These blueberry coconut oats are a heart-healthy food that will keep you full & satisfied!
February is important for a few reasons. It’s the last full month of winter, Valentine’s Day falls in the middle, and last but not least: it’s American Heart Month! This is important, you guys. Why, you ask? Well, according to the CDC, 1 in every 4 deaths in the United States is a result of heart disease. That’s equal to about 610,000 people. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. This is concerning, especially due to the fact that most of the primary risk factors of heart disease are preventable.
American Heart Month is focused on bringing awareness to heart disease – it’s a time to remind us all to focus on our heart health. The topic of heart health really hits close to home for me because heart disease runs in my family, so I have to pay special attention to my diet and lifestyle to attenuate my risk. In fact, I was diagnosed with high cholesterol as a teenager and have struggled to keep it under control as an adult, despite doing everything “right,” (yes, dietitians struggles with these types of things, too!). Also, I’ve seen the impact heart disease can have on the clients I work with. This makes me feel extra compelled to educate about heart health to help prevent heart disease from occurring in the first place.
What are the risk factors for heart disease?
There are many different risk factors for heart disease, some preventable and some not. The non-preventable risk factors include family history of heart disease and age (people 55 or older are more likely to be diagnosed with heart disease). A caveat to this is that although you can’t have complete control over your genetics, or your age, you can STILL lower your risk by staying top of preventable risk factors, including the following:
- High blood pressure and/or cholesterol
- Diabetes and pre-diabetes
- Physical inactivity/sedentary lifestyle
- Unhealthy diet
- Excessive stress
- Inadequate sleep
It’s extremely important that we remain mindful of the preventable risk factors to reduce heart disease risk as much as possible. Additionally, as you can see, it goes much further than eating healthy and exercising regularly. Our stress levels & sleep hygiene can impact our risk of heart disease (and many other diseases) just as much as our diet can.
8 Nutrition Tips to Reduce Heart Risk Risk
Fat is your friend. It’s true, certain types of fat are incredibly important for heart health. Specifically, omega-3 fatty acids are MUSTS. These help to reduce inflammation in the body which often leads to heart disease. The best sources of omega-3 fatty acids are fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and herring. You can also get some omega-3s from walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseed, hemp seeds and egg yolks. Some sources of other types of healthy fats include avocado, nuts, seeds, olives and olive oil. Side note: To lower heart disease risk, it’s important to avoid trans fatty acids or partially hydrogenated oils, which are found in some baked goods and processed junk foods. Get started on increasing your healthy fat intake by making my chili-lime roasted nuts!
Up your fruit & veggie intake. This one is a given – I know you’ve heard it time & time again. Sadly, most people STILL aren’t eating the recommended 5-8 servings of fruits/veg each day. Fruits & veggies are rich in heart-healthy vitamins and minerals, including potassium, magnesium, vitamin K and B vitamins. They’re also high in disease-fighting antioxidants and fiber. To obtain all of the benefits from fruits & veggies, it’s important to incorporate a variety of different fruits & veggies into your diet. This is because some contain different nutrients and antioxidants than others. For example, orange fruits & veggies contain beta-carotene, an antioxidant that is converted to vitamin A in the body, while green veggies are high in vitamin K, which is necessary for blood clotting.
Cut back on sodium. Excessive sodium consumption can lead to high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease. You can easily cut back on your sodium intake by limiting boxed, packaged & canned foods in your diet and focusing on whole foods (foods in their most natural form) instead. These are naturally low in sodium and include (surprise, surprise!) fruits, veggies, nuts/seeds, legumes, and minimally processed whole-grains & meats. If you need to buy something canned or packaged, opt for a “low-sodium” version that contains less than 140 mg of sodium per serving.
Focus on fiber. Fiber is helpful for reducing “bad” cholesterol levels, which are associated with heart disease when elevated. It also helps increase heart-healthy “good” cholesterol. In addition, fiber promotes good digestion and fullness. It may help prevent overeating simply by keeping you full and satisfied. The general recommendation is for women to consume 25 g of fiber daily, and 30 g for men. This can be achieved by including lots of plant foods in your diet. Vegetables, fruits, minimally processed whole-grains (OATMEAL!), legumes, nuts and seeds are all fiber-rich options.
Limit added sugars. Eating too much added sugar is known for increasing risk of several diseases, including heart disease. A good starting point is to eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages from your diet, such as soda/pop, sports drinks, energy drinks and coffee drinks. Packaged snack foods, desserts, baked goods, cereal, granola bars, candy, sauces & condiments, and many other foods contain added sugar. Thus, it’s important to double check nutrition labels on the foods you purchase to make sure it’s not sugar-loaded. Note: ADDED sugar is not the same as NATURAL sugar, which is found in foods like fruit, vegetables, dairy products, grains and legumes.
Replace refined grains such as white bread and pasta, with something a bit healthier. Because these have had fiber and several nutrients removed, they aren’t as nutritious or filling, and excessive consumption of refined grains has been associated with heart disease and other illnesses. A good place to start is by substituting whole grains for refined grains. Try experimenting with other types of grains that you may not have tried before, such as quinoa, cous cous and farro. You can even take it a step further by replacing pasta with veggies. Spaghetti squash marinara or zoodles, anyone?!
Drink alcohol in moderation, or not at all. Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with heart disease risk. The general recommendations is for women to drink no more than one drink per day, and no more than two drinks per day for men. Instead of alcohol, opt for sparkling water, kombucha, tea or plain old water!
Ditch the processed meats. Highly processed meats, such as sausage, hot dogs, salami and bacon may increase heart disease risk when consumed in high amounts (especially when paired with the Standard American Diet that includes lots of other junk foods). Don’t worry, you don’t have to take meat completely off the table – just focus on meat that is as close to its whole form as possible. Think whole chicken breast vs. chicken nuggets, pork tenderloin vs. hot dog, etc.
Heart Healthy Blueberry Coconut Oats
Okay, okay, now let’s get to the MAIN point of this post: Blueberry Coconut Oats. HI. These are so good. Oatmeal is truly one of my favorite breakfasts, especially during the winter months. It’s warm, creamy, comforting…basically everything we need to get through the chilly mornings. What’s more, oatmeal is high in fiber, b vitamins, magnesium and potassium…all of which are necessary for optimal heart health.
You’ll get even more bang for your buck with this oatmeal recipe because it has added antioxidants, fiber & potassium from the banana, blueberries and cocoa powder. Plus, you’ll get a dose of healthy fats from the coconut. Your taste buds AND your heart will love these blueberry coconut oats…Eat up!
- ½ cup oats
- 1 cup almond milk, unsweetened
- 1 tbsp cocoa powder
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- ½ cup blueberries
- ½ of a banana, sliced
- 1 tbsp coconut, shredded
- Optional: 1 scoop protein powder or collagen peptides
- Start by cooking your oats with 1 cup of almond milk.
- Then, mix the oats together with cocoa powder and vanilla extract.
- Top with blueberries, sliced bananas and shredded coconut.