‘I’m a Cardiologist—This Is the Afternoon Snack I Eat Almost Every Day’

'I'm a Cardiologist—This Is the Afternoon Snack I Eat Almost Every Day'

Cardiologist holding up small heart

Virtually no one is immune to the craving for something to munch on in the afternoon. Even if you aren’t actually hungry, sometimes you just want a snack. Snacks often get a bad rap, but snacking can be healthy and actually support your health; it just depends on what you choose to eat.

If one of your health goals is prioritizing heart health, you may wonder what afternoon snack is a good choice for you—especially since cardiologists often preach about the importance of minimizing ultra-processed foods, which many snacks are.

Here, a cardiologist shares her go-to afternoon snack—one she recommends to others who want a snack that supports heart health instead of working against it.

Related: 25 Foods That Are Good for Your Heart, From Fruits and Veggies to Heart-Healthy Nuts and Seeds

A Cardiologist’s Go-To Afternoon Snack

Dr. Sandhya K. Balaram, MD, PhD, the Chief of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery at New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital and an Associate Professor of Clinical Surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine, says that there’s one snack in particular that she loves to eat regularly: air-popped popcorn.

“This snack is good for heart health because it’s high in fiber and low in calories,” she explains. While fiber is often thought of as a nutrient that’s important for gut health (which is true), scientific evidence shows that fiber is important for heart health too. A diet high in fiber is linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Fiber may help lower LDL cholesterol levels, which helps decrease the risk of heart disease.

Related: This Is the Worst Habit for Heart Health, According. to Cardiologists

As Dr. Balaram pointed out, air-popped popcorn is also low in calories. One cup of popcorn only has 31 calories. Snacks low in calories benefit heart health because consuming excessive calories can cause obesity, which is a risk factor for heart disease.

It’s important to note that not all popcorn is as healthy as air-popped popcorn. Some popcorn, particularly microwave popcorn, is high in sodium and saturated fat, which are both bad for heart health when consumed in excess.

Also, instead of adding salt to your popcorn, which increases the amount of sodium, consider adding spices and herbs that are linked to benefitting heart health such as turmeric, garlic, fennel or dill.

Related: Make These 7 Changes for a Healthier Heart

Other Ways to Make Heart-Healthy Snacking Easy

“Building good food choices as a habit leads to lower levels of cardiovascular disease that can result from high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and obesity,” Dr. Balaram says. But she recognizes that this can be easier said than done, adding, “Many times, we reach for whatever is easily available and looks appetizing.”

With this in mind, Dr. Balaram recommends planning ahead and having heart-healthy snacks ready to eat. That way, when a craving strikes, you can simply reach for it instead of setting aside time to make it—which often won’t happen if there’s another snack ready to eat, even if it isn’t healthy.

“Be sure to make healthy snacks easily accessible, placed in the front of your fridge or pantry, if making these choices feels difficult,” Dr. Balaram recommends, offering another way to make healthy snacking easier.

Dr. Balaram says that snacks can be healthy fuel for your body; it’s not “bad” to snack! Besides popcorn, Dr. Balaram says other heart-healthy snacks include fresh fruits and vegetables, yogurt, mixed nuts, cottage cheese and hard-boiled eggs.

In terms of what snack foods to avoid or minimize if you want to prioritize heart health, Dr. Balaram says to steer clear of ultra-processed foods. “These include common snacks such as potato chips, pretzels, candies and chocolates. Other foods that can be bad for your health include sugary drinks, fast food such as French fries and processed meats,” she explains.

Each time you reach for a snack, it can either support your heart or it can work against it. Thinking ahead and stocking your kitchen with snacks that are high in fiber and low in saturated fat and sodium make healthy snacking easy—without sacrificing any deliciousness whatsoever.

Next up, find out what the best workout for people 50 and older is, according to cardiologists.

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