8 Tropical foods for heart health

By Trina Kaufman
Sun-loving foods bring the vibrancy and vitality of warm climates not only to the heart of winter, but also to the heart inside of you. Fruits and vegetables grown in the tropics offer a wealth of cardio-supporting nutrients, including fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals known to reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, and improve profiles of blood lipids like cholesterol and triglycerides. The foods featured  in these recipes are heart-health superstars, and their bright colors and flavors provide a lively, mood-lifting alternative to heavy winter menus.

Coconut and Papaya

Coconut’s medium-chain fatty acids actually increase “good” HDL and lower “bad” LDL cholesterol. Coconut is also anti-inflammatory and antiviral and contains metabolism-boosting lauric acid. Papaya offers anti-inflammatory vitamin C. Try them in this recipe: Coconut Panna Cotta with Mango-Lime Coulis.

 

Coconut Panna Cotta with Mango-Lime Coulis

  • Serves: 5 people
  • Calories per serving: 296

In this delicate dessert, coconut milk replaces dairy cream. Unlike animal-based long-chain saturated fats, coconut’s medium-chain fatty acids actually increase “good” HDL and lower “bad” LDL cholesterol; coconut is also anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and contains metabolism-boosting lauric acid. A sweet-tart mango sauce and ripe papaya slices offer anti-inflammatory vitamin C plus vibrant flavor and color.
Staff Favorite, Gluten Free

Directions

  1. Lightly but completely oil five -cup ramekins (or use cooking spray). Whisk coconut milk into a small saucepan; stir in agar flakes. Let rest for 10 minutes.
  2. Split vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape seeds into coconut milk. Add vanilla pod, too. Bring to a full boil (entire surface, not just edges). Reduce heat and simmer, whisking constantly, until agar is mostly dissolved, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and strain into a bowl, using a fine-mesh strainer; press lightly. Discard any solids.
  3. Whisk 4 tablespoons honey into strained coconut milk. Add yogurt and a generous pinch of salt; whisk until smooth. Pour into prepared ramekins and chill, covered, at least 1 hours.
  4. In a blender, combine remaining 1 tablespoon honey, lime zest and juice, and mango; pure until smooth.
  5. Run a knife around edge of ramekins. Invert onto serving plates. Spoon 2 tablespoons mango-lime coulis (sauce) over each. Garnish with papaya slices. Serve with remaining coulis on the side.

PER SERVING: 296 cal, 10g fat (0g mono, 0g poly, 10g sat), 10g chol, 5g protein, 40g carb, 3g fiber, 4mg sodium

Plantains

Low on the glycemic index and containing abundant fiber, plantains support the heart and fight free radicals. Plus, they work as prebiotics, feeding good-bug probiotics in the gut. Try plantains in this recipe: Sweet Plantains with Black Bean Salsa and Lime Crema.

 

Sweet Plantains with Black Bean Salsa and Lime Crema\

  • Serves: 4 people
  • Calories per serving: 253

Low on the glycemic index and containing abundant fiber, plantains support your heart and fight free radicals; as a bonus, they also work as prebiotics, feeding good-bug probiotics in the gut. Be sure to use ripe plantains, which have a mostly black skin with a little yellow. If purchased green, ripen at room temperature for several days; place in a brown paper bag with a ripe banana to speed the process.
Gluten Free, Veggie, Quick

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, combine black beans, tomatoes, garlic, onion, and cilantro. Finely grate zest from lime and set aside. Juice half of lime into black bean mixture, reserving other half. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together lime zest, remaining lime juice, and sour cream or yogurt. Set aside.
  3. Score and peel plantains. Halve crosswise, then cut lengthwise into -inch-thick slices. Place a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons coconut oil; once oil is melted and hot, add plantains in a single layer, working in batches with extra oil if necessary. Pan-fry until caramelized, 3-5 minutes per side. Transfer to paper-towel-lined plate, then a serving dish. Sprinkle with sea salt. Top with salsa and drizzle with lime crema.

PER SERVING: 253 cal, 7g fat (2g mono, 0g poly, 5g sat),  3mg chol, 7g protein, 43g carb, 5g fiber, 59mg sodium

Kiwifruit

Kiwifruit provides anti-inflammatory vitamin E and copper, a trace mineral that some research indicates can reduce high blood pressure. Try kiwi in this recipe: Kiwi-Cucumber Cooler.

 

Kiwi-Cucumber Cooler

  • Serves: 4 people
  • Calories per serving: 239

Simple and sweet, this refreshing drink is packed with antioxidant vitamin C and fiber; kiwifruit also provides anti-inflammatory vitamin E and copper, a trace mineral that some research indicates can reduce high blood pressure. Look for electrolyte-filled coconut water (not thick coconut milk) at your natural foods store.

Directions

Cut kiwi in half crosswise and scoop out flesh with a spoon; place in a blender. Add remaining ingredients and blend until smooth.

PER SERVING: 239 cal, 1g fat (0g mono, 1g poly, 1g sat), 0mg chol, 6g protein, 57g carb, 11g fiber, 190mg sodium

Macadamia and Mango

Like walnuts and almonds, macadamia nuts are full of monounsaturated fats, which help lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Fiber-rich mango includes anti-inflammatory vitamin C and beta-carotene. Try this delicious combination: Macadamia-Mango Granola.

 

Macadamia-Mango Granola

  • Serves: 12 people
  • Calories per serving: 386

Like walnuts and almonds, macadamia nuts are full of monounsaturated fats, which help lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Fiber-rich mango also includes inflammation-fighting vitamin C and beta-carotene. Stir in the dried mango and pineapple once the granola is fully cooled (otherwise it may become tough); or top granola with the fruit just before serving.
Staff Favorite

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 300.
  2. In large bowl, combine oats, macadamia nuts, sesame seeds, and flaked coconut. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt coconut oil. Add honey, salt, and cinnamon and stir well to combine. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Slowly fold liquid mixture into dry mixture and stir well to coat evenly.
  3. Spread mixture in a large, rimmed baking sheet (12×17 inches) or two 9×13-inch pans. Bake, stirring occasionally, 25-30 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove from oven and push granola away from edges. Let cool for 5 minutes; then spread evenly in pan to cool completely. Stir in mango and pineapple.

PER SERVING ( cup): 386 cal, 19g fat (9g mono, 2g poly, 8g sat), 0mg chol, 7g protein, 47g carb, 6g fiber, 42mg sodium

Acai

Acai and wild blueberries are two of the world’s richest sources of heart-healthy anthocyanins. Get a berry boost with Tropical Superberry Sorbet.

Tropical Superberry Sorbet

  • Serves: 4 people
  • Calories per serving: 152

This antioxidant, anti-inflammatory power punch features aca and wild blueberries, two of the world’s richest sources of heart-healthy anthocyanins. Spread any leftovers in a shallow dish and freeze; then chop coarsely into cubes and freeze in zip-top bags. Before serving, pure frozen chunks in a food processor, adding a little water if necessary for desired consistency.
Gluten Free, Vegan, Quick

Directions

  1. Break frozen aca into several chunks and place in a food processor. Add frozen blueberries and pulse several times; then process until finely chopped. Add remaining ingredients; pure. Serve immediately.

PER SERVING ( cup): 152 cal, 4g fat (1g mono, 1g poly, 3g sat), 0mg chol, 0g protein, 29g carb, 4g fiber, 77mg sodium

Yucca

Yucca is a root rich in anti-inflammatory resveratrol. Try it in this classic Brazilian recipe: Yucca Stew with Shrimp (Bob de Camaro).

Yucca Stew with Shrimp (Bob de Camaro)

  • Serves: 6 people
  • Calories per serving: 455

A classic Brazilian dish that’s thickened with mashed yucca, a root rich in anti-inflammatory resveratrol. Look for yucca, also called cassava, in Hispanic markets; it’s also available already peeled, chopped, and frozen (often in Asian markets). Serve with cooked brown rice.
Gluten Free

Directions

  1. Trim yucca and peel with vegetable peeler, removing barklike exterior as well as pink layer underneath, leaving only the bright white root. Chop crosswise into large chunks. Place in large saucepan or medium soup pot, and cover with water. Add teaspoon salt and bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover, and simmer 30 minutes, or until very tender. Drain and return to saucepan; let cool 10 minutes. Use fingers to break yucca into smaller chunks and remove any tough, fibrous strings. Add coconut milk and pure with immersion blender or in a food processor. Return to pot and set aside.
  2. Remove shells from shrimp (reserve shells). Transfer shrimp to a bowl and toss with half of the lime juice and 2 pinches of sea salt. Transfer shells to a second saucepan and add 3 cups water. Trim stems from cilantro and add stems to pot, reserving tops. Bring to a boil, skimming off any foam. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Strain and reserve shrimp stock; discard solids.
  3. Place a heavy, deep skillet over medium-high heat; add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Once hot, add one-fourth of onions; saut 1 minute. Add shrimp in a single layer, working in batches if necessary, and cook 3 minutes, or until just opaque, turning once. Transfer to a plate. Return skillet to heat and add remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add remaining onion and garlic and saut, stirring frequently, about 4 minutes, until translucent. Stir in bell pepper, tomatoes, and chiles (if using); cook 3 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Deglaze pan with reserved shrimp stock, cover, and simmer 10 minutes. Remove and discard chiles.
  4. Add reserved yucca pure to mixture in skillet; stir until well combined. Stir in palm oil (or olive oil) and fold in shrimp. Cook until heated through. Add cup cilantro leaves and remaining lime juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

PER SERVING: 455 cal, 16g fat (7g mono, 2g poly, 6g sat), 229mg chol, 33g protein, 38g carb, 4g fiber, 445mg sodium

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