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Heart health: Foods to buy, foods to avoid

Hectic days and busy nights have many of us relying on the grab-and-go ease of processed foods. However, these ready meals are often high in fat, salt, and sugar. Not only that, but processed meals are also often low in heart-healthy nutrients like antioxidant vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and fibre.

Fortunately, eating healthily can be convenient too - and has rewards beyond great taste. A diet rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and good fats can help lower cholesterol and high blood pressure, boost immunity, and protect against heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and some cancers. Food can be powerful medicine, indeed.

To help you shop for heart health the next time you head to the supermarket, we have put together a quick list of foods to add to your trolley, and a list of items to avoid, no matter how convenient they are.

Heart-healthy shopping: Foods to buy

Of course you’ll want to look for heart-healthy whole foods when you shop, but also keep an eye out for functional foods that may fill in nutritional gaps. Functional foods are those with added nutrients, such as calcium-enriched orange juice.

Here’s a list to take on your next heart-healthy trip to the supermarket:

  • Produce: Look for colourful fruits and vegetables: berries, oranges, apples, yams, broccoli, spinach, peppers, and more. Cholesterol-free and low-fat, fruits and vegetables are the foundation of any heart-healthy diet.
  • Wholegrains: With fibre, complex carbohydrates, and protein, nutrient-rich whole grains like wheat, oat, and barley benefit any diet. Look for breads, pastas, and cereals made with whole grains. Always read the label to make sure the products are also low in fat and sugar.
  • Meat and Beans: Look for lean protein such as chicken or turkey breasts, and other lean cuts of meat. Buy protein-rich beans such as black, soy or kidney beans or chick peas. For snacks, buy plain nuts or seeds.
  • Dairy/calcium: Look for low fat dairy products, as well as tinned fish such as tuna, sardines, or salmon to get dietary calcium. Low fat yoghurt, low fat milk, and cheese are food sources of calcium. For the lactose-intolerant or vegans, functional foods such as fortified cereals and juices can help fill calcium and vitamin D gaps.
  • Omega-3-rich foods: Most people aren’t getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in their diet. You find these heart-healthy fats in cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna, halibut, herring, and mackerel. You can also find omega-3 fatty acids in walnuts and flaxseed. Also look for functional foods enriched with omega-3 fatty acids, such as eggs, margarine spreads, dairy, soy products, and some breads, cereal, and pasta.
  • Plant sterol and stanol-enriched foods: Plant sterols and stanols that help lower cholesterol occur naturally in foods in tiny amounts. You can get some plant sterols from produce, nuts, seeds, and legumes. The British Heart Foundation points out that some studies suggest that consuming 2g of plant sterols daily can reduce cholesterol levels. This will vary depending on the individual, however. If you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol, look for stanol and sterol-enriched functional foods such as some spreads, some yoghurt or low-fat milk, some fruit juices, and some cereal. Always read the labels to make sure the food is not also high in fat and sugar.
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