Yes, You Can Still Eat Heart-Healthy During COVID

by Emily Baylosis, MS, RD, LDN

Last Updated: April 12, 2020

If you’re following a heart-healthy diet, you’ve probably heard advice along the way to “avoid all processed foods.” Do you really need to avoid processed foods entirely? Let’s start by answering the question, “What makes a food processed?” Almost every food you see in the aisles has been subject to some sort of processing. Guidelines for how much processing is too much can often be vague and confusing to consumers. All foods fall somewhere between highly processed (think snack cakes and microwave meals) and minimally processed (bagged salads, nuts, fruits, and vegetables). Processing can also mean adding additional ingredients such as sodium, fat, and sugar, which you may be trying to avoid. Rather than giving up on all processed foods, here are some ways to locate items which are still heart-friendly. For more information on how to eat healthy while in quarantine, click here.
  1. Start by reading the food label for the facts. It is best to ignore claims made on the front of food packages and flip to the back to see the list of ingredients. Choose foods that have less sodium, less added sugars, and less saturated fats. Sodium is especially important to note on the food label as levels can vary widely between products. To follow a heart healthy diet, look for products with less than 140mg of sodium per serving. Additionally, choose foods that are high in fiber and vitamins A, C, D, and E.
  2. Utilize frozen and canned produce. Frozen produce typically comes at a lower price point and eases the fear of fruits and vegetables spoiling in your fridge before you are ready to eat them. Make sure to check the food label on these products and make sure there is no added sodium or sugar listed in the ingredients. Frozen produce can also offer an even better nutrient profile due to being picked (and quickly frozen) at peak freshness.
  3. Remember-everything in moderation. Too much of a good thing is not always a good thing. Although you will find processed foods that fit heart healthy guidelines, it is important to keep in mind that the more varied your diet is the better.
  4. Look for The American Heart Association’s Heart Check mark on certain packaged foods. This checkmark means that these foods can be included as part of a heart healthy diet. Find more information about the Heart-Check Mark here.

Check out these grocery items for some dietitian approved processed foods to get your shopping list started:
  • Canned beans and chickpeas - Rinse these off in the sink before use. These are a great source of plant-based protein and fiber.
  • Canned fish - High in heart healthy fats and a versatile protein source. Try canned tuna on whole grain crackers or mixed with ½ an avocado, chopped celery, and dried dill for a new take on tuna salad.
  • Nuts and nut butters - Another versatile food high in healthy fats and proteins. When shopping for nut butters, make sure to skip those made with hydrogenated oils.
  • Whole grain breakfast cereals and granolas - When comparing products, try to choose those that limit added sugars and maximize fiber.
  • Yogurt - Plain, nonfat yogurt is a great source of protein at breakfast or snacks. Add whole grain granola or raisins for a punch of flavor.
  • Whole grain crackers - Top with nut butter and fruit for a perfectly balanced snack.
  • Popcorn - This snack counts as a whole grain. Opt for air popped bags or buy kernels and pop at home.
  • Protein bars - Look for those with limited ingredients, and make sure to select bars low in sugar.

Processed foods don’t have to be all bad. If you have questions or need ideas for more heart healthy options, check out our Telenutrition service. We’re offering telenutrition consults at no charge during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.


Emily Baylosis, MS, RD, LDN

Emily Baylosis, MS, RD, LDN

Emily is an experienced dietitian who strives to make a “food as medicine” approach attainable for all. She has mastered the art of creating individualized nutrition solutions that help patients fit healthy and active lifestyle habits into their already busy schedules. Emily believes the plan that is right for you is the one you can stick to. In her free time, Emily enjoys getting in a good sweat at spin class, hitting the local greenways with her dog, or watching Bravo.