From Nutrition Therapist Ian Marber

We all know it’s important to take good care of your heart, but did you realise that as well as making sure you’re getting enough exercise and managing your weight, certain foods and nutrients can help protect your cardiovascular health too?

For National Heart Month and beyond, Nutrition Therapist Ian Marber has shared his top five foods to eat for good heart health, along with information on the vitamins, minerals and compounds found in each and the benefits these can offer for cardiovascular health.

So, why not take a read of Ian’s suggestions and discover the heart health benefits of some of your favourite foods and others you might like to try?


Whether you enjoy spinach leaves as they are in a salad, stirred into a soup just before serving or prefer them steamed or added to a stir-fry, this versatile British-grown vegetable has a lot to offer for maintaining a healthy heart and cardiovascular system. Cooked spinach is a rich source of magnesium, a mineral that helps the heart muscle beat normally, as well as B6 for blood cell production.

Spinach is also high in potassium, an important nutrient for maintaining normal blood pressure, which itself is a major risk factor in the incidence of heart attacks and strokes. Potassium is found in all fruits and vegetables, although spinach is especially rich as a generous portion of cooked spinach provides almost 20% of your daily needs.


Omega 3 fats have more than one role in promoting cardiovascular health, including contributing to normal cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Omega 3 fats are most often associated with oily fish, and so the general advice is to have at least one portion a week.

In essence there are different three types of omega 3 fats, one of which is called alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, and is found in a few foods including some nuts, seeds and green vegetables, making them ideal for anyone following a plant based diet. Try a portion each of cooked spinach and kale, topped with crushed walnuts or toasted pumpkin seeds for a simple way to benefit from the good omega 3 fats.

Five a Day

Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is the cornerstone of a healthy diet, and we always hear about having at least five portions a day. But how much is a portion? An apple or a banana counts, as does seven strawberries, a couple of kiwi fruit and a generous slice of melon. For vegetables, half a stalk of leeks or four heaped tablespoons of spinach or kale will do, as will three of cauliflower, chickpeas or baked beans. Having at least five portions a day provides a wide range of nutrients that support every part of the body, including a healthy heart, strong bones and a robust immune system. Five or more portions also goes a long way to the getting the 30g of fibre we need in a day, which can help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer.


Whilst allium is the Latin word for garlic, other vegetables are also part of the same family, including onions, shallots and leeks. Allium has several benefits for a healthy heart as it can play a role in maintaining normal blood pressure, keeping cholesterol levels in check. Leeks have a softer, gentler flavour than garlic and are easy to use – try traditional Leek and Potato soup for a warming winter soup, or Leek and Spelt risotto for a filling plant-based meal


If one had to pick the most important element of a heart-healthy diet, it would probably be fibre that is the unsung hero. Fibre can help reduce the cholesterol in the blood by binding to any excess that’s lurking in the gut and can also help keep glucose levels stable, which in turn can help reduce blood lipids. Fibre can also promote a feeling of fullness that makes it easier to manage our appetite.

Fibre is found in so many foods including wholegrains, legumes, vegetables, and whole fruits. Most of us get around 18g a day, but we should be getting closer to 30g. However, that’s easier than you might think. After all, a 40g serving of wholegrain cereal contains around 5g of fibre, a small baked potato with the skin has 3g and a slice of granary bread delivers a shade under 2g. A mid afternoon snack of a palmful of almonds and an apple will give you 6.5g whilst a corn on the cob has 2g.

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For National Heart Month this February, Discover Great Veg has shared five delicious heart healthy recipes.

All the recipes are lower in saturated fat and salt, which eating too much of can raise cholesterol, risk of heart disease and blood pressure. To quality as being heart healthy, recipes must score green on the traffic light nutrition system for saturated fat and either green or amber for salt – you can check the nutrition of each below.

Each of these breakfast, lunch and dinner ideas also contains the wonder greens cavolo nero, kale and spinach, which provide important nutrients for heart health, including fibre, which is associated with a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.

So, this February and beyond, give these recipes a go for a delicious and easy step towards good heart health.

Falafel with Tomato & Cavolo Nero Sauce
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Serves: 4
Skill level: Easy

⦁ 200g pack shredded Cavolo Nero
⦁ 2 tbsp olive oil
⦁ 1 large onion, finely chopped
⦁ 1 tsp ground cumin
⦁ 1 tsp ground coriander
⦁ 400g can chickpeas, drained
⦁ 2 tbsp plain flour
⦁ 2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
⦁ 300ml vegetable stock
⦁ To serve: cooked couscous
⦁ Cook the cavolo nero in a large saucepan of boiling water for 3 minutes, drain. Reserve the saucepan.
⦁ Meanwhile, heat half the oil in a large frying pan and fry the onion for 4-5 minutes until golden, tip half into the saucepan and set aside.
⦁ Add the spices to the onion in the frying pan and cook for 1 minute.
⦁ Transfer to the bowl of a food processor with the chickpeas, 50g cooked cavolo nero and the flour.
⦁ Season and blitz to give a coarse paste.
⦁ Divide into 12 balls with damp hands and flatten slightly.
⦁ Add the chopped tomatoes and stock to the saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes until thickened.
⦁ Stir in the remaining cavolo nero and cook for a further 3 minutes, season.
⦁ Heat remaining oil in the empty frying pan and fry the falafels for 3 minutes each side or until golden.
⦁ Serve the falafels with the tomato sauce and couscous.


Breakfast Spinach Shakshuka
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
Serves: 2
Skill Level: Easy

⦁ 1 tbsp oil
⦁ 1 leek, sliced
⦁ 1 red pepper, diced
⦁ 1 tsp smoked paprika
⦁ 1 tsp ground cumin
⦁ 400g can chopped tomatoes
⦁ 200g spinach
⦁ 4 medium eggs
⦁ Heat the oil in a large sauté or frying pan and fry the leek and pepper for 3-4 minutes, add the spices and cook for 1 minute, season.
⦁ Stir in the tomatoes and 100ml water, cover and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the spinach and cook for a few moments until just wilted. Make 4 indents in the mixture with the back of a spoon and crack an egg into each. Cover and cook gently for 3 minutes until the whites have set but the yolks are still runny. Serve immediately.


Lemon and Kale Chicken Tagine
Prep: 20 Minutes
Cook: 20 Minutes
Serves: 4
Skill Level: Easy

⦁ 2 preserved lemons, roughly chopped
⦁ 28g pack coriander
⦁ 2 cloves garlic
⦁ 150g leeks, sliced
⦁ 250g pack kale
⦁ 200ml chicken stock
⦁ 500g chicken breast fillets, cut into large chunks
⦁ 200g couscous
⦁ Fat free natural yogurt and pomegranate seeds to serve
⦁ Preheat the oven to 200°C, gas mark 6.
⦁ Place the lemons, coriander including the stalks, garlic, leek and 50g kale into a food processor with the stock and blitz to give a coarse paste.
⦁ Heat the paste in a frying pan with the chicken for 5 minutes and transfer to a casserole dish, cover with a lid and cook for 20-25 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.
⦁ Meanwhile, blanch the remaining kale in boiling water for 3 minutes and then stir into the chicken tagine.
⦁ Place the couscous in a small bowl and pour over 200ml boiling water, cover with clingfilm and leave for 5 minutes, fluff up with a fork and serve with the tagine and a spoonful of fat free natural yogurt.


Ginger Harissa Roasted Vegetable Pilaf
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 30 minutes
Serves: 4
Skill Level: Easy

⦁ 2 parsnips, diced
⦁ 2 carrots, diced
⦁ 1 onion, diced
⦁ 2 tbsp olive oil
⦁ 5cm piece root ginger, grated
⦁ 1 tbsp harissa paste
⦁ 200g pack sliced Cavolo Nero
⦁ 250g pouch super seeds with quinoa & chia
⦁ 200g brown basmati rice
⦁ Juice 1 lime
⦁ Preheat the oven to 200°C, gas mark 6.
⦁ Place the parsnips, carrot and onion on a large baking tray and toss with 1 tbsp oil, ginger and harissa, season and roast for 20 minutes. Add the cavolo nero, the seeds mix and toss in the remaining oil, roast for a further 10 minutes.
⦁ Meanwhile, cook the rice in boiling water for 20-25 minutes until tender and drain well.
⦁ Stir the rice into the vegetable mixture with the lime juice, season and serve.

Cooking tips: Great to use up leftover cooked rice.


Creamy Cavolo Nero and Leek Soup, with Cavolo Nero Crisps

Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Serves: 4
Skill Level: Easy

⦁ 200g pack sliced cavolo nero
⦁ 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
⦁ 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
⦁ 500g leeks, sliced
⦁ 1 potato, diced
⦁ 1 litre vegetable stock
⦁ 300ml semi skimmed milk
⦁ For a Vegan Option: Swap milk with vegan alternative (almond or oat milk)
⦁ Preheat the oven to 200°C, gas mark 6.
⦁ Toss 75g cavolo nero with half the oil and paprika, season and spread out onto a large baking tray, roast for 10 minutes until crisp.
⦁ Meanwhile, heat remaining oil in a large saucepan and fry the remaining cavolo nero, leeks and potato for 5 minutes.
⦁ Add the stock, cover and simmer for 10 minutes then add the milk. Using a stick blender, process to give a coarse texture.
⦁ Divide between 4 bowls and top with the cavolo nero crisps.
Cooking tips: For a vegan option, replace the milk with soya or almond milk.


Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to magnesium and electrolyte balance (ID 238), energy-yielding metabolism (ID 240, 247, 248), neurotransmission and muscle contraction including heart muscle (ID 241, 242), cell division (ID 365), maintenance of bone (ID 239), maintenance of teeth (ID 239), blood coagulation (ID 357) and protein synthesis (ID 364) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006
Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to vitamin B6 and protein and glycogen metabolism (ID 65, 70, 71), function of the nervous system (ID 66), red blood cell formation (ID 67, 72, 186), function of the immune system (ID 68), regulation of hormonal activity (ID 69) and mental performance (ID 185) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006
(i) Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to potassium and maintenance of normal muscular and neurological function (ID 320, 386) and maintenance of normal blood pressure (ID 321) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006
(ii) Potassium Intake and Blood Pressure: A Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials
Filippini T, Naska A, Kasdagli MI, Torres D, Lopes C, Carvalho C, Moreira P, Malavolti M, Orsini N, Whelton PK, Vinceti M. Potassium Intake and Blood Pressure: A Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. J Am Heart Assoc. 2020 Jun 16;9(12):e015719.
British Heart Foundation
(i) Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to alpha linolenic acid and maintenance of normal blood cholesterol concentrations (ID 493) and maintenance of normal blood pressure (ID 625) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006
(ii) Conjugated Linoleic Acid and Alpha Linolenic Acid Improve Cholesterol Homeostasis in Obesity by Modulating Distinct Hepatic Protein Pathways
O’Reilly ME, Lenighan YM, Dillon E, Kajani S, Curley S, Bruen R, Byrne R, Heslin AM, Moloney AP, Roche HM, McGillicuddy FC. Conjugated Linoleic Acid and Alpha Linolenic Acid Improve Cholesterol Homeostasis in Obesity by Modulating Distinct Hepatic Protein Pathways. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2020 Apr;64(7):e1900599. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201900599. Epub 2020 Jan 22. PMID: 31917888.
Spinach 132mg per 80g
Kale 83.3mg
Alali FQ, El-Elimat T, Khalid L, Hudaib R, Al-Shehabi TS, Eid AH. Garlic for Cardiovascular Disease: Prevention or Treatment? Curr Pharm Des. 2017;23(7):1028-1041. doi: 10.2174/1381612822666161010124530. PMID: 27748188.
Allium – claims from ‘on hold’ list – claim number 1991,1992, 2208
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