It's time again for the ultimate red month—February, known as American Heart Month, National Cherry Month, and for Valentine's Day. It's the perfect time to celebrate eating red for good health by making smart choices.
[See Best Heart-Healthy Diets]
Here are my top five red foods that will give you high-quality protein, powerful antioxidants, and phytonutrients:
• Tomatoes: Lycopene is the phytonutrient that gives tomatoes their red coloring. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant. Research shows that women with the highest intake of tomato-based foods have greater protection against heart disease. Tomatoes are also a good source of potassium and vitamin C, which adds to their heart-healthy appeal.
Ways to Eat: Research has shown that cooking tomatoes boosts their heart-healthy qualities by increasing lycopene content. Have them in spaghetti sauce, chili, or soups.
• Tart cherries: Tart cherries' bright red color comes from anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants researchers have attributed to the fruit's unique health properties, from anti-inflammatory and heart-health benefits, to reduced post-exercise muscle and joint pain.
Ways To Eat: Use frozen tart cherries in smoothies and dried tart cherries in salads or mixed with pistachios to make your own trail mix.
• Strawberries: Consuming eight strawberries gives you the same amount of vitamin C as you'd get from one orange. Some research has shown that strawberries may reduce inflammation and protect LDL ("the bad cholesterol") from oxidation. Eating strawberries in your diet may also help manage blood sugar by improving how well insulin works in our bodies.
Ways to Eat: Use them for smoothies, salads, or to make a fruit leather. They are perfect and delicious simply on their own.
• Red Bell Peppers: These are a particularly good choice for heart health as they are full of lycopene, which is not found in green peppers. They are also a source of cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber and powerful antioxidant vitamins A and C, which are good for heart health.
Red bell peppers are an especially good source of potassium with a whopping 162 milligrams in one cup. Increasing potassium intake in the diet can help lower blood pressure, which is important for optimal heart health. They are also low in calories at only 24 calories per cup, so they are great to include in a heart-healthy diet that also helps you manage your weight.
Ways to Eat: Cook red peppers in a stir fry or on the grill. Stuff them with quinoa, or enjoy them on their own.
• Red Grapes: Rich in antioxidants and fiber, red grapes are very heart-healthy. Red grapes have been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and reduce heart muscle damage related to a high-salt diet. They have also been shown to reduce blood triglyceride levels, LDL cholesterol levels, and improve blood vessel function. This heart health research on red grapes is impressive, so eat up!
Ways to Eat: They're great in salads, smoothies, frozen as a snack, or on their own.
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Mitzi Dulan, RD, CSSD, is a nationally recognized nutrition and fitness expert who inspires people to lose weight and get fit. Mitzi coauthored, with NFL Future Hall-of-Famer Tony Gonzalez, The All-Pro Diet, which helps people eat clean and get lean. Mitzi is team nutritionist for the Kansas City Royals and served as team nutritionist for the Kansas City Chiefs for several years. A sought-after media source for trusted nutrition and fitness advice, Mitzi has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Shape, Glamour, US Weekly, USA Today, CNN, and FOX News. Mitzi was named one of the "Top 20 Nutrition Experts to Follow on Twitter" by The Huffington Post. Follow Mitzi on Pinterest at NutritionExpert.