Give a piece of your heart this holiday season.

September 30-Day Challenge: Take Care of Your Heart

heart

I love the heart. For one, we all need our hearts to live and we need our hearts to love.

If you know me, you know I’m all about self-care and self-love. Most of my clients, family, and friends are so good at taking care of others, yet many of them struggle with taking care of themselves – yours truly included (hello, mom of two fabulous and energy-draining girls under two years old.)

We obviously need a healthy heart to live a long, happy life and enjoy the ride. Six years ago my mom suffered a near fatal heart attack. She’s had two more minor ones since then and quadruple bypass surgery. While she has heart disease, she has been able to quit smoking and she enjoys water walking.

As you can imagine, healthy hearts are personal to me. When it came time to come up with a new monthly challenge for September and I realized it was National Cholesterol Education Month, I decided to honor hearts everywhere – my mom’s, mine, and yours!

The focus of this month’s 30-Day Challenge is THREE SIMPLE WAYS you can take care of your heart (yes, only three!) and help keep your cholesterol in a healthy range. And maybe even more importantly keep your heart healthy for years, and years, and YEARS of love.

So What IS Cholesterol?

Our bodies actually need cholesterol in order to make vitamin D and hormones like estrogen and testosterone. We get some from out diet, but most of it is made in our liver. HDL (“good” cholesterol), is the kind that helps to protect our heart and carries cholesterol to our liver for our bodies to get rid of it. This is the one where a higher number is a good thing.  LDL (“bad cholesterol”) is the kind that carries cholesterol from the liver to other parts of the body. The problem is that when your LDL cholesterol gets too high it can end up accumulating in your arteries which can lead to serious issues like heart attacks and strokes. The goal is to have a low LDL and a high HDL to help keep your heart healthy.

What Are Some Ways I Can Take Care of My Heart?

The good news is that there are things each of us can do every day to help bring our cholesterol into a healthy range. 3 things you can do EVERY DAY are:

  1. Eat well — this means eating a balanced and varied diet full of color and wholesome, nourishing foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy and lean proteins. Emphasizing heart healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, canola oil and nuts and seeds is important too. Cooking at home lets you control the ingredients of your meals, so set a goal to get in the kitchen more — even have your kids help out! Check out this list of 10 foods to break your low cholesterol diet rut to help keep your meals exciting and prevent boredom. The American Heart Association has a great collection of heart healthy recipes if you need some ideas to get you started.
  2. Exercise regularly — exercise has been shown to help improve your cardiovascular function, and it can help lower your cholesterol. Choose whatever kind of movement feels fun and makes your body feel good (yoga, hula hooping, walking your dog, playing outside with your kids, a dance class, etc.) and aim for 30 minutes per day (about 2.5 hours per week).
  3. Not smoke — smoking is the number one cause of heart disease and heart attack. Your body gets healthier even within 24 hours of quitting, so why not choose today to quit? For resources and support for how to quit, you can visit http://smokefree.gov.

I want to hear how YOU take care of your heart!

  • Share your heart healthy recipes, favorite workouts, and other inspiration with me on Facebook , Twitter or Pinterest. I’ll also be posting motivations, tips, and responding to your questions EVERY SINGLE DAY.
  • If you have a blog, write about your experience and share those links.
  • I’m using the hashtag #heartsmart

Heart Smart Your Menu with Tasty Comfort Foods

Think “heart healthy eating” is bland and boring? Think again.  February is “Heart Health” awareness month. With heart disease being the leading cause of death for both men and women, eating well is one of the best ways you can protect your heart.  I know most people aren’t going to eat salads all the time, which is why I want to share my “heart smart” take on  some of my comfort favorites, chili and pizza. Using healthy swaps like veggies and spices in place of salt, choosing whole grains and cooking with heart healthy corn oil, people can still enjoy these delicious and easy favorites without compromising on flavor.

This past week I tried something new on my appearance on WBAL NBC TV 11 Let’s Talk Live – I actually cooked the food on set! Check out the full video below or keep reading to learn about my “heart smart” recipes.

Heart Smart Chili 

A well-stocked pantry – your “Cantry” – helps you make hearty, flavorful, nutritious meals you can feel good about, anytime. I used canned chickpeas, kidney beans, corn, tomato paste, and diced tomatoes in this dish to help make my meal prep easy, affordable and nutritious. Check out the recipe I made on air.

Some people associate canned foods as being lower quality than fresh, but that’s a myth. There are lots of nutritious foods available in cans. Many fruits and vegetables are actually picked at their peak freshness and sealed in the can within hours locking in freshness, flavor and nutrition naturally. Some canned foods have actually been shown to have more nutrients than their fresh or frozen counter parts (check out the video to learn a few examples). You can feel good about using canned foods in your recipes. Visit Cans Get You Cooking on Facebook and Pinterest for more meal ideas.

I cut back on the meat, but did not eliminate it entirely (although you could make this vegan if you wanted). I used ground turkey breast, but only a half pound for 8 people, compared to 1-2 pounds in other recipes, and my “secret weapon”, mushrooms, which are a superfood!  Using a 50/50 blend of finely chopped mushrooms and ground turkey breast, this simple technique called blendability adds a savory and hearty taste thanks to mushroom’s “umami” flavor. Adding mushrooms also adds vegetable servings to the dish, which helps increase the nutritional value of the dish. Learn more about blendability at MushroomInfo.com.

Wheat Foods for Whole Grains

A heart healthy meal is not complete without a serving of whole grains. Eating at least 3 servings of whole grains, such as whole grain foods, like wheat foods, can reduce your risk of heart disease by 25%! I love serving whole grain wheat rolls with my chili because they’re packed with nutrients such as protein, healthy fats, slow-burning carbs, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which help to reduce chronic levels of inflammation that lead to disease, lower “bad” cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar levels. Get more recipes for wheat foods at the Wheat Foods Council website.

Chicken a la Pizza

chicken a la pizzaWhile traditional pizza is delicious, it is also one of the top sources of sodium in American’s diets (the top 3 are breads, pizza, and cold cuts according to the National Cancer Institute).

This delicious Mediterranean take on pizza was created by celebrity chef, Ingrid Hoffman and provides many of your favorite pizza flavors served on top of marinated and grilled chicken breasts. The marinade for the chicken contains Mazola corn oil – a heart smart choice. Many people don’t know that corn oil has more cholesterol blocking plant sterols than ANY other cooking oil. And a recent study showed that it lowers cholesterol MORE than Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Serve your Chicken a la Pizza with a fresh salad and enjoy!

What are some of your heart healthy favorites? Leave a comment below to share your favorite “heart smart” comfort food recipes.

Disclosure: I was compensated for my time to work with the Mushroom Council, Cans Get You Cooking, Wheat Foods Council, and Mazola for the TV segment, but I was not compensated for writing this blog post. 

Celebrate Heart Month With These Tasty Tips

Earlier this week I was on Let’s Talk Live in DC and WBAL in Baltimore sharing some easy and delicious ways you can eat your way to a healthy heart. No matter what time of day — breakfast, lunch, dinner or snacks — I shared foods that will keep your heart and belly happy all day long. You can watch both videos below, but check out below for a few highlights too.

Tip #1: Go for Oats

PP Cinn Research has shown that consuming 3g/day of oat soluble fiber – as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol – may help reduce the risk of heart disease. “Perfect Portions” is a fabulous new instant oatmeal product from Quaker and comes in a re-sealable package.  You can make as much or little as you like. Plus, it’s customizable and has no added sugar, so you can sweeten it your own way and choose the toppings you like. I especially love the cinnamon flavor with blueberries and almonds. It comes in Maple flavor too. It tastes delicious and it’s ready in minutes — what more can you ask for!

Tip #2 Makeover Your Meals photo 3

A typical restaurant lasagna might taste really good, but it has over a days worth of salt and 125% saturated fat! Two things we try and keep low for heart health. You can do better at home by taking another look at your cooking oil. Mazola corn oil has unstaturated fats, and plant sterols, which are one of the most effective nutrients at naturally lowering cholesterol by blocking “bad” LDL cholesterol from being absorbed.

This warm tomato and kale pasta , from Mazola’s Facebook page, is a heart healthy alternative to many pasta dishes, like lasagna. It’s lightened up by sautéing kale, tomatoes, and onions with Mazola, uses spices like chili powder and red pepper flakes instead of salt, and is combined with hot whole-wheat pasta. Mazola also makes a great light marinade. I combined it with reduced sodium soy sauce, ginger, and rice wine vinegar. Coat veggies and marinate for about 15 minutes, then stir-fry. A perfect side dish in just 10 minutes!

Tip #3: Snack “Heart Smart”

photo 2For a smart-heart snack, check the label and avoid  sodium and “bad fats” like saturated  and trans fats. You can still enjoy crunchy snacks, just make wise choices. Two great snack options are Wonderful Pistachios and veggies with creamy yogurt dip.

Almost 90% of the fat in Wonderful Pistachios is “good” unsaturated, making them a better snack choice than fried snacks like potato chips. They provide 8% of the Daily Value of potassium, which is more than other popular snack nuts like almonds, cashews, pecans and walnuts. And, they have more than 10 different antioxidants. Lightly salted and no salt pistachios earn the American Heart Association’s certified heart-check.

Sour cream based dips can be high in saturated fat, but I love swapping fat free Greek yogurt to snack on with colorful, crunchy veggies. Just add a few fresh/dried herbs and you have a delicious dip. You can even combine with hummus or guacamole for a tangy flavor twist.

Tip #4 – Power Up Your Potassiumphoto 4

Most people don’t know the power of potassium in heart health. Potassium plays a crucial role in making your heart beat (kinda important!).

A great way to add an extra punch of potassium into your day is with Vita Coco coconut water. It is chock full of key electrolytes such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium, and contains more potassium per serving than a banana! (515mg/45 calories vs 450mg/110 calories). At only 45-60 calories per serving, it’s nutrient rich, yet calorie poor, so you are getting more of a bang for your nutritional buck with what you’re drinking.

Other sources of potassium include potatoes – so try a baked potato with black beans paired with a salad for a quick weeknight dinner option.

How Do You Keep Your Heart Healthy?

I love to get new tips for heart-healthy meals and snacks — share one of your favorites with my by leaving a comment below.

Disclosure: I was compensated by Quaker Oats, Mazola, Wonderful Pistachios and Vita Coco for my TV appearance but was not compensated for writing this blog.

Highlights From My Soy Foods Video Shoot

I’ve been a fan of soy for a while now. It offers so many nutritional benefits: high in protein, low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and contains essential fats, fiber, iron and other nutrients.

I had the amazing opportunity recently to make a series of videos with the Soy Foods Association. I’ll update the post as soon as the videos is available on their website. In the meantime, I thought I would share some of the highlights: We did several vignettes, about 3 minutes each to cover the uses of soy for several specialty groups.

Soy and Athletes

Soy is especially great for athletes who train hard, because after muscles are broken down during exercise, we need protein to help build them back up. Soy is absorbed more slowly than other types of protein so some research studies suggest that soy can help maximize muscle building by extending protein absorption. That’s why recovery nutrition, high in protein, is so important — chocolate or vanilla soy milk is a great choice. resource: http://www.soyfoodsmonth.org/soy-and-performance

Posing with the athletes we used in the video. They loved refueling.

Why Soy is Great For Kids

Soy is an easily digestible protein for kids with sensitive tummy’s. And, the quality of soy protein is comparable to animal proteins like fish, dairy and meat. Soy foods also contain vitamins and minerals important for bone and muscle development. You can check out the soyfoods website to find recipes your kids will love.

Can It Be Good For Seniors?

Athletes aren’t the only ones who need strong muscles. Seniors need physical activity and protein to help maintain muscle mass and mobility throughout old age. It’s also packed with antioxidants which have been shown to be protective against some types of cancers. It’s so important to maintain a heart healthy diet as we age, and soy can be a great source of protein.

How Can I Eat It?

Basically soy foods can be part of a healthy plate for any age group and activity level. Following the balanced plate model, you could have a stir fry with tofu, mixed veggies and brown rice. Swap out meat for soy crumbles next time you’re having taco night. Or for lunch, a veggie burger on a wheat bun, piled with veggies and a side of fruit. Smoothies made with soy milk and frozen fruit are delicious as well.

When I see a food that is good for your heart, can lower your cholesterol, and is rich in protein and antioxidants, I can’t help but want to share it with others. I hope you’ll give soy a shot next time you’re looking to switch up your meal routine.

What is your favorite way to enjoy soyfoods?

DASH Your Way to a Healthier Heart

dash diet

Many people are not aware of the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), recommended by the National Institutes of Health.

In recent DASH studies, adding fruits, vegetables and dairy products lowered blood pressure readings – even when the sodium was as high as 3000 mg per day! Every millimeter the blood pressure falls reduces the risk of heart attack and strokes for people with high blood pressure. So believe it, small changes will get you big results. Your everyday decisions matter.

The DASH “diet” is based on an eating plan rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, and low-fat or non-fat dairy.  The eating plan follows heart healthy guidelines to limit saturated fat and cholesterol. It focuses on increasing intake of foods rich in nutrients that are expected to lower blood pressure, mainly minerals (like potassium, calcium, and magnesium), protein, and fiber.

The DASH Nutrition Numbers

  • Total fat 27% of calories
  • Saturated fat 6% of calories
  • Protein 18% of calories
  • Carbohydrate 55% of calories
  • Sodium 1500-2,300 mg
  • Potassium 4,700 mg
  • Calcium 1,250 mg
  • Magnesium 500 mg
  • Cholesterol 150 mg
  • Fiber 30 g

Before you get out your calculators or press the panic button, follow these simple tips to get started:

  • Record what you eat on paper or use an online program
  • Make half your plate veggies with lunch and dinner
  • Eat a piece of fruit with breakfast and lunch
  • Eat a variety of foods, animal- and vegetable-based proteins
  • Don’t eat between meals, unless you feel hungry; Try to go for a high-protein, low-fat foods like low-fat cottage cheese with red pepper strips
  • Cut way back on eating meals you didn’t make unless you know the sodium content
  • Limit full-fat cheese and fatty meats (sources of saturated fat)

If you want some more help, a dietitian can evaluate your eating habits and make recommendations in line with DASH. You should also search the Internet for DASH-friendly recipes.

The DASH eating plan has been proven to lower blood pressure in just two weeks. Best response came in people whose blood pressure was only moderately high, including those with pre-hypertension. For people with more severe hypertension, who may not be able to eliminate medication, the DASH diet can help improve response to medication.

If you know someone who would benefit from this information on preventing heart disease, please share it. This article is part of a series on simple things everyone can do to keep their heart healthy and strong.