February is American Heart Month, a federally-appointed event to remind Americans to focus on their hearts and encourage them to get their families, friends and communities involved.Heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States, claiming an estimated 610,000 lives each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fortunately, maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle are two of the best preventions to cardiovascular disease.
Like many of the diets we’ve recently profiled, those following a heart-healthy diet should consume low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods chock full of minerals, proteins and whole grains. The goal of a heart-healthy diet is to eat foods that help obtain or maintain healthy levels of cholesterol and fatty molecules called lipids. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that individuals adopt a heart-healthy diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, dairy products, lean protein including poultry and fish, and whole grains. The AHA also recommends avoiding or limiting sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages, red meat and foods that are high in saturated and trans fats.
Given that many Americans are following this diet to prevent heart disease, we looked into which products are “heart-healthy” across the aisles of your local grocery store.
Add Items From the Cereal and Snack Aisles To Your Grocery List
Interestingly, the cereal aisle contained the largest selection of products (420 items) that complied with the AHA’s diet specifications. The AHA recommends whole grains - items like whole wheat bread, oats/oatmeal, barley, and brown rice - which are good sources of dietary fiber. They also contain important vitamins such as Folate (folic acid), Iron and Magnesium.
Snacks containing popcorn, peanuts and seeds were the next on the list - we found 384 heart-healthy products in our database. Nuts in particular contain Omega-3 fatty acids, which are believed to help your heart by preventing dangerous heart rhythms that can lead to heart attacks. Vitamin E - which is also found in nuts - is believed to stop the development of plaques in arteries, which can narrow them and ultimately lead to chest pain, coronary artery disease or a heart attack.
Stock Up on Canned Items
Understandably, many of us are looking for quick and easy meals that allow us to eat healthy but don’t take a lot of time to prepare. We found many heart-healthy options in the canned food aisles. There were 86 “canned vegetable” products, 82 “canned tuna” items, and 65 “canned soup” products that currently make a heart healthy claim or have the AHA Heart Check certification on the package. However, those following a heart-healthy diet are urged to watch for sodium, which is usually added to canned foods to preserve them, and to avoid any added sugar.
Dairy-Alternatives Are an Emerging Trend
Interestingly, two emerging product groups - both dairy-alternatives - contained a large number of heart-healthy products. We found 77 “Specialty Formula Supplements” products and 61 “Plant-Based Milk” products that either make a heart healthy claim or have the AHA Heart Check certification on the package. Recent data shows that milk consumption in both the U.S. and U.K. dropped an average of 1 percent every year in the last 70 years. And the plant-based milk market is expected to reach $16.3 billion by the end of the year. Might this be an alternative for shoppers looking for an alternative to the skim and low-fat dairy products that the AHA recommends?
Label Packaging Needs More Improvement For Heart-Healthy Shoppers
While many Americans currently follow a heart-healthy diet, there is much more that can be done to help them identify products that comply. While only 2,682 products currently make a heart healthy claim or have the AHA Heart Check certification on the package, we identified more than 28,000 products that qualified for the AHA Standard Heart Check Certification.
Brands have an opportunity to improve their relationship with consumers by providing the transparency consumers seek and helping them more easily understand if the products they're purchasing meet their personal needs.