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.

Quit Stress Eating and Find Healthy Ways to Decompress

By Carlene Helble- Elite Nutrition Intern

Stress has become part of our culture and undoubtedly, you may have experienced this sense of being overwhelmed quite often. For some, stress eating or stress drinking alcohol are an enormous saboteurs on the path to health and wellness. It’s not just the excess calories that can nudge you away from your goal though. Read on for common problems people struggle with and get some great solutions!

Alcohol Backfires on Your Well-Being

Stress drinking cocktails or a few beers after a hectic day at work is what some see as a ritual to unwind, but this canbackfire later. Alcohol prevents the brain from entering deep sleep leaving you unrested and restressed the next morning. Alcohol also dehydrates you If you do drink, keep it to one drink a night. That means 5 ounces of wine or 1 shot of liquor…not an oversized glass with a mixed drink.

Crush Stress with These Foods

“The best stress quashing foods aren’t ice cream and cake” says health expert Dr. Oz. Instead of fatty and sugar loaded ‘sometimes foods’, do your waistline a favor by choosing berries instead. These power fruits are super rich in vitamin C, which assists in battling increased levels of a stress hormone called cortisol. Pistachios offer a more savory option plus a blood pressure lowering bonus. If you find overeating is still a problem, try picking up some smaller plates. American dinner plates have morphed into platters! By using a smaller size, you are tricking your brain into thinking there is more food on your plate. Your eyes are bigger than your stomach…use it to your advantage! Save calories and get double your benefits by making smart food choices if you do feel stressed.

Cope With Friends

One of the best things you can do to relieve stress is phoning a friend. Call an impromptu gathering for berry parfaits (stress hormone reliever) with protein packed Greek yogurt. Take a 30 minute walk around the neighborhood which will keep your heart healthy and give you time to enjoy the scenery. A Harvard study even suggests that for every hour you exercise, your longevity increases two hours! Enjoying the company of friends at home or on a walk is free and keeps you smiling through the crazy events of the day.

Sleep on It

Catch some z’s. For a healthy heart, you need at least seven hours of sleep. Less than lucky number seven and metabolic changes could occur and even increase your risk for diabetes. Before jumping into bed tell yourself ‘tomorrow is a new day and I can make it great!’. Think of sleep as a reset button to start fresh in the morning. Sweet dreams!

Stress happens, but with the tips above, stress eating and drinking can be edited with healthy alternative options.

How to Motivate Behavior Changes in Someone You Love

women hug It’s a time to bring awareness to heart disease and stroke, the number one killer in the United States, so you and people you love don’t become a statistic. I’ve been blogging about important topics like lowering your cholesterolreducing heart disease risk and identifying heart healthy foods all month, and I want to continue the conversation with you by discussing how you can influence change in those you love.

My mom has heart disease and I’ve spent countless hours helping her with nutrition and exercise. So I’m coming at this post as a daughter with experience in trying to get a loved one to change more so than rattling off “book smarts.”

First, let me just say one important thing: it doesn’t matter how much you want someone to change, they have to want it too. Make no mistake. Change is not easy for many people. But I’m concerned that too many well-intentioned people are struggling and frustrated that their loved one doesn’t seem to be able to change. Above all else, they have to want it and secondly, they need support… and that’s where you can come in and can be successful.

So, if you aren’t sure if your loved one wants to change, you need to start there. Here are some tips to help you out.

1. Talk to them. Ask them if they want to change and then how much? Ask them what do they think will be easy and what will be hard? Ask them what they plan to start working on first and what will be easy or hard with that? For example, if they have fast food three times a week, TV dinners three times a week, hate to cook, and don’t love vegetables… that’s a lot to tackle. Ask them to think about what will be easiest and suggest they start with that.

2. Ask how you can help. Based on their responses above, offer some support. Ask if you can prepare some meals for them. Make the meals at their house so you have time to talk about how their changes are going. Offer to go grocery shopping with them. Offer to go on a walk with them once a week. Help them find a water walking class nearby. Poll your friends who know someone making changes and ask them for any resources like websites, recipes, or other tips.

3. Always, always, always let them drive. It can be so tempting to do more for your loved one, but the reality is, you are helping them more by allowing them to take responsibility and move at a pace that works for them. Success builds upon success. So, if it is easier to add in fruits and vegetables, but it is harder to cut back on junk food and salt, don’t panic and think they aren’t doing enough. All positive changes need support and celebration. The body responds on a cellular levels in ways you don’t see every day. Your loved one needs to feel like they are the one making the decisions and “being healthy” is not getting forced upon them.

I think you will find by being supportive and telling them how much you love them you are helping to reinforce their motivation. Be laid back, even if you struggle with it, as long as you know they are taking action… if they aren’t taking action, maybe they aren’t ready for change today, but they may be tomorrow. So go back to #1.

3 Simple Recipe Swaps for Heart Health

It’s officially heart health awareness month. This topic is important to me. This month it will be one year since my mom had her quadruple bypass surgery. But the good news is many of your heart disease risk can be lowered with your food choices.

That’s right, people… four out of five of your heart disease risk factors can be reduced with healthy eating. Can you believe that? Yes, your every day decisions matter, even though you may not see the immediate reward.

Here’s what we’re trying to do:

  • Manage weight – excess weight, especially obesity increases risk for high cholesterol, blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes all which increase heart disease risk. The more of these you have, the higher your heart disease risk. We manage weight my daily exercise (walk, swim, run, yoga, strength train, garden, any kind of moving) and making healthy, balanced food choices.
  • Prevent diabetes – type 2 diabetes risk increases with poor eating, lack of exercise and obesity. So again, it’s back to eating healthy meals, lots of veggies and fruits, beans, and some lean proteins. Cutting back on restaurant and fast food and making healthier choices when you go – a small hamburger over a double cheeseburger or grilled chicken and veggies over chicken alfredo or my favorite… sharing a meal (any meal) and garden salad!
  • Keep cholesterol normal – we want high HDL (over 40, but the higher, the better) because these guys help keep blood vessels clean and open and low triglycerides (floating fat) and low LDL (the bad, sticky cholesterol). Again this is watching intake of saturated fat. If you follow the healthy eating advice, it should be nice and low. Hidden sources of saturated fat are full fat dairy and cheeses. Watch your portions of cheese and switch to fat free milk. Also pastries and sweets and fried foods can have high saturated fat.

Check out my television appearance on Let’s Talk Live, where I discuss some simple swaps when you’re eating on-the-go! (it’s the 3rd story down)

Genetic Testing for Heart Attack Risk

Soon you’ll get your cholesterol and your genes tested for heart attack risk.

Myocardial Infarction Consortium researchers looked at about 1 million different spots in the genomes, the frequency of the letters in the genomes in cases and controls. The genome-wide study identified nine spots associated with an increased risk of heart attack, six of which had been previously described. They showed that when you combined the information from the nine different spots, the 20 percent of the people who had the most unfavorable profile had a 2.25-fold greater risk of having a heart attack, compared to the 20 percent with the best genetic profile.

This simple test could be use to determine if statins should be perscribed earlier in life.

I also would like to think an unfavorable test would motivate people at high risk to adopt healthy behaviors, like walking, swimming, and heart healthy eating plans.


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