you’ve been waiting for! Vegan, gluten free and all done in 30 minutes. Who’s in?

Check out this recipe

Tray with three corn cauliflower tacos with purple cabbage and avocado cubes
Salmon and Quinoa Mason Jar Salad
Looking for healthy low carb lunch ideas? Learn how to make this make-ahead delicious salmon mason jar salad. With layers of colorful vegetables, heart healthy salmon, and fibre-rich quinoa – all made complete with the dressing of your dreams! Super easy, fresh and oh so satisfying!

Check out this recipe

salmon mason jar salad
Tuna Cutlets
A delicious and super-simple lunch or light supper option, this tuna cakes recipe is one to add to your arsenal. Using simple and readily available ingredients, this one is ready and on your table in just 30 minutes.

Check out this recipe

plate of tuna potato cutlets with white dip and carrots and lemon
Lunch in a Jar: Mediterranean Quinoa Chickpea Salad
On a hunt for a simple and easy way to enjoy lunch at the office? Try this gluten free, low GI and portable Mediterranean Quinoa Chickpea Salad in a jar. It’s delicious, nourishing and oh so satisfying – minus the sogginess!

Check out this recipe

jars filled with layered quinoa chickpea salad
Easy Lemon Pepper Salmon | Low Carb, 20-minute Recipe
Primed for a weeknight dinner, this super-simple and flavourful salmon recipe can be on the table in just 20 minutes. This sheet pan wonder is by far the easiest fish recipe you’ll ever make. It’s flaky, juicy, tangy and you won’t believe how incredible it tastes.

Check out this recipe

baked salmon in sheet pan with tomatoes and lemon slices
Tomato Asparagus Frittata | Low Carb Recipe
Eggs mixed with a variety of colorful vegetables, cooked to perfection and topped with fresh cilantro. This Tomato Asparagus Frittata is infused with cumin, fenugreek and chili flakes, to create a mouthwatering and easy low carb breakfast or lunch! Dairy free.

Check out this recipe

Asparagus Frittata topped with colorful tomatoes in a red pan on a table cloth

Snacks

Kala Chana Chaat (Black Chickpea Salad) | Vegan, Gluten Free
One loaded chana chaat coming at ya! A popular South Asian street food, Kala chana, aka dark chickpeas are tossed in a delicious blend of Indian spices, citrus fruits, and fresh herbs to create a simple, yet irresistible dish – perfect for breakfast, lunch or anytime really! Vegan and gluten free.

Check out this recipe

bowl of kala chana chaat with flower and herbs on top and tray in the background
Filo Cups with Apple Cranberry Salsa | Easy Holiday Recipe
One of my favourite party tricks is filo cups! These elegant cranberry and apple cups are a cinch to make and perfect for entertaining.Tangy cranberry salsa made with green apple, fresh cilantro, and squeeze of lime juice. A light dessert idea that’s super delicious!

Check out this recipe

bowl of cranberry and apple salsa with filo cups on a wooden board with dried cranberries
Watermelon Strawberry Popsicles – No Added Sugar
Stay hydrated with these bright and cooling no-added sugar watermelon strawberry ice lollies. The perfect healthy treat for a hot Summer’s day. Its not only the kids who will devour these!

Check out this recipe

3 strawberry popsicles on ice on a round plate decoratd with fresh watermelon and flowers
Herb Avocado Dip or Chutney | Gluten Free, Vegan, Healthy
Bright and refreshing, this avocado dip or chutney is infused with the aromatic scent of cilantro and mint. It’s creamy, spicy, tangy and will certainly incite double dipping with your favourite veggie snacks. Gluten free, vegan and healthy.

Check out this recipe

herb avocado dip with mixed vegetables and crackers

I’d love to hear from you? What are your thought on saturated fats and heart health? What is your biggest struggle when it comes to healthy eating for the heart? Which heart healthy recipes are you excited to try? Comment below!

By Niloufar Deilami RD & Shahzadi Devje RD CDE MSc

Niloufar is a Toronto-based Registered Dietitian, who works with people living with heart disease and diabetes. She is passionate about using the power food to prevent and manage chronic disease. Niloufar’s philosophy is that there are many ways to eat well and encourages people to explore new foods, eat mindfully and to bring back fun and enjoyment to mealtimes!

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