Caring about the health of your loved one's heart says "I love you" much more than a box of chocolates or a rich cupcake piled high with frosting.
So, as you think about showing love on Valentine's Day, serve your family or sweetheart an entree, breakfast muffins or snacks that are low in fat and heart-healthy.
While you probably don't want to mention this over a candlelight dinner, if your loved one needs to fine-tune his or her diet, keep in mind some of these tips from the Mayo Clinic and the Kentucky Beef Council.
■ Control your portion size. Portions served in restaurants are often more than anyone needs. When you cook at home, you can control portion sizes.
■ Eat more vegetables and fruits. They are good sources of vitamins and minerals and also are low in calories and rich in dietary fiber. They also contain substances found in plants that might help prevent cardiovascular disease. Choose recipes that contain lots of vegetables such as skillet gnocchi with butternut squash and kale pesto.
■ Individuals who are trying to control their cholesterol levels may include lean beef as part of a heart-healthy diet and lifestyle. Serving lean beef recipes, such as sirloin with sugar snap pea and pasta salad or Szechuan beef stir fry, are perfect for a family dinner on Valentine's Day or any time during February, which is American Heart Month.
■ Select whole grains. Whole grains are good sources of fiber and other nutrients that play a role in regulating blood pressure and heart health. You can increase the amount of whole grains in a heart-healthy diet by making simple substitutions for refined grain products.
Another easy way to add whole grains to your diet is ground flaxseed. The small brown seeds are high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower your total blood cholesterol.
Adding chia seeds to a recipe is a great way to add dietary protein. Compared to other seeds and grains, chia seeds provide the highest source of protein, from 19 percent to 23 percent protein by weight.
■ Choose low-fat protein sources. Lean meat, poultry and fish, low-fat dairy products, and egg whites or egg substitutes are some of your best sources of protein. Fish is another good alternative to high-fat meats. And certain types of fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower blood fats called triglycerides. You'll find the highest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring. Other sources are flaxseed, walnuts, soybeans and canola oil.
■ Reduce the sodium in your food. Eating a lot of sodium can contribute to high blood pressure, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Reducing sodium is an important part of a heart-healthy diet.
■ Allow yourself an occasional treat, especially on Valentine's Day. A piece of chocolate candy or a decadent cupcake won't derail your heart-healthy diet. But don't let it turn into an excuse for giving up on your healthy-eating plan. What's important is that you eat healthy foods most of the time.
These recipes will help keep you on a heart-healthy track.
Sirloin with sugar snap pea and pasta salad
2 cups fresh sugar snap peas
2 cups cooked gemelli or corkscrew pasta
1 cup grape or teardrop tomatoes, cut in half
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 boneless beef top sirloin steak, cut 3/4 inch thick (about 1 pound)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon peel
1/4 teaspoon salt
1⁄8 teaspoon black pepper
Bring water to boil in large saucepan. Add peas; cook 2 to 3 minutes until crisp-tender. Drain; rinse under cold water. Combine peas, pasta and tomatoes in large bowl. Set aside.
Whisk gremolata dressing ingredients in small bowl until well blended. Toss 2 tablespoons dressing with pasta mixture. Set aside.
Combine 3 cloves minced garlic and 1 teaspoon pepper; press evenly onto beef steak. Place steak on rack in broiler pan so surface of beef is 2 to 3 inches from heat. Broil 9 to 12 minutes for medium rare (145 degrees) to medium (160 degrees) doneness, turning once.
Carve steak into thin slices; season with salt, as desired. Add steak slices and remaining dressing to pasta mixture; toss to coat evenly.
Nutrition information per serving: 369 calories, 12 g. fat, 5 mg. cholesterol, 216 mg. sodium, 31 g. carbohydrate, 4.2 g. fiber; 32 g. protein.
From The Healthy Beef Cookbook (John Wiley & Sons)
Szechuan beef stir-fry
1 package (10 ounces) fresh vegetable stir-fry blend (see note)
3 tablespoons water
2 beef shoulder center steaks (ranch), cut 3/4 inch thick (about 8 ounces each)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup prepared sesame-ginger stir-fry sauce
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 cups hot cooked rice or brown rice, prepared without butter or salt
1/4 cup dry-roasted peanuts
Combine vegetables and water in large nonstick skillet; cover and cook over medium-high heat 4 minutes or until crisp-tender. Remove and drain vegetables. Set aside.
Meanwhile, cut beef steaks into 1/4-inch thick strips. Heat same skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add half of beef and half of garlic; stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes or until outside surface of beef no longer is pink. Remove from skillet; keep warm. Repeat with remaining beef and garlic.
Return all beef and vegetables to skillet. Add stir-fry sauce and red pepper; cook and stir 1 to 2 minutes or until heated through. Spoon over rice. Sprinkle with peanuts.
Note: Four cups assorted fresh vegetables, such as sugar snap peas, broccoli florets, bell pepper strips and shredded carrots, may be substituted for 1 package vegetable stir-fry blend. Your favorite stir-fry sauce flavor may be substituted for the sesame-ginger flavor.
Nutrition information per serving: 384 calories, 11 g. fat, 65 mg. cholesterol, 1,120 mg. sodium, "39 g. carbohydrate, 1.9 g. fiber, 30 g. protein.
From The Healthy Beef Cookbook (John Wiley & Sons)
Skillet gnocchi with butternut squash and kale pesto
2 cups chopped kale leaves
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
11/2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons canola oil
11/2 cups frozen pre-cut butternut squash, thawed
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 package prepared whole grain gnocchi
1 cup kale leaves, cut into fine strips
To make pesto, purée kale, lemon juice, Parmesan cheese, walnuts and garlic for 2 minutes until paste forms. While processing on low, drizzle in canola oil.
Warm large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add pesto, butternut squash and red onion (reserve 2 tablespoons for garnish), and sauté for 5 minutes. Add gnocchi and sauté another 5 minutes until thoroughly heated. Top with kale strips and chopped red onion. Makes 6 servings.
Nutrition information per serving: 260 calories, 8 g. fat, 5 mg. cholesterol, 390 mg. sodium, 42 g. carbohydrates, 4 g. fiber, 8 g. protein.
Sweet & spicy roasted nuts
1 cup blanched almonds
1/2 cup walnut halves
1/2 cup shelled pistachio nuts or pecan halves
2 tablespoons Smart Balance butter & canola oil blend
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil.
Combine nuts in a mixing bowl; set aside.
In a small, microwave-safe dish, combine spreadable butter, both sugars, cayenne pepper and smoked paprika. Heat in microwave for 20 seconds or until spreadable butter is melted. Stir until combined and pour over nuts. Mix well until evenly distributed.
Spread nut mixture on prepared baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 13 minutes, shaking pan vigorously halfway through cooking time, or until nuts are fragrant and starting to brown.
Transfer nuts to a clean mixing bowl and sprinkle with salt. Mix well and cool. Store in an airtight container. Makes 8 servings.
Nutrition information per serving: 226 calories, 6 g. protein, 10 g. carbohydrates, 19 g. fat, 3 mg. cholesterol, 169 mg. sodium, 3g. fiber.
From Smart Balance
Sharon Thompson: (859) 231-3321. Twitter: @FlavorsofKY. Blog: Flavorsofkentucky.bloginky.com.