Maribel 2015By Maribel Alchin, MBA, RD, LDN, Meijer Health & Wellness Regional Advisor

Research has shown that including a variety of plant-based foods in your diet is a simple way to lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. Fruits and vegetables, whole grains, heart-healthy oils and a variety of plant protein sources like beans, peas, nuts, seeds and soy are the mainstays of plant-based eating. Plant-based foods contain more vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, and are also higher in unsaturated fats and fiber.

Here are some easy ways to add plant-based foods to your meals:

Fruits and Veggies: Fruits and vegetables are loaded with antioxidants that reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease, and they also have potassium which supports healthy blood pressure. All forms of canned, fresh, frozen and dried fruits and vegetables, as well as 100% juice, count as healthy choices.

  • Add 1 cup of kale or spinach to your fruit smoothie.
  • Roast cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, squash or potatoes at 400°F for 35-45 minutes.
  • Mix in chopped bell peppers, shredded carrots or chopped mushrooms in your meatloaf.

Whole grains: Include at least 3 servings of whole grains, like oatmeal, brown rice, corn or whole grain bread, per day. Whole grains are a good source of fiber which helps reduce cholesterol.

  • Add ½ cup of cooked brown rice or barley to your favorite low-sodium canned or homemade soup.
  • Use whole grains in mixed dishes, such as barley in vegetable soup or stews, and quinoa in stir-fries.
  • Top your oatmeal with chopped walnuts.

Plant sources of protein:

  • Spread soy butter on a whole grain bagel topped with banana slices.
  • Keep canned beans (pinto, kidney, black, chickpeas) in your pantry to add to salads, wraps, soups, tacos, pasta or serve as a side dish. A ½ cup provides as much protein as an ounce of meat without the saturated fat.
  • Enjoy lentils and soybeans in soups or stews.

Heart-healthy oils: Oils such as olive oil, canola oil, avocado oil, peanut oil, safflower oil and sesame oil contain monounsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats can help reduce bad cholesterol (LDL) levels and triglycerides while raising good cholesterol (HDL).

  • Drizzle extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) on salads and pasta dishes.
  • Use EVOO in marinades for meat, fish, poultry and vegetables.
  • Pour EVOO into a shallow dish with grated parmesan cheese and pepper for a healthy dip with whole grain bread.