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Grocery Shopping for Heart Health

Cheri Rogers, APN-BC shares heart-healthy foods, how to navigate the grocery store and other guidelines for heart-healthy eating.
Grocery Shopping for Heart Health
Cheri Rogers, APN-BC
As a Riverside Heart Failure Clinic provider, Cheri Rogers, APN-BC sees inpatients at Riverside Medical Center in Kankakee. Rogers received her Master of Science in Nursing Administration from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL and then went on to receive her Post-Masters Nurse Practitioner Certificate in Adult Gerontology Primary Care from Lewis University in Romeoville, IL.

Alyssa Diaz (Host): Well Within Reach is brought to you by Riverside My Chart; your simple, secure and confidential online health connection. With just a click, Riverside My Chart lets you stay well-connected to the same information your doctor sees. You can request prescription refills, pay your bills, schedule your next appointment and more. Manage your care from your laptop, tablet or phone. Whether for yourself, your kids or the grandparents; My Chart makes your busy life just a little easier. Learn more and enroll today at Just another way to stay well connected from Riverside Healthcare.

And welcome to the Well Within Reach Podcast. I’m your host Alyssa Diaz. Today we’re going to be talking about grocery shopping for heart health with one of Riverside Healthcare’s Advanced Practice Nurses, Cheri Rogers. Before we dive into the topic, Cheri, thank you for joining us.

Cheri Rogers APN-BC (Guest): Thank you Alyssa. It’s nice to be here.

Host: And let’s learn a little bit about your long history with Riverside and in the healthcare field.

Cheri: Well I have been a nurse for about 33 years and have been fortunate to work within the community and I’ve been at Riverside for quite a long time from starting as a new grad nurse, growing into an ICU nurse, nursing management and my passion and my calling brought me to nurse practitioner. So, it’s been a really long journey, but a very fulfilling journey and I like what I do now with working with patients and families.

Host: And Cheri, you specialize in our Heart and Vascular Institute in the Heart Failure Clinic, right?

Cheri: Yes. I am a certified heart failure nurse and I work in conjunction with another advanced practice nurse. So, we care the patients in the community specifically with heart failure both on the inpatient level when hospitalized and then out in the community on an outpatient basis.

Host: Yes and so heart health is such an important topic and we are so thankful that you joined us on the podcast today to talk about heart healthy grocery shopping. And it’s something that we hear so many times from our doctors whether you have a normal health status or a special condition; that you need to eat better. But what does that mean and how do we make that happen? So, that’s what our podcast is about today.

So, many struggle with putting that recommendation into action, but we know that a heart healthy diet starts with having the right foods at home. So, that’s kind of what we are here to talk about today. Understanding your diagnosis and what guidelines your doctor provides is always a good thing. So, where do we start?

Cheri: That’s such a good question. And as I had come into the provider world in being an advanced practice nurse, when I would see patients, providers are very good about giving direction of saying you need to eat this, or you need to eat less of this, or you need to try this. But oftentimes, it kind of would fall a little bit short. Patients understand that, but how do I put that into action. What is it? I need to eat less salt, or I need to eat more fruit, well what is less and what is more is different for every person.

So, as I came into this, I thought that it’s helpful to help patients to be more specific and measurable and understand a little bit more about prevention and wellness and maintenance, literally because food fuels our bodies. It fuels our cells. So, to understand that association that sometimes food is the greatest medicine you can have with prevention and managing a condition that’s difficult is really key in understanding.

So, we like to work with in particular, what does it mean for that patient. The individualized care. And that’s what I try to do when I see patients is look at it an assess what their usual, what their normal is and look at ways to interact and impact. Sometimes, I frequently say the smallest change for the greatest benefit. And where doe that start but when you get home and in the cupboards in your house. We all have to go to the grocery store. We all have to buy food. So, educating ourselves on what is oftentimes I talk about best and even better to be able to balance out, so those medicines that we are prescribing can actually work more effectively and hopefully sometimes, we can get people off medications as well as maximize the benefit for the least amount of need.

Host: And that’s such a great point that you made that you need to partner with patients to really help them understand and help them along their journey of finding better health through nutrition. And so something really exciting that you have partnered with a local grocer on is developing a heart healthy grocery guide. And so, tell us a little bit more about that process.

Cheri: Absolutely. In my training and my development, we are often able to go to seminars and things like that and to listen to other experts and look at things in other places across the country that have been successful into reaching patients and really making a difference in their lives. Probably about a year or a year and a half ago, I went to a conference in I think it was in Texas and listened to other advanced practice nurses and nurse practitioners who specialized in heart failure talk about how they did things to impact their patients and help them become more equipped if you will, to manage the disease process and we all are familiar with the terms heart healthy diet. We are familiar with being told to eat low sodium, more vegetables, more fruits, but again, those are kind of a bit obsolete as far as well how do I do that. And this one nurse practitioner gave a talk and said that she partnered in the community with the local grocers and actually was able to create something for patients that helped better direct them when they are going to the grocery store.

So, yes, I did partner with our local grocers and I feel like even for me personally, when I go to the grocery store to get five things oftentimes, I come with ten or fifteen because I haven’t maybe planned well or this looks good, that looks good and so, I was really pleased with being able to make a list for patients of exactly what aisles to find the right foods in and then also not only aisle locations but look for this type of food label with this amount of sodium. Avoid this amount of sodium foods and it’s really a directive guide that helps people plan before they get to the grocery store.

So, I was very, very excited and it has been extremely well-received and that was a light bulb moment of probably a missing piece for patients when we give advice, medical advice and nutrition advice; to give more tools. To help patients make good decisions.

Host: Right. And it’s all about empowering the patients so that they feel like they have a say in their health and that they understand what it means for them to be healthy. Let’s talk just at a glance about some of the things to keep in mind, just for general heart health again, we know that each patient’s case is a little bit different. But we’ll run through the categories in the grocery store and I’ll have you just give us a few tips on each one for people to keep in mind. For the complete grocery guide, just visit us online at and you will find the very detailed guide that Cheri has provided for us. But Cheri, let’s start with the produce department. What types of things should people be looking for?

Cheri: So, I love the produce department. We’ve heard the terms eat from the rainbow and that is so, so very true. When you are in the produce, that’s usually the first thing when you come into any grocery store because fresh is first. So, you want to balance out – I say kind of balance out colors. Some people like more green things. There are certain medications that you can’t have as many green things but guess what, there are yellow things, there are red things, there are white things. Fresh is best. In the produce department I also like to talk about eating to maximizing so you can have volume with nutrition but not a lot of calories. And that’s exactly what’s in the produce department.

Even the fruits. There are different colors of fruits. Sometimes people just like an apple or something, but I really challenge my patients to try new things. so, when you are in the produce department, think about the rainbow and think about trying something once. Kind of look at, well I’ve never had that before. I wonder. Because it’s funny and even within my own family; there are certain likes and like oh I will never eat this and I encourage people to jump outside of their comfort zone because you will probably be surprised what you thought as a child that you absolutely hated; I guarantee if you give it another shot, you probably could find a way to make it that would be healthy and that you are getting the vitamins and the minerals.

Host: Yeah, absolutely. And especially the produce department. There are so many ways to prepare each individual ingredient that the opportunities are very, very vast.

Cheri: Absolutely.

Host: And let’s transition over to the dairy department. What should people be looking for?

Cheri: So, when we are talking dairy; obviously dairy we need to think calcium and we do need calcium especially women and elderly people aging. Oftentimes, people like to pick one food group in the dairy and maximize it. and you can get into trouble with overdoing in that realm. People like I don’t drink milk, so I eat a lot of cheese. Well cheese while absolutely contains calcium there are other effects in the cheese with fats and different things like that, that can offset an intended good choice.

We all want to look for lower fat but I’m more a proponent of what the sugar that’s in the dairy. And I was thinking about this this morning. My example and yogurt is very good for you and we all hear things about Greek yogurt and yes it has more protein and if you need more protein, that’s one way to get it. One thing that’s a tip that I say instead of buying those lovely fruit filled “all natural” flavored yogurts in that I’m a proponent of buy the plain or the vanilla and add your own fresh fruit. Add your own nuts. Add your own little bit of honey or something like that rather than buying something that’s been processed and packaged and had to transport across.

So, yes keep that food group in. don’t overdo in the cheese and obviously we all need to treat once in a while and ice cream is ice cream. So, as long as you don’t eat ice cream every day all day; you have to treat yourself once in a while. Milk is good. Cottage cheese, that’s one thing in the heart world, a lot of my patients think oh I don’t get a lot of protein, so I eat a lot of cottage cheese. We have to read labels. We have to start looking at what’s in that label, how much fat, how much sodium. What’s the sodium content because we could offset a medication by eating too much, we might need more of something. Because we’re having too much salt in our diet and that salt might be from the cottage cheese or the cheese that we’re eating.

So, there’s a purpose for two servings of dairy a day and that’s a good thing.

Host: All good tips to keep in mind when shopping in the dairy section. And your meat, poultry, fish. What are you general guidelines on those?

Cheri: We like to promote obviously, the leaner cuts of meat, fresh meat and grilled, baked, broiled. Air fryers are new now, that’s good. We say a little less red meat, more fish, more chicken. Those types of things. I think one of the recommendations now are maybe one to two servings of red meat a week maximum. And it’s okay to include all types but again, it’s kind of how you prepare them. So, grilled, baked, broiled and fresh. I hesitate, other than buying a frozen turkey or the meats that are not as healthy obviously are the hams, the processed things that come through that are infused with different preservatives if you will.

We don’t recommend a lot buying frozen prepared meats that might have sauces or gravies. From the standpoint of if you think about how can you take them from freezer to table and it looks like you just spent your hour and a half cooking them; preservatives. So, there’s a lot of different preservatives in things that come out of the freezer which is the convenience food right now. So, read your labels. Read well.

Host: Yes, even though it’s convenient, it might not be the best choice for your health.

Cheri: Correct.

Host: And it’s not that hard to prepare the meals. It’s tempting to just get something ready-made. But really, preparing your own food gives you a sense of pride for preparing it on your own anyway plus it has great health benefits. Let’s talk in broad about some of your pantry essentials and condiments that you might find in the grocery store aisles.

Cheri: So, what we - as far as heart health and that say in the condiments and that; a lot of the condiments, the ketchup and that has a lot of sugar, a lot of salt. Look for the things that say low sodium first and foremost. From the pantry, as far as what comes out of a bottle, we say try for like onion powder, garlic powder. You have to look beyond something that says no salt because sometimes it’s got potassium chloride and not sodium chloride. So, we truly promote fresh herbs or this is the case frozen herbs, dried herbs, garlic, onions, cilantro, parsley, dill; all of those things and it’s kind of fun now, we are getting into May, April May where all these fresh things are coming up and at your local farmer’s market. My caution probably on condiments and pantry essentials is just read the label and now what’s in there and if you can do it fresh or dried; that is the preferred type of spice and that to add.

Host: Yes and just a word or tip on canned foods.

Cheri: So, canned foods – the biggest hang-up with canned foods is if we think about this in how can they be on the grocery store shelf for so, so long. Preservatives. Because my grandmother canned. We are a canning society and we can do it fresh. When it become industry wide; then there are things that they need to do to keep that food fresh per se and able to be stocked and utilized.

If you are on a sodium restricted diet; please, please read those labels and look for the lower sodium foods. In my world, in heart failure; we promote fresh and frozen. Fresh and frozen over canned from the sodium load. You’ll be surprised if you go to the grocery store and really take a little bit of extra time and look at labels like wow. I didn’t realize that’s what made that able to be in the can and available.

Host: All right and then everybody’s favorite; what about snacks?

Cheri: Yes. So, snacks is it’s own little portion of the world and it really again, comes down label reading. You do not want things that have artificial flavorings, sweeteners, preservatives. Check the salt. In my world, we say no salt peanuts, no salt walnuts, no salt almonds. I challenge again, reading your serving size to everything you are eating. We promote like air-pop popcorn, that’s good. Microwave popcorn is so convenient but again, it just loads up with salt.

So, obviously potato chips. There are some low sodium potato chips out there. I try to teach it’s not as much about deprivation as it is of moderation and planning. Because you have to be able to understand what you’re wanting to have, what’s safe to have, and how to balance that out in the scope of everything.

Host: Yeah, balance is key and so is the education on all of these topics. Again, the grocery guide in its complete format can be found at And there’s a map even it tells you which aisles to go to for which type of food you are searching for. So and then it’s a very detailed map on what to look for and what to avoid when shopping in the grocery store. Cheri, do you have any other guidelines for heart healthy eat that you want to share in closing?

Cheri: Well I think overall; our bodies love nutrition. The more attention we can pay to what we put into them, is going to have health benefits for all. One of my things that I like to share with my patients; it’s really changing from living to eat which we are all programmed to do to really eating to live. And patients are surprised how much better they feel when I talk to them after getting out of the hospital and they feel rejuvenated and they have more energy and they are just amazed at what they hadn’t known before and what they are putting into practice now.

Host: Yes, using food for fuel.

Cheri: Absolutely.

Host: Well thank you Cheri for joining us and this wraps up this addition of the Riverside Well Within Reach podcast.