Celebrate American Heart Month with flavor-filled, colorful foods
February is American Heart month, which is a great time to revisit your lifestyle habits and set goals for adopting heart healthy habits. Heart disease remains the leading killer in the US for women and men alike. We also know that heart disease begins in childhood so adopting healthy family food habits early in life is especially important.
My philosophy about heart healthy eating is a simple one. Eat nutritious foods that look good, taste good and bring enjoyment.
Steer clear of ready-made and fast foods that derive engineered “flavor” from dangerous combinations of fat, salt and sugar. Teach your kids to enjoy real, whole foods and avoid the marketing hype that kids will only eat “kid-friendly foods” such as chicken nuggets, greasy pizza and French fries.
Fortunately, eating well does not mean giving up delicious foods. My favorite eating plan is the Mediterranean diet because it features heart-healthy foods that are packed with color and flavor. The core of this eating plan centers on fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, flavorful herbs and spices, and healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados. Add seafood, poultry, eggs and low-fat dairy to round out most of your meals. Oldways: Health through Heritage has produced a Mediterranean pyramid that illustrates this eating plan in vivid mouth-watering colors.
A Day of Heart healthy meals
Another benefit of the Mediterranean diet is the focus on simple, whole ingredients. You don’t have to be a gourmet cook to assemble a day’s worth of meals and snacks. I’ve provided examples below of how even a “non-cook” can pull together a day of heart-healthy eating.
Start your day with a bowl of oatmeal or hot multi-grain cereal topped with colorful berries, a sprinkle of cinnamon and a tablespoon of walnuts. Add a dollop of Greek yogurt and a teaspoon of natural sweetener such as honey, agave nectar or real maple syrup.
Make fresh vegetables the star attraction of your midday meal. Start with a plate filled with colorful salad greens and add additional fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, pepper strips, avocado chunks, red onion rings, grated carrots or other favorite and/or accessible produce. Top with a 1/4 cup of canned beans (drained and rinsed), a sprinkle of sunflower seeds and an ounce or so of your favorite natural cheese. Lightly spray with olive oil, add oregano, basil or other herbs and finish with a sprinkle of red wine or balsamic vinegar. Serve with a whole grain roll.
Sauté fish fillets* (e.g. wild salmon, trout, U.S. farmed tilapia, halibut, etc.) in a tablespoon of olive oil for 3-5 minutes per side (until fish just “flakes”). Top with lemon and fresh herbs (rosemary, basil, parsley, cilantro, etc) or use your favorite fresh salsa as a topping. Serve with baked or roasted sweet potatoes and steamed asparagus spears. For dessert, enjoy an ounce of dark chocolate or a mug of homemade cocoa (made with 1% milk) with pear, apple or your favorite fruit slices.
*For a guide on choosing safe, sustainable fish in your area, see http://www.seafoodwatch.org/
Keep snacks small, yet satisfying. Toast a piece of hearty whole grain bread and top with almond or sunflower seed butter. Other ideas: a small container of plain Greek yogurt mixed with banana slices or a handful of pistachios paired with 2 fresh clementines.