Contributed by Guest Authors Amin Yehya, MD, MS, FACC, FHFSA and Leanna Tu, MS, RD, CNSC
Since December 2019, the world has been battling a pandemic caused by a novel Coronavirus species responsible for the COVID-19.
Multiple measures have been implemented nationwide to halt the transmission of the disease including social distancing and taking Shelter-In-Place. This has resulted in limited access to grocery shopping and eating out for the majority of people.
Meal planning can help save time and money by mapping out a 1-2 weeks’ worth of healthy meals, without forgetting to include healthy snack options. Furthermore, capitalizing on leftovers—batch-cook foods such as low sodium chili, vegetable soup, roasted chicken, shredded meat, whole grains, beans or lentils, and roasted vegetables can also help saving time. Importantly, if leftovers are not consumed within 2-3 days, it is recommended to freeze individual portions for future meals. The methods listed below may help creating balanced meals, which may help manage weight and blood sugars.
Just 1 teaspoon of salt has over 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium—that’s more than what is recommended for a whole day! It is, in fact, recommended to avoid the use of the salt shaker, while using one or more spices listed below to improve the taste of the dishes prepared.
|Alternative Methods for Spicing Up Your Food|
|Acid||lemon or lime juice, vinegar (i.e. balsamic, apple cider, red wine)|
|Fresh or Dried Herbs||basil, chives, cilantro, dill, parsley, rosemary, thyme, oregano|
|Spices||cumin, cayenne, cinnamon, curry powder, turmeric, paprika|
|Salt-Free Seasoning Blends||chili powder, Italian herbs, no-added-salt spice and herb blends|
|Other||garlic, ginger, onion, shallot, jalapeño, mustard, nutritional yeast, <1/4 teaspoon hot sauce, honey|
Stocking Your Shelves with Healthy Foods
When stocking up at the grocery store, it may be natural to gravitate towards shelf-stable, frozen, or canned foods. It is advisable to look for heart-healthy versions of some of these foods. To do this, it is highly recommended to read the product’s nutrition label and pay attention to the following:
- Serving size: all of the subsequent nutrition facts are for that specific amount of food
- Saturated fat: Avoid or choose the product with lower saturated fat
- Sodium: Ignore the % and focus on the mg and choose foods with less than 140 mg of sodium per serving
- Added sugars: Avoid foods that contain added sugars or choose the product with the lower amount
The list below can guide the choices at the grocery store to stock up on longer lasting produce and heart-healthy pantry items.
|Food Group||Food to Include||Notes|
|Whole Grains||brown/wild rice, quinoa, whole grain bread, pasta, and cereals||Beware of sugar and sodium content|
|Vegetables||Long lasting fresh vegetables:
No-salt-added canned vegetables
Store fresh vegetables in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator so they last longer.
Frozen vegetables tend to have more nutrients than canned ones
|Fruits||Long lasting fresh fruits: apples, citrus fruits (oranges, tangerines), pears
|Avoid canned fruits packed with added sugar or syrup|
|Meats||More often: plain, fresh or frozen chicken, turkey
Less often: lean beef or pork cuts
Canned tuna and salmon (no salt added)
|Avoid processed meats (bacon, hot dogs, deli meats, sausage), breaded chicken and fish
Rinse canned tuna/salmon before use
|Non-Animal Protein Sources||Beans/Legumes: canned or dry
Soy: tofu, frozen edamame
Eggs, nuts, seeds
|Canned: buy no salt added, rinse well
Soy/plant-based meat substitutes are often high salt
Choose unsalted, raw or dry roasted nuts
|Dairy||Milk: fat-free or low fat
Yogurt: prefer Greek, low sugar
Cheese: low sodium (Swiss, ricotta, goat, mozzarella sticks)
|For milk alternatives (soy, cashew, almond, flaxseed): choose unsweetened
Avoid high sodium cheeses (feta, American, blue, parmesan)
|Fats / Oils||Avocado, olive oil and canola oil||Can be high in caloric and fat content|
|Seasonings, condiments||Herbs, spices, garlic, ginger, vinegar
Low sodium salsa, hot sauce, and dressings (<140 mg/serving)
|Avoid high sodium condiments: soy/BBQ sauce, bottled salad dressing, ketchup
Avoid pickles, relish, and olives
|Snacks||Dried fruits, low sugar protein bars/powders, hummus or bean dip||Choose <140mg sodium/serving snacks|
|Frozen Meals||Balanced Meals||Choose <650mg sodium per serving|
Being at home during a pandemic can churn up a variety of emotions. Occasionally these feelings may be channeled into unnecessary snacking. Before reaching for a snack, we should always ask ourselves whether we are truly hungry or, are we are using eating as a way to deal with feelings other than hunger such as boredom, fatigue, stress, or sadness. However, if the hunger is really increased, we recommend to avoid purchasing ultra-processed chips, salted crackers, or sweets at the grocery store.
|Examples of Healthy Snacks|
|From the Pantry||1/4 cup unsalted nuts
2 rice cakes + 1 tbsp nut butter
3 handfuls salt-free popcorn
1/2 cup trail mix (low sodium or homemade)
protein bar (<6-8 gm sugar, >5 gm protein, <220 calories)
1 serving low-sodium snack (<140 mg sodium/serving)
|Fresh with Minimal Preparation||Greek yogurt + frozen berries
low sodium string cheese
fresh fruit + 1 tbsp nut butter
hard-boiled egg + fresh fruit
1 cup edamame pods
1 cup sliced veggies + ¼ c hummus
Meal planning, smart grocery shopping, and low sodium cooking techniques can help to adhere to a heart-healthy diet even during Shelter-In-Place. This can be an opportunity to experiment with new low-sodium seasonings and recipes, and perhaps making cooking a family activity. By doing so, it will be easier to adopt eating and shopping habits that can extend beyond this COVID-19 pandemic and support a lifelong heart-healthy lifestyle.
Leanna Tu, MS, RD, CNSC
Clinical Dietitian at Stanford Health Care
MCS and Heart Transplant Program
Amin Yehya, MD, MS, FACC, FHFSA
Advanced Heart Failure, MCS, and Heart Transplant Cardiologist
Sentara Health Care
Explore patient resources in the HFSA Coronavirus Resources Center
Visit the HFSA Patient Hub to explore tools and resources to help patients stay healthy while living with heart failure.
View Heart Failure Awareness 365 activities to stay up-to-date on tips for healthy living for people living with heart failure.