Your heart-healthy chili recipe

Ingredients for heart-healthy Smokey Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili
Ingredients for heart-healthy Smokey Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili

Chili may be a classic American comfort food, but sometimes chili recipes call for ingredients that don’t keep your heart’s health top of mind.

The Heart and Vascular Center at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) sponsored an employee Chili Cookoff contest in the run-up to Super Bowl LVIII. Winning the People’s Choice Award was this recipe by Hillary Wheeler, supervisor of clinical nursing in the hospital's cardiology-electrophysiology lab. 

“The Smoky Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili” is a modification of this New York Times recipe by Sarah DiGregorio.

“Wheeler’s original recipe modification reduced the saturated fat dramatically by removing coconut oil and using vegetable oil instead,” says Clinical Dietician Nutritionist Jean Copeland, RDN, LD at the DHMC Heart and Vascular Center.

“Coconut oil contains more saturated fat than butter, bacon grease, or any other food on earth. Saturated fat drives up LDL cholesterol which is associated with atherosclerosis. A better option for this recipe is any other vegetable oil,” she says.

But, points out Copeland, Wheeler’s winning entry still contained nearly 1,000 mg of sodium per serving, which is too much sodium for one meal. 

“We Americans have trained our taste buds to prefer sweet and salty foods, which is why this recipe was so popular,” says Copeland, who recommends modifying the recipe further by replacing regular canned black beans with no-added-salt black beans. 

“Now the recipe is still delicious but with less than 500 mg of sodium per serving and suitable for us to recommend to our patients. And if patients want to reduce the sodium even more they can replace standard fire-roasted tomatoes with no-salt-added versions."

And if you are over 65, think about increasing your protein intake, too, advises Copeland.

“Add a pound of ground turkey or ground chicken to boost the protein in one serving from less than 20 grams to almost 40 grams. By our seventh decade, humans need more protein, not less, to maintain health,” she says.

Smokey Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili


Yield: 6 servings

  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 large red onion, diced
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 packed tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • Juice of 1 large orange (about ¾ cup)
  • 2 chipotles in adobo, finely chopped, plus 3 tablespoons adobo sauce
  • 1 ½ pounds sweet potatoes, cubed into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed fire-roasted tomatoes
  • Juice of 1 lime (about 1 ½ tablespoons)
  • 1 (10-ounce) bag frozen corn

Four simple steps

Step 1In a large pot, warm the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, season with salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring and adjusting the heat as needed to avoid burning, until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Step 2Add the brown sugar, cumin, garlic and onion powders, and stir to combine. Add the orange juice and let it come to a simmer. Add the chipotles and adobo sauce, sweet potatoes, beans, tomatoes and lime juice. Season generously with black pepper and 2 teaspoons salt. Stir in 1 ¼ cups water and bring to a boil.

Step 3Once the chili comes to a boil, decrease the heat to low to maintain a simmer. Cover the pot and cook 1 hour or until the sweet potatoes are tender.

Step 4: Just before serving, stir in the corn and let it warm through. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary.