Discover 5 Delicious Ingredient Food Swaps for a Healthier Heart

dark chocolate

We live in a time where heart disease remains the leading cause of mortality worldwide for men, women, and people of most ethnicities and racial groups.1 Being proactive in prioritizing heart and whole body health has never been more crucial. According to the CDC, every year in the U.S.,

  • Someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds.2

  • About 805,000 people in the U.S. have a heart attack.2  Of these,

  • 605,000 are a first heart attack.2

  • 200,000 happen to people who have already had a heart attack.2

  • About 1 in 5 heart attacks are “silent,” meaning damage is done without the person being aware of having the attack.2

There are ways you can stay heart-healthy 

Even with those statistics staring you in the face, there is a positive fact we can look at. Many heart-related issues can be prevented through a heart-healthy diet and lifestyle choices, including 30-60 minutes of daily activity or movement, getting quality sleep, reducing stress, getting regular checkups with your doctor, and quitting smoking if you smoke.  

But handling those all at once can be a tall order for many of us. Here, we’re simply exploring diet, focusing on super easy swaps for foods you may be using that could harm your cardiac well-being.

Let’s take a tour of these healthy substitutions that are not only delicious but also help nourish our bodies and protect this vital organ.

Cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO):

Swap in this healthy oil wherever you use butter, lard, or trans fats like shortening, some kinds of margarine, and even some vegetable oils (if the ingredient list contains partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, avoid it). These are high in saturated fats, which can raise levels of cholesterol in the blood (both LDL “bad” and HDL “good” types). High levels of LDL in the bloodstream lead to higher risks of heart issues.   

Why EVOO, according to science:

Olive oil is a wellspring of monosaturated fat, containing the highest amount of all the edible plant oils. Monounsaturated fat is the healthy opposite of saturated fat, which helps lower that “bad” LDL cholesterol and increase the “good” HDL cholesterol.3 

Numerous studies have shown the positive effects of EVOO as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory nutrient that supports healthy blood vessels.4 



Swap this green superfood as a stand-in for mayonnaise (mash it up), bottled salad dressings, ranch dips (you can whir it up in a blender; see our recipe below), or even sliced to replace the cheese on your sandwiches.

Why Avocado, according to science:

Once again, the monosaturated fats are the star of the show, and avocados are an excellent source. Two servings of this luscious green treat have been connected to a 16% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and a 21% reduced risk of coronary heart disease.5

Avocados also contain 3 grams of dietary fiber per serving (⅓ of a medium avocado) and 250 milligrams of potassium, which are heart-healthy ingredients!

Avocado Ranch Salad Dressing & Dip


1 whole ripe avocado, pitted

1 cup Greek yogurt, plain

1 ½ tsp apple cider vinegar

1 ½ Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 tsp dried chives

1 tsp dried dill

½ tsp onion powder

¼ tsp garlic powder

Salt & pepper to taste

¼ to ½ cup milk of your choice (or water)


Use a blender, large blender cup, or immersion blender with a cup to combine all the ingredients, but only a few splashes of the milk to start. Give everything a good whir, then see if you like your dressing more of a dip-like consistency. If you like it thinner, add more milk or water, up to the ½ cup, and blend until smooth. 

Whole grains:

Whole grains are incredibly versatile when you swap out your usual bag of white rice and box of refined flour pasta for grains like

  • Bulgur

  • Kamut

  • Barley

  • Quinoa

  • Oats

  • Brown rice

  • Farro

  • Buckwheat

All of the above contain all the nutrient-rich parts of the grain, including the bran (the outside shell), endosperm (the starchy part), and the germ (the part of the seed that can germinate into a grain plant). They are “whole grains” because they have not gone through the milling process that grinds the grains to remove the bran and germ. And while all three parts of the grain contain nutrients, this refining leaves only the starchy parts of the endosperm, removing the healthy fats and fiber of the bran and germ.  

Swap any whole grain in (or try a combination of a few) for white rice, refined white flour pasta, couscous, mashed potatoes, in soups instead of noodles, or even added to salads for extra fiber!

Why whole grains, according to science:

Because refined grains don't contain the dietary fiber portion of the grain to support blood cholesterol levels, they are unfortunately connected to an earlier risk of heart disease.6 The refining process also removes much of the nutrition in the original whole grain, including B vitamins, nearly all of the vitamin E, and fiber. This is why you may see bread and cereal products advertised as “enriched” with added vitamins and minerals.

Eating whole grains gives you those added nutrients and helps decrease your risk of coronary heart disease by approximately 10-20%.7 


Prepare to swap out those fattier cuts of red meat, especially ground beef. Red meat contains plenty of saturated fat, and studies have linked eating red meat to heart disease.8 

Dare to swear off red meat if you want to go all in on being heart-healthy. Use lentils, black beans, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, cannellini beans, or any other variety of beans you like as a swap. It may not make much sense at first, but a variety can give you a great texture and meatiness to your “ground beef” mixture in chili, stews, and even veggie burgers!

Note: if you don’t wish to go the vegetarian route, select lean, healthy cuts of protein in place of red meat and fattier meats, such as skinless white meat chicken, turkey, or salmon with healthy omega-3s. 

Why beans, according to science:

Once again, we see another heart-healthy selection in beans and legumes with a nutritional profile that can support healthy LDL cholesterol levels, healthy blood sugar, and healthy blood pressure, and also may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.9 

Dark chocolate:

Swap out those sugary chocolate candy bars mixed with puffed rice, cookies, caramels, sugary peanut butter, sweetened coconut, or other ingredients with added sugar, plus anything candy-coated. You’ll need to reach for the deep, dark chocolate with no sugar added, at about 70% cacao. And it will be bitter. But it still tastes like chocolate, and your heart will thank you. 

Note: if you like items mixed in your chocolate, choose almonds, a delicious addition to dark chocolate. Research suggests that almonds may have a positive effect on your cholesterol levels.10

Why dark chocolate, according to science:

Dark chocolate contains lots of antioxidants like flavonoids, which help fight off toxins. Increasing the flavonoids in your diet can help your body stay healthy and support a healthy heart. 

Swaps are one piece of a heart-healthy plan

While these swaps are beneficial when it comes to your heart, remember that a heart-healthy diet also includes minimizing salt, added sugars, and highly processed or packaged foods. Focus on creating a meal plan that has lots of whole foods: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, or plant proteins, beans, and legumes. With a wide variety of whole foods, you can get plenty of essential nutrients like antioxidants, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and monounsaturated fats–all the right ingredients for a healthy heart for the long run. 


1 Heart Disease Facts, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention online,

2 Tsao, C.W., Aday, W.A., Zaid, I.A., et al. (2023). Circulation. 2023;147:e93–e621.

3 Wright, K.C. (2022, Sept. 28). American Heart Association News, online.

4 Nocella C, Cammisotto V, Fianchini L, D'Amico A, Novo M, Castellani V, Stefanini L, Violi F, Carnevale R. (2018). Endocr Metab Immune Disord Drug Targets. 2018;18(1):4-13. doi: 10.2174/1871530317666171114121533. PMID: 29141571.

5 Yanping Li, Y., Rimm, E.B., Manson, J.E., et al. (2022). Journal of the American Heart Association. 2022;11:e024014.

6 Press Release (2022, Oct. 3). American Collect of Cardiology. 

7 Temple NJ. (2018). Nutrients. 2018 Jan 4;10(1):39. doi: 10.3390/nu10010039. PMID: 29300309; PMCID: PMC5793267.

8 Al-Shaar, L., Satija, A., et al. (2020). BMJ. 2020;371:m4141.

9 Lukus PK, Doma KM, Duncan AM. (2020). Am J Lifestyle Med. 2020 May 25;14(6):571-584. doi: 10.1177/1559827620916698. PMID: 33117097; PMCID: PMC7566181.

10 Dikariyanto V, Smith L, Francis L, Robertson M, Kusaslan E, O'Callaghan-Latham M, Palanche C, D'Annibale M, Christodoulou D, Basty N, Whitcher B, Shuaib H, Charles-Edwards G, Chowienczyk PJ, Ellis PR, Berry SEE, Hall WL. (2020). Am J Clin Nutr. 2020 Jun 1;111(6):1178-1189. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqaa100. PMID: 32412597; PMCID: PMC7266688.