Hearts, commonly associated with love and Valentine’s Day, took on new meaning in February, which marked American Heart Month. As Heart Month concludes and we slowly begin a transition to spring, we have a prime opportunity to consider lifestyle changes to foster heart health. While heart disease remains the leading cause of death for American men and women, many risk factors can be modified with healthy diet and lifestyle changes. Coupled with other behavioral changes like physical activity, smoking cessation, and stress reduction, adopting heart-healthy eating habits can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Research supports a Mediterranean-style diet rich in monounsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, and fiber, and limited in saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium. Meals that fit this pattern often center on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, while limiting red meat. Here are five recipes to get you started.
1. Quinoa and Red Pepper Chili
This vegetarian version of a classic winter staple is lower in sodium and packed with fiber. Beans (no salt added) and quinoa provide vegetarian protein sources with plentiful nutrients and fiber but minimal fat. Including a variety of vegetables and whole grains ensures high levels of antioxidants, which research suggests protect against cardiovascular disease.
- 2 red bell peppers
- 2 poblano chiles
- 4 teaspoons olive oil
- 3 cups chopped zucchini
- 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/3 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
- 1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added pinto beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
- 1 avocado
- Preheat broiler.
- Cut bell peppers and chiles in half lengthwise; discard seeds and membranes. Place halves, skin side up, on a foil-lined baking sheet, and flatten with hand. Broil 10 minutes or until blackened. Place in a paper bag; fold to close tightly. Let stand 10 minutes. Peel and coarsely chop. For quicker cook time, skip this step and saute peppers with zucchini, onion, and garlic in step 3.
- 3. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add zucchini, onion, and garlic; sauté 4 minutes. Stir in chili powder, cumin, and paprika; sauté for 30 seconds. Add roasted peppers and chiles, 1/2 cup water, and remaining ingredients; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until quinoa is tender.
- Top with chopped avocado
2. Baked Cajun Catfish and Collard Greens
This version of a Southern staple features less saturated fat and sodium while highlighting the health benefits of two key ingredients, fish and collard greens. The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fish per week. For added benefit, try substituting a fatty fish such as trout. Fattier fish have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more or less, depending on desired spiciness)
- 1 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon thyme
- 4 fillet catfish (you can substitute any white fish, such as tilapia or trout)
- Non-stick cooking spray
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1/2 small onion (thinly sliced)
- 1 teaspoon jarred, minced garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (add more if you like spicier food)
- 1 Bunch collard greens
- 2 tablespoon water
- 1 cooked, diced slice Canadian bacon (cooked in microwave)
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- In a shallow bowl, combine oil, garlic powder, onion powder, pepper, cayenne, paprika, and thyme.
- Prepare a 9×13 baking dish with non-stick spray.
- Coat fish fillets in seasoning mixture and place in baking dish. Pour any remaining seasoning mixture over fish.
- Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, until fish flakes with a fork.
- Prepare the greens: Wash the greens and blot lightly with paper towel.
- Remove stems from larger leaves by stripping the leaf off from either side of the stem (it is OK to leave the stems on the tender inner leaves).
- Stack 8 leaves together, roll up, and slice into 1-inch sections.
- In a large skillet, heat oil on medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent (3 minutes, stirring occasionally).
- Add garlic and cook 30 seconds more.
- Add red pepper, greens, vinegar, water, and Canadian bacon.
- Cover and cook until tender (20 minutes).
3. Overnight Banana Walnut Oatmeal
This recipe is made in a slow cooker, allowing you to prepare for the week ahead. To reheat, mix with a small amount of water or milk and warm in the microwave.
- 1 1/2 cups steel cut oats
- 7 1/2 cups water
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- 2 ripe bananas, mashed
- Place all ingredients except the walnuts in the bottom of a slow cooker and stir to combine.
- Cover and cook on low for 7–8 hours or on high for 4 hours.
- Remove cover and stir to evenly combine the ingredients.
- Top with walnuts.
- Add low-fat yogurt or additional cinnamon if desired.
4. Mediterranean Chicken
This simple dish is ready in under 30 minutes, making it a great go-to weeknight choice. Serve with whole grains and vegetables to round out the meal.
- 1 pint grape tomatoes
- 16 kalamata olives, pitted and halved
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 boneless chicken breast halves
- 1 15 ounce can no-salt added chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 1 lemon
- Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Toss tomatoes, olives, and 2 tablespoons of oil together in a medium bowl. Set aside.
- Rinse chicken and pat dry.
- Heat a large ovenproof skillet over high heat until hot.
- Add remaining tablespoon oil; heat until hot but not smoking.
- Place chicken in skillet; cook until deep golden brown (about 4 minutes).
- Turn chicken over.
- Add tomato mixture and chickpeas to skillet.
- Transfer skillet to oven. Roast until chicken is cooked through and tomatoes have softened (about 18 minutes).
- Add juice of one lemon and salt and pepper to taste.
5. Salmon Salad Wrap
Whole grains and vegetables combine with healthy fats from salmon and olive oil to create a delicious wrap. Low sodium remains an important but challenging component of a heart-healthy diet. You can limit sodium in your diet by decreasing reliance on processed foods and always looking for canned items with no salt added. Seasoning with herbs, spices, and lemon juice also helps reduce reliance on salt for flavor.
- 2 5-ounce can skinless, boneless salmon, drained well
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1/4 cup diced red onion
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 12 leaves romaine lettuce, thick ribs removed
- 4 large 100% whole wheat tortillas (about 9 inches in diameter)
- 1/2 cup sliced red peppers
- 1 large ripe tomato, halved and sliced
- In medium bowl, combine salmon, parsley, onion, oil, lemon peel, and lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- To make each sandwich, place 3 lettuce leaves on a tortilla. Top each with a quarter of the salmon salad and a few red pepper slices and tomato slices. Fold the tortilla about an inch over each end of the filling, then roll up.
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By Elizabeth Hulbrock, MPH, RD, CD | WIC and MSS Dietitian
The Women, Infants and Children’s program (WIC) is a supplemental food and nutrition program for pregnant women, new moms, and children 0-5 years of age. Through WIC, women and children receive financial assistance in purchasing food, counseling and information on healthy eating, breastfeeding support and information and referrals to health care and other community resources. Eligibility is based on income; more information can be at www.doh.wa.gov/YouAndYourFamily/WIC/Eligibility. WIC is provided at the following Kaiser Permanente locations: Bellevue, Burien, Capitol Hill, Rainier Valley, and the Teen Pregnancy and Parenting Clinic. To learn more or to schedule an appointment please call (206) 326-2060.