In January, many of us chose a diet that would help us lose the pounds we gained over the holidays. In February — American Heart Month — we focus on foods that are heart-healthy and might help you to lose some weight, too.
"There is no one 'superfood' or nutrient that can prevent heart disease," said registered dietitian Kathleen Stanley, left. "Research has shown that diets that contain whole grains and fruits and vegetables, and are generally low in fats, can help reduce risk for heart disease."
According to statistics from the American Heart Association, heart disease affects more than 82 million Americans. We know the steps to take to reduce the risk: Don't smoke, lower blood pressure if it is high, eat a healthy diet (low in saturated fat, low in trans fat, low in cholesterol, low in salt), stay active, achieve and maintain a healthy weight, follow medical advice, and see your physician regularly.
Although some of us might need our own dietitian to make healthier eating happen, you can change your diet immediately by reducing the amounts of cholesterol and saturated and trans fats you consume.
"These fats are the type that can build up inside your blood vessels, restricting blood flow or even clogging up a blood vessel. You can help prevent cholesterol and fat buildup by avoiding foods that are high in cholesterol such as organ meats, dairy products made from whole milk, lard, egg yolks, butter, fat-back, meat grease. You can reduce the amount of saturated fats and trans fats in your diet by reading the labels of products to find products low in these two types of fats," Stanley said.
Stanley, coordinator of diabetes, health and nutrition Services at Baptist Health Lexington, said that despite the efforts of health professionals to encourage Americans to reduce the amount of sodium in their diets, Americans still consume more sodium than they need each day.
According to the Institute of Medicine, daily sodium intake should be less than 2,300 milligrams a day.
The American Heart Association recommends using fresh herbs for sodium-free flavor in dishes.
A simple first step is to eat more fruits and vegetables, which are naturally low in fat, sodium and calories, and do not contain cholesterol.
"Fruit and vegetables also provide fiber, which may help reduce risks for heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers," Stanley said. "Other nutrients in fruits and vegetables are being studied to better determine if they have a significant role in prevention of heart disease, such as flavonoids from citrus fruits, lycopene from tomatoes, carotenoids from kale, and various other antioxidants.
"Until we learn more about these specific components, eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables is a smart choice."
You can achieve a balanced diet simply by filling your shopping cart with an ample supply of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain products, fresh lean meats and low-fat dairy products. Skip the aisles with processed foods and sugary/salty snacks, Stanley said.
She recommends using the USDA "My Plate" method. For more specifics, go to Choosemyplate.gov.
Following an exercise program also will help to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. "If you are overweight or obese, reducing your body weight by as little as 7 to 10 percent can reduce your risk of heart disease," Stanley said.
Incorporating ancient grains, seeds and beans into your diet also offers many healthful benefits, and American Heart Month is a good time to look into some of the grains that might not grace our tables every day.
There's a developing interest in sprouted grains, and according to the Whole Grains Council, research detailing the health benefits of sprouted whole grains is growing daily. Although it's important to remember that no standard, uniform definition of sprouted grains was observed from one study to another, many different benefits seem to be associated with sprouted grains.
The process of sprouting boosts nutrition by increasing vitamins and micronutrients, and activating enzymes that make nutrients more available for the body to absorb, according to the makers of TruRoots Originals. The company has a line of organic and sprouted grains including quinoa, sprouted quinoa, germinated brown rice, sprouted rice and quinoa blend, sprouted mung beans, sprouted green lentils, and chia seeds.
These items might not be on your weekly shopping list, but their health benefits make them worth buying. Here's a recipe using sprouted lentils.
Hearty Italian sprouted lentil soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
One can (14 ounces) organic diced tomatoes
3½ cups water or vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
1 cup sprouted lentils
¼ cup minced fresh parsley
Salt and pepper, to taste
Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, carrot and celery, and cook, partially covered, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomatoes, and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in water and bay leaf. and bring to a boil. Add lentils. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes, until lentils are tender. Cover and let stand for 2 minutes. Stir in parsley and salt and pepper before serving. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
From TruRoots Originals
Studies show that a high consumption of orange and red vegetables might reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. These recipes are from natural foods chef Christine Waltermyer, created for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
Warm or cold beet salad
3 medium beets
11/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon apple juice concentrate
1 teaspoon stone-ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed
1 to 2 yellow bell peppers, sliced
Wash and peel beets. Cut each beet in half, and each half into four wedges. To prevent staining your counter top, place a dark-colored towel or paper towels under your cutting board. Steam beets over boiling water until tender when pierced with a fork, 15 to 20 minutes.
Mix lemon juice, vinegar, apple juice concentrate, mustard and dill in a serving bowl. Add beets and toss to mix. Arrange beets on salad plate with sliced yellow peppers. Serve warm or cold. Makes 3 servings.
Nutrition information per serving: 36 calories, 0.2 g. fat, 0 mg. cholesterol, 1 g. protein, 8.4 g. carbohydrate, 1.1 g. fiber, 61 mg. sodium.
When you serve this dessert to the family, don't tell them what's in it.
Super raspberry protein brownies
1/4 teaspoon safflower oil
2 cans (15 ounces each) low-sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup pitted dates
1 cup all-fruit raspberry jam
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray an 8- by 8-inch baking pan with the oil. Combine black beans, dates, jam and vanilla in a food processor, and process until smooth. Add flour, cocoa powder and salt, and process again.
Pour into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake for 30 minutes or until the top looks set. Remove from the oven and cool completely, then cut into 16 squares. The brownies will keep, refrigerated in a covered container, for up to 1 week. Makes 16 brownies.
Nutrition information per serving: 145 calories, 1 g. fat, 5 g. protein, 8 g. fiber, 0 mg. cholesterol, 110 mg. sodium.