While many of us are aware that eating healthy requires us to limit our fat, caloric and carbohydrate intake, fewer of us know about foods that are healthy for our hearts. A common misconception is that good nutrition requires enormous changes in diet, and that heart healthy recipes are time-consuming to make and bland to eat.However, by making a few small changes to your diet, you can greatly improve your heart health. The key when making dietary changes is to try not to do everything at once. Eating habits that you have developed over your lifetime aren”t easily changed overnight. Instead, slowly incorporate heart healthy foods into your diet. In no time at all, you will be living a heart healthy life!
Substitutions: Replacing Fat and Cholesterol with Heart Healthy Diet Options
While moderation is important for everything in life, fat and cholesterol control is vital to good nutrition. Yet, limiting fat can be difficult. Let”s face it, some of the tastiest treats going are the ones with high fat content. Although you shouldn”t banish fat from your diet altogether, reducing the amount you eat will make your diet more heart healthy.Saturated and trans-fats are the fats we want to minimize, as they”re loaded with bad cholesterol on top of unhealthy fat. Some food products that fall into this category include:
- coconut oil
- cream sauces
- hydrogenated margarine
- sour cream.
When possible, replace saturated and trans-fat with monounsaturated fats, including:
- canola oil
- cholesterol-lowering margarine
- olive oil
- low-fat sour cream
- trans-fat free margarine
- low- or non-fat plain yogurt.
By substituting most of the above list for the spreads, oils and sauces that are higher in trans and saturated fats, you can easily make your meal more heart healthy. A word of warning: foods that are converted to low-fat often have an elevated sugar level to make up for taste, so be sure to read the labels. Keep in mind that lowering your fat intake does not mean that you shouldn”t consume fat at all. Not only are some fats healthy (such as omega-3 fatty acids, commonly found in fish), but eliminating fat in your diet can cause you to consume more calories. If you don”t consume fat, you run the risk of never feeling “full,” causing you to overeat lower fat products, which, in turn, increases caloric intake and defeats the purpose of a heart healthy diet.
Changing the Meat You Eat
Choosing recipes that contain low-fat meats and other proteins is a good start toward eating a heart healthy diet. Here are some tips for how to make meat recipes heart healthy:
- Avoid eating fried meats. Limit your intake of fried foods in general.
- Increase your chicken and fish intake.
- Limit red meat in your diet. While you can still consume it in moderation, try replacing red meat with chicken, turkey or fish or eating red meats that are lower in fat.
- Opt for skinless chicken breast, as most of the fat resides in the skin. Similarly, limit your intake of darker chicken (or turkey) meat, as that is the fattiest meat of the bird.
- Prepare meats and fish by steaming, stir-frying, baking, grilling or broiling.
As you are taking care to prepare your heart healthy meat, also be aware of your portion size. Four ounces is considered a portion size, generally the size of your closed fist.
Fruits and Vegetables
Few people in Western society eat the amount of fruits and vegetables necessary for a heart healthy diet. Ideally, people should eat between four to five servings of fruits and veggies a day. Although this figure sounds intimidating, if you pay attention to serving sizes, it”s not difficult to add these amounts to an average day”s food intake. In fact, a good way to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet is to eat them in the place of unhealthy snacks.A serving size of fruits and vegetables is approximately half a cup worth, corresponding to a small apple, banana or orange. Raw vegetables make good snack food for those who like a bit of crunchiness when they snack. Veggies are also easy-to-add ingredients to help make normal meals heart healthy. Add half a cup of peas and corn to a can of soup, for instance, and watch the good nutrition mount up.
Whole Grains and Fiber
Whole grains, such as barley, are grains that contain bran, germ, vitamins and minerals that have been removed from processed grains. They are a source of good nutrition and an excellent source of fiber that keeps the digestive system running smoothly. Bread is one area where you can make healthy diet changes. Instead of white bread, choose multi-grain, whole wheat breads. Artisan breads containing barley, cracked wheat and other whole grains make delicious sandwiches. For example, instead of a BLT on white, go for a lettuce, tomato and steamed skinless chicken breast on multi-grain bread. Not only is the second option more heart healthy, but the fiber in the whole grains will be more filling than white bread, leaving you less likely to snack between meals.
Heart Healthy Cooking and Recipes
While some heart healthy recipes are as simple as a grilled chicken breast sandwich on whole grain bread, others require a little more time and effort to prepare. One of the best ways to eat heart healthy meals is to plan ahead.If possible, plan your meals a week in advance so you can make up your shopping list according to your meal plan. Not only will you develop good nutrition habits, but you”ll be less likely to impulsively buy unhealthy food as you walk through the grocery store. As you compose your shopping list, plan variety in your weekly meals so that no single food item dominates the menu. Also, keep your weekly schedule in mind. If Wednesday evenings are always busy, plan light, quick-to-prepare meals for that evening. Leave more elaborate meals for less hectic days. Here are some heart healthy recipes for you to try:
This is a great healthy wrap to pack in lunches.Ingredients (serves 4)
- c. non or low-fat ranch dressing
- 2 tbsp. salsa
- 4 (8-in) wheat tortillas
- 12 oz. non or low fat turkey breast (Thanksgiving leftovers or deli meat)
- 1 avocado, sliced
- 4-6 leaves of red romaine lettuce
- 1 ? c. carrots, grated
- 1 tomato, sliced
- 1 onion, thinly chopped
- salt and pepper to taste.
- Combine the ranch dressing and salsa in a bowl.
- Spread the ranch/salsa mixture evenly on each of the tortillas, leaving about ? inch border at the edge of the tortilla.
- Layer the lettuce, avocado, turkey, carrots and onions on each tortilla, keeping the border of the tortilla clear.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Roll layered tortilla and cut in half.
Fiesta Chicken Soup
Make this delicious soup in less than an hour. Ingredients (serves 4)
- 2 tbsp. canola oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 1 medium carrot, chopped
- c. green bell peppers, chopped
- 1 can corn, drained
- 4 cans whole peeled tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 tbsp. chili powder
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- c. cilantro, chopped
- 6 c. chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 c. cooked skinless chicken breast, shredded
- juice of 1 lime
- salt and pepper to taste.
- Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat.
- Once oil is hot, add onion, celery, carrot, bell peppers, chili powder and cumin. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the vegetables soften.
- Add broth. Bring mixture to a boil and then reduce heat so mixture simmers.
- Add corn, tomatoes and oregano. Let mixture simmer for about 5 more minutes.
- Take pan off the heat.
- Add chicken, lime juice and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper to taste.