Kirkland Signature No Salt Added Diced Tomatoes

The Ultimate Heart-Healthy Costco List for Busy People (part 1)

Costco serves more than 10 million members across Canada and 132 million in the USA, so there’s a good chance you have a Costco membership and want to make good use of it, especially with the scary price of food these days. 

But there’s a lot going on when you walk into a Costco. Big screen TVs with pretty pictures. Christmas trees in August. Samples that turn into lunch.

So let’s focus. I’ve updated my list of Costco foods that can promote better heart health, with an emphasis on time-saving and convenience products, because most of my readers are overwhelmed, exhausted, and living with heart disease or related conditions.

Like all of my reviews, this post is NOT SPONSORED. I don’t take money to promote anything, so you can be confident you’re getting independent expertise.

This week we’ll cover vegetables, fruit, and whole grains. Next week I’ll add protein foods. You can go straight to the list or read my rationale first.

What does heart healthy really mean?

Having worked in this field for nearly 20 years, I’m painfully aware that this is a controversial topic! 😂 So I’ll base this on the latest clinical practice guidelines. 

The Canadian Cardiovascular Society’s guidelines recommend the Mediterranean dietary pattern, and the American Heart Association (AHA) dietary guidelines, summarized below, are quite similar:

  • Plenty and a variety of fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grain foods and products
  • Healthy sources of protein (mostly plants; regular fish and seafood; low-fat or fat-free dairy; and if meat or poultry is desired, lean and unprocessed)
  • Liquid plant oils rather than tropical oils and partially hydrogenated fats
  • Minimally processed instead of ultra-processed foods
  • Minimize beverages and foods with added sugars
  • Foods with little or no salt

I generally based the list on these recommendations. Skip down to the list or read more about my criteria here first. 

How can we translate that into specific products?

Some products are obvious. Frozen mixed vegetables – in. Giant tubs of pork rinds – not so much. Here’s my thinking when translating those guidelines into specific products.

​​”Minimally processed instead of ultra-processed foods”

We’ve heard a lot lately about the link between ultra-processed foods (UPFs) and cardiovascular disease. But what exactly counts as UPF? 

It’s easy to assess at the extremes. Fresh veggies are minimally processed, Veggie Straws are ultra-processed. But what about store-bought low-sodium vegetable soup?

The NOVA Food Classification System, which is widely used in research, would count the soup as ultra-processed too. But clearly its effect on health wouldn’t be the same as Veggie Straws (pet peeve).

Some have criticized the NOVA system for being poorly defined. The AHA guidelines acknowledge that “There is no commonly accepted definition for ultra-processed foods, and some healthy foods may exist within the ultra-processed food category.”

Veggie Straws at Costco - not heart healthy

So we’ll use our other heart health principles to assess the more processed foods at Costco: Do they give you vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, fish, etc? How much sodium do they have? How much added or free sugar? Refined grains? 

“Minimize beverages and foods with added sugars”

How much sugar is too much? This is a tricky one. Heart and Stroke Foundation guidelines suggest that we aim for no more than 10% of our calories from added sugars, and ideally 5%. 

For a 2000-calorie day, that means about 50 grams of added sugar, or ideally 25 grams. (Note: You may well need more than 2000 calories, so you might have more flexibility here.) 

My rule of thumb is to aim for 8 grams of added sugar at a meal or less. Do that over three meals and you’re at 24 grams. That gives you some wiggle room for when your neighbour drops by with homemade chocolate chip cookies.

So I looked for foods at Costco with no more than about 8 grams of added sugar per serving.  

“Foods with little or no salt”

Again, how much is too much? My rule of thumb here is about 500mg of sodium or less per meal, which will help you stay under Hypertension Canada and WHO’s 2000mg a day sodium recommendation, with room for snacks and/or occasional meals that are higher. If you’re aiming for the AHA’s 1500mg target, you can be a bit more conservative. 

So clearly if a food has 1090mg sodium per serving, it’s not on my list. (Apologies to fans of the frozen Yakisoba with Vegetables bowls.)

If it meets Health Canada’s definition of low-sodium – ≤140 mg per serving (or ≤140 mg per 100 g of food, if it’s a prepackaged meal – I included it. 

If the sodium was somewhere in between, I included if it helped with other principles, and I mention the sodium, so you can balance with vegetables, grains, and other foods that can be prepared with little sodium. 

Note: Organic not needed

Don’t be misled by the many organic foods at Costco. Organic foods have a powerful “health halo,” meaning people assume that makes them health-promoting. 

You may have your reasons to buy organic, but we don’t have concrete evidence of long-term health benefits, cardiovascular or otherwise. There are organic foods on my list, but for other reasons. 

Nature's Path Organic Coconut & Cashew Butter Granola from Costco

Also consider: quantity and price

Of course, you should only buy food at Costco if having a truckload of it works in your household! It doesn’t save you money if it lands in the compost. 

And the price is often significantly lower at Costco, but not always. Compare unit prices if that’s important to you. 

Costco price card with unit price highlighted

The list

I sorted the foods roughly in order of level of processing, with higher fibre choices generally first, and higher sodium or sugar products last. 

“Plenty and a variety of fruits and vegetables”

Of course Costco sells row upon row of fresh fruit and vegetables. If you like to munch on apples or baby cucumbers, these are the ultimate heart-healthy convenience food. 

What else do they have to help us get those elusive veggies and fruit?

  1. Earthbound Farm Organic Baby Spinach – Prewashed and ready to slip into stir-fries, wraps, smoothies, and more. Spinach is a good source of nitrates, which can help lower blood pressure.
Earthbound Farm Baby Spinach at Costco - Heart Healthy
  1. Frozen vegetables – You’ll find the usuals – corn, peas, broccoli – all with no salt added. But if you don’t want a Costco-sized bag of each in your freezer, the Kirkland Signature Stir-Fry Special Blend gives you a nice variety, whether you use it for a stir-fry or not.
  1. PuraVida Fire Roasted Vegetable Primavera is another tasty frozen veggie mix you can have with eggs, pasta, or alone. Note that salt has been added to this one, but the sodium level is moderate.
Puravida Fire Roasted Vegetable Primavera at Costco - Heart Healthy
  1. Frozen fruit – Like the frozen veggies, you get all of the nutrition with none of the food waste. Don’t overlook the luscious Moov Dark Sweet Cherries. They’re a bit higher in (naturally occurring) sugar, but they’re also a good source of potassium and polyphenol antioxidants, both of which are thought to be beneficial for heart health.
  2. Kirkland Signature Organic Diced Tomatoes – No Salt Added (pictured above) – Great to always have a can on hand if you make a lot of soup, chili, or pasta sauce. We also just toss with pasta and cooked chicken for an easy weeknight meal.
  1. Diana Sliced Peaches – Like canned vegetables, canned fruits retain much of their nutrition, and this was the lowest in sugar I could find. Keep some on hand so you can enjoy fruit even if you haven’t been to the store for a while.
Diana Sliced Peaches at Costco - Heart-Healthy
  1. Dole Tropical Gold Pineapple Chunks – Wouldn’t that make a nice dessert? Bonus: A cup contains 9% of your daily potassium! Good for blood pressure.
  1. Salad kits – So handy! But sorry to say that the Taylor Farms Baja Salad Kit is the only one low in both sugar and sodium. Fans of the popular Eat Smart Sweet Kale Salad Kit (high in sugar) and Taylor Farms Creamy Dill Pickle Salad Kit (high in sodium) could experiment with leaving out some of the dressing and fixings, replacing them with extra virgin olive oil and a zesty vinegar.
Taylor Farms Baja Salad Kit at Costco - Heart Healthy
  1. Fontaine Sante Bruschetta – An easy way to add flavourful tomatoes to pasta, eggs, or whole-grain toast. My kids like to dip whole grain crackers (see below) in hummus and then this bruschetta mix.
Fontaine Sante Bruschetta at Costco - Heart Healthy
  1. Wholly Guacamole Minis – Not quite the same as homemade guacamole, but they make quick work of packing lunch, paired with whole grain crackers. Plus you can use them for tacos, sandwiches, or to toss into a salad when you don’t have a ripe avocado. Bonus tip: You can freeze them!
Wholly Guacamole Minis at Costco - Heart Healthy
  1. California Sun Dry Sun-Dried Tomatoes: Sun-dried tomatoes can be high in sodium but these ones aren’t bad. Try them for pasta salad with artichoke hearts or pizza with goat cheese. Pro tip: Use the sun-dried tomato-flavoured olive oil to saute other veggies. (And don’t worry when it solidifies in the fridge. Olive oil does that. Just let it warm back up to room temperature.)
California Sun Dry Sun-Dried Tomatoes at Costco - Heart Healthy
  1. Dr. Praeger’s Organic California Style Veggie Burgers – People seem to love or hate these, but they’re worth a try, as they’re loaded with veggies and fibre (not much protein though). Sodium is a bit high, especially if you add a bun and cheese, but typical for a burger.
Dr. Praeger’s Organic California Style Veggie Burgers at Costco - Heart Healthy

Whole grain foods and products

How’s your whole-grain game? One analysis showed that if you eat 2.5 servings a day or more, you’re 21% less likely to have a heart attack, stroke, or need bypass surgery or a stent. Bonus: Most are a great source of fibre, which helps with both heart and gut health.

How can Costco help you get there?

  1. Bob’s Red Mill Quick Cooking Steel Cut Oats – These have the most fibre of the unprocessed whole grains at Costco, including beta glucan, a type of fibre that can lower cholesterol. Ready in 7 minutes. Also works for overnight oats. (See my oatmeal primer to better understand the different types of oat products.)
Bob’s Red Mill Quick Cooking Steel Cut Oat at Costco - Heart Healthy
  1. Kirkland Signature Organic Quinoa – Quinoa has about twice the fibre of brown rice and cooks in just 15 minutes. If you’re a fan, you know you can use it in salads, bowls, or side dishes. Not a fan? A great recipe might change your mind.
Kirkland Signature Organic Quinoa at Costco - Heart Healthy
  1. Sunbrown Australian Calrose Brown Rice – The least expensive whole grain at Costco, and an excellent source of magnesium, a mineral critical to heart health that about a third of Canadians don’t get enough of.
  1. Lotus Foods Organic Millet & Brown Rice Ramen – Unlike typical packaged ramen, these noodles are made from just brown rice and millet flours – no palm oil, sodium, or refined grains. A heart-healthy win, but you’ll need to come up with your own seasoning – perhaps a coconut curry sauce for a stir-fry or lower-sodium chicken broth for soup.
Lotus Foods Organic Millet & Brown Rice Ramen at Costco - Heart Healthy
  1. Silver Hills breads – Sprouted grain breads like Squirrelly Bread are whole grains with a relatively low glycemic index and more protein and fibre than other bread. A little too hearty for sandwiches, in my opinion, but great for toast. Add some guacamole or bruschetta mix (see above).
  2. Dempster’s breads – The Ancient Grain with Quinoa and other multi-grain whole grain options also generally have a low glycemic index, with a texture that some prefer over sprouted grains, especially for sandwiches.
  1. Kellogg’s All-Bran Buds – I find that people who don’t like this have tried to eat a bowl of it like regular cereal. Think of it as a fibre supplement instead and sprinkle it on another cereal or yogurt, or blend into a smoothie. Its psyllium really can help nudge down cholesterol. Start with just a tablespoon or two and gradually increase.
Kellogg's All-Bran Buds at Costco - Heart Healthy
  1. Angie’s Boom Chicka Pop Sea Salt Popcorn – Popcorn is a whole grain, but it’s often slathered with too much butter, salt, and/or sugar to land in the heart-healthy column. This product is a good compromise between air-popped and the more decadent fare.
Angie’s Boom Chicka Pop Sea Salt Popcorn at Costco - Heart Healthy
  1. Dempster’s 100% Whole Wheat Large Tortillas – A burrito, quesadilla, or wrap gives you a convenient, portable, tasty way to get another whole grain serving or two. Try to fill it with lower-sodium ingredients like peanut butter and banana, because the wrap alone is 320mg of sodium. Better than most tortillas, but not insignificant.
  1. Kodiak Power Cakes – Not only are these whole grain wheat and oats, but they serve up a decent amount of protein, tough for many people to get at breakfast. Watch the sodium if you go for a stack of them.
Kodiak Power Cakes at Costco - Heart Healthy
  1. Mary’s Organic Original Crackers – Crackers aren’t the heart-healthiest way to get whole grains, but they’re better than refined grain crackers. Made with brown rice, quinoa, flax seeds, sesame seeds, tamari, and sea salt, these are pretty hearty/dry, but some people love them. They’re also gluten free, if you need that. The sodium is a bit higher than other whole grain crackers.
Mary’s Organic Original Crackers at Costco - Heart Healthy
  1. Crunchmaster Multi-Grain Crackers – As far as I can tell, these are the only other whole grain crackers at Costco. The main ingredients are brown rice flour, potato starch, and a variety of seeds, so less fibre than Mary’s. But they’re lower in sodium and tasty. Don’t confuse them with the Crunchmaster Rice Crackers, which are not whole grain.
  1. Nature’s Path Pumpkin Seed & Flax Granola – Granola is a whole grain but it often has a lot of sugar. Costco’s granolas are no exception. Stick with a ½-cup or less and combine with a lower-sugar food like plain yogurt or Post Shredded Wheat cereal (not sold at Costco). The other granolas at our Costco either have more sugar, more saturated fat, or more sodium.
Nature’s Path Pumpkin Seed & Flax Granola at Costco - Heart Healthy

Stay tuned

Next week I’ll share products that help you get convenient and heart-healthy sources of protein. As the guidelines say, “…mostly plants; regular fish and seafood; low-fat or fat-free dairy; and if meat or poultry is desired, lean and unprocessed.” Lots of that at Costco.

If you want to make sure to get it, you can sign up for my email updates here.

Join the conversation!

Which of these products do you already use? What do you do with them? Share in our free private Facebook group. I’d love to hear about it!

Also, lots of products didn’t make the cut because they were too high in sodium, sugar, processed meats, or refined grains. But if you have a favourite Costco product that seems like it should be on the list, it just might be that I missed it, or it’s not available here. Post a picture in the Facebook group and let’s talk about it.

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