February is American Heart Month and as the month comes to a close, I would like to highlight the heart healthy foods you should eat regularly. Keeping with my theme of eating simply and colorfully, which includes eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, your diet should include:
Many studies show that people who consume fish are at lower risk for cardiovascular disease than people who do not consume fish. The decreased risk may be attributed to the nutrients within the fish that may prevent blood clots, clogged arteries, inflammation, elevated blood pressure and high triglyceride levels. Try to:
- Eat 12 ounces of fish per week – that’s the equivalent of four decks of playing cards.
- Ensure at least 1 to 2 servings are oily types of fish such as salmon, sardines, herring, anchovies, and rainbow trout, which contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids
- Make healthy seafood selections, avoiding deep-fried fish fillets or dishes with cream, cheese or buttery sauces.
Numerous studies show eating nuts reduces the risk of coronary heart disease. Packed with nutrients, eating nuts may help lower unhealthy cholesterol levels, improve dilation of blood vessels and combat elevated blood pressure. Try to:
- Snack on ¼ cup or handful each day.
- Add to salads, stir-fries, cereal, yogurt and side dishes. To bring out their ‘nuttiness’, try roasting them for 2-3 minutes before tossing on a salad.
- Aim for lightly salted or unsalted types.
Much research reveals eating whole grains is associated with lower incidence of cardiovascular disease. The fiber and antioxidants within the whole grains are credited with its health promoting benefits. Try to:
- Check package labels on breads, cereals and crackers and look for the words “100% whole”. Try to make sure it is the first ingredient as well.
- Substitute half whole-wheat flour in recipes calling for flour.
- Explore “ancient” grains such as amaranth, kamut, millet.
Beans, dried peas and lentils not only improve cholesterol levels but also blood pressure. One meta-analysis involving 26 clinical trials found 1 daily serving was associated with a modest but significant reduction in LDL cholesterol levels. Try to:
- Aim for at least 2 meatless meals per week.
- Puree beans and add to meat or soups as an extender.
- Rinse canned beans to reduce their sodium content. This will also decrease the gassy side effects of legumes.
While many oils contain monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats which have been linked with lower risk of cardiovascular disease, extra virgin olive oil contains many phenolic compounds – phytonutrients associated with anti-inflammation and vasodilation or enlarging of blood vessels. Try to:
- Enjoy a bit of olive oil on bread, in salad dressings and with vegetables including substituting for milk, cream and butter if making mashed potatoes.
- Drizzle rather than pour to ensure you don’t use more than you need. An olive oil spritzer is inexpensive & a great way to reduce your intake:)
- Choose extra-virgin variety. Make sure you check the ingredient labels on olive oil as you do not want a blend. You want the real deal!
Try this Heart Healthy Recipe for Minnestrone. I have prepared this soup numerous times using all sorts of veggies, beans & grains. It’s easy & packed with nutrition!
2 tsp olive oil
1 ½ cup chopped onion
1 carrot. This is where I take the liberty to add lots of carrots & celery
1 clove garlic
½ cup long grain rice. if you don’t have the long grain, experiment with wild rice or any of the ancient grains.
1 tsp dried Italian seasoning. I also add oregano, marjoram etc
2 ½ cups water
(2) 14 oz chicken broth, low sodium. Actually I purchase my soup base at Penzy’s in Maplewood:)
1 medium zucchini-if I have more than 1 zucchini or other variety of squash, I add that, as well
¼ tsp pepper
15 ½ oz cannellini beans, drained
1 pkg frozen spinach, thawed & drained
2/3 cup parmesan cheese
1. Heat oil in large pan. Add onion, carrots & garlic. Sauté for 3 minutes.
2. Add uncooked rice & next 4 ingredients. Bring to boil. Cover, reduce heat & simmer for 20 minutes.
3. Add zucchini, salt pepper, cannellini beans & spinach
4. Cook additional 5 minutes
5. Ladle into bowl & sprinkle with cheese