Eating well is an excellent way to boost overall health, and it can be especially beneficial for your heart—a concept I discuss in detail here. I’ve listed some of my favorite foods for heart attack and stroke prevention, and I recently wrote about the reverse heart disease diet. But knowing you should eat a certain way to keep your heart healthy and actually doing it are very different things, especially when you’re too busy to even think about eating a balanced meal. So you push yourself until you’re starving, then end up eating a bunch of junk that happens to be available or hitting the drive-thru on the way home. The best way to combat this behavior (and the guilt that follows) is to keep your desk drawer or bag stocked with good choices. Here are some of the best heart-healthy snacks for when you’re on the go.
Not only does an apple a day keep the doctor away, it might also lower your risk of heart disease. A 2016 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that participants who ate the most fruit had a 40 percent lower risk of cardiovascular death, along with lower blood pressure and blood sugar. While this study looked at all different types of fruit, I like apples because they’re versatile—they’re good on their own but even better with some nut butter for added protein.
Delicious, filling, and portable, nuts make a great on-the-go snack. And they’re packed with heart-healthy nutrients. According to the Mayo Clinic, most nuts contain nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and fiber, and some contain plant sterols that may help lower cholesterol. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggests that, while many types of nuts are good for the heart, walnuts are particularly beneficial. Participants who ate walnuts two to three times every week experienced a 19 percent decrease in cardiovascular risk, and a 21 percent decrease in coronary heart disease risk. I keep the mini-bags of nuts from Trader Joe’s handy all the time. They fill me up for a good 2 hours.
The American Heart Association recommends these as a heart-healthy way to satisfy your sweet tooth. Grapes make a surprisingly tasty frozen treat, and freezing them also helps keep them fresh and cold throughout a long, busy day.
This one makes a great alternative to chips for those moments when you’re craving something salty and crunchy. EatingWell explains that popcorn is an excellent source of polyphenols – antioxidants shown to improve heart health. If you’re not air-popping your own at home and taking it to go, look for brands that are seasoned with olive oil to boost the cardiovascular benefit.
If you’re hungry for a spicy snack, wasabi peas are a tasty choice that can also help out your heart. They’re a good source of fiber, adequate amounts of which can help lower your risk of heart disease. LIVESTRONG reports that a single ounce of wasabi peas provides you with about 11 percent of your recommended daily fiber allowance. Just don’t overdo it, since wasabi peas are also relatively high in saturated fat and sodium.
Looking to boost your protein intake while also protecting your heart? Consider tossing a can (or easy-open pouch) of tuna into your bag. Tuna is a good source of EPA and DHA, omega-3 fatty acids that may lower your chance of developing cardiovascular disease (among other health benefits). Make sure you choose tuna packed in water, which has three times more EPA and DHA than tuna packed in oil according to Berkeley Wellness. Just don’t eat it more than once a week to keep your mercury level low.
Just because you’re eating well doesn’t mean you have to deprive yourself. Flavonoids in cocoa may improve heart health by lowering blood pressure, thinning the blood, and keeping blood vessels flexible. He recommends eating chocolate that’s at least 70% dark to reap these benefits. 1 oz is a decent amount – about 1/3 of a bar – and has only around 170 calories.
Wondering what areas of your health could use your attention? Consider taking my Optimal Men’s Health quiz. It’s designed to help you determine your next best step to getting healthier and closer to winning.
Myles Spar, MD, MPH is board certified in Internal Medicine and in Integrative Medicine. As a clinician, teacher and researcher on faculty of the top Integrative Medical Center in the U.S., he has led the charge for a more proactive, holistic and personalized approach to care that focuses on cutting edge technology and preventative care. Dr. Spar has been a consultant with the NBA, presented a TEDx Talk, appeared on national television, and been featured in publications such as the Men’s Journal and the Los Angeles Times. He is National Director and V.P. of Medical Services for AndHealth, a digital health company utilizing lifestyle medicine approaches to reverse chronic illness. He is available on a limited basis to consult with individual patients interested in a personalized approach to optimal performance and health.