WASHINGTON — Anxieties about cardiovascular disease may send hearts racing, but Americans aren't letting their worries guide the foods they put on their plate.
A recent survey by the International Food Information Council here found that health risks including hypertension, stroke and high cholesterol are concerning for close to half of Americans (48%), but despite their worries many struggle to incorporate “heart healthy” foods in everyday meals.
The disconnect is not only attributed to lack of information about foods that support heart health, many are looking for practical ways to add nuts, soy proteins, plant sterols and other nutrients into their diet, said Elizabeth Rahavi, associate director of health and wellness for IFIC.
“There is a big opportunity for supermarkets to play a role in promoting heart-healthy foods,” she said.
Indeed, it's one that H.E. Butt Grocery Co., Price Chopper Supermarkets, Hy-Vee and other chains are taking full advantage of this American Heart Month, as heart-smart foods take center stage in recipe demos, in-store promotions and other seasonal programs.
Featured in the February issue of H-E-B's My Texas Life, a monthly magazine available for free at all locations, is a list of “The Mighty 10” heart-healthy foods.
“There are many foods that can improve your cardiovascular health, but these ten power players are sure to make your heart sing! Consuming a few of these foods daily will aid in the prevention of heart attack and stroke,” states the article. Olive oil, grapefruit, walnuts, salmon, oatmeal, red wine, blueberries, avocado, soy milk and spinach made the list.
Efforts such as these may help educate consumers about the specific fruits and vegetables that are highest in sterols, or plant-based food components that help block the absorption of cholesterol in the intestine, which can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, according to IFIC. Its survey finds that less than half of Americans (45%) are aware of the relationship between plant sterols and reduced risk of heart disease, while 36% are currently consuming plant sterols for this benefit.
A good way to improve those numbers may be to educate shoppers who are already thinking about health “while standing in line waiting for their prescription,” suggests Rahavi.
Earlier this year, Wegmans Food Markets included empty bags of corporate-brand Food You Feel Good About Just Picked frozen fruits to its “eat well, live well” pharmacy display. The table is part of a new program showcasing foods that contribute to good health. The display is changed each month.
In West Des Moines, Iowa, Hy-Vee's cardiovascular health initiatives focus on women and tie into the AHA's “Go Red for Women” campaign, created in 2004 to raise awareness of heart disease as the No. 1 killer of women. Nutrition information, shopping tips and heart-healthy recipes from five female chefs were part of a February ad circular.
Hy-Vee's effort aims to teach shoppers about foods that support heart health and easy ways to work them into simple meals.
“Dietitians have a lot of knowledge about foods that can foster health, but the chefs have that special ability to take those healthy ingredients and turn them into something delicious,” said Julie Gieseman, a dietitian at one of Hy-Vee's stores.
Olive oil, a monounsaturated fat, is used in recipes like Fast-Forward Fajita Salad; Italian Chicken and Vegetables Skillet; and Potato-Thyme Crusted Cod. Monounsaturated fats (some others are canola, peanut and high oleic safflower oil) and polyunsaturated fats (sunflower, corn or soybean oil) may help promote heart health, according to IFIC. Close to three in four Americans (73%) are aware of the benefit, yet just 49% are consuming monounsaturated fats for this reason.
There was also something nutritious for chocolate lovers this Valentine's Day, since cocoa-derived flavanols have been shown to support the cardiovascular system.
Choco-licious Strawberry Dip was one of three heart-healthy recipes featured as part of the Price Chopper Kids Cooking Club.
Club creator Jodie Fitz prepared this recipe, as well as a mixed berry Berry-licious Breakfast Taco with Yogurt Glaze and Yummy-licious Sweet Potatoes, with members of the American Heart Association's Cardiac Kids Program. Cooking segments are filmed and posted online, but Fitz also does demos in-store, at community events and in schools. Children who join receive a monthly newsletter including featured recipes.
The program offers tips for preparing good-for-you meals and helps develop practical shopping skills.
“In March of last year we started school appearances with our registered dietitians so that we could introduce not just the cooking skills but also the NuVal nutritional scoring program,” Price Chopper spokeswoman Maureen Murphy told SN.
This month, kids learned that ingredients like strawberries earn the highest possible score on the NuVal scale of 100, while frozen mixed berries receive a 98.
“The kids love it,” said Fitz.