February is not just that cold, dark month that most of us muddle through, craving the warmer months ahead. It’s National Heart Month, and it’s the perfect time to focus on what you can do for your own heart. Lifestyle factors have the biggest influence and impact on our health – particularly our heart health – for both good and bad reasons.
The positive lifestyle habits that make for a healthy heart (and combat other chronic diseases) are best summarized by Dr. Dean Ornish in his new book with his wife, Anne Ornish, “Undo It! How Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Reverse Most Chronic Diseases:” eat well, move more, stress less, love more. I found it to be the perfect message for National Heart Month and Valentine’s Day!
As heart disease remains the number one killer of Americans, both men and women, I’ve got my own top five tips to help you take care of your heart and health, not only this month but every day, all year long! The first three are diet-related, and if you can work on getting enough of the “good stuff” daily from my “three F’s” (fiber, good fats and phytonutrients), then you’re on the right path!
- Eat more fruits and vegetables.
- Focus on fiber from whole foods – legumes, fruits, vegetables, whole grains.
- Get good fats, not bad ones – replacing animal fats with those from nuts, seeds and fruits (avocado and olive in particular) is a great way to do it without much effort.
- Get moving daily – the fewer sedentary minutes, the better!
- De-stress daily – be it “screen-free” time with kids, friends or any loved ones or taking a new yoga or meditation class, it’s important to find time every day to take some deep breaths and just let yourself relax.
The following heart-healthy recipes, adapted from my cookbook, “Cooking With Trader Joe’s: Lighten Up!” give you quick, easy, delicious ideas for a high-fiber, heart-healthy daily diet:
Susan’s Swiss-style Muesli (aka overnight oats)
Per 1 cup serving, this has approximately 8 grams of fiber.
1 cup old-fashioned oats
3 Tbsp ground flax seed
1 cup unsweetened soy milk (or other milk of choice)
1 large apple
1/2 cup sliced seedless red grapes
1 1/2 cups plain organic nonfat yogurt (or kefir)
1 Tbsp honey
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 Tbsp sliced almonds (optional)
1. Combine oats, flax and milk in a medium-sized bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.
2. Peel and then grate apple into oat mixture.
3. Add grapes, then stir in yogurt or kefir. Alternatively, the oats can be soaked in a combination of milk and/or kefir.
4. Drizzle honey on top, sprinkle with cinnamon and 1 Tbsp almonds or pumpkin seeds to serve.
(Can use any fresh or frozen fruit of choice.)
Who says sandwiches are bad for you?! This one fills you up with 13 grams of fiber and is very low in sodium and saturated fat.
2 slices Ezekiel bread, toasted
2 Tbsp hummus
1/2 ripe avocado, sliced
1 plum tomato (or any kind, such as a handful of grape tomatoes)
3 or 4 fresh basil leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Spread hummus on both slices of toast.
2. Place avocado slices on top of hummus layer, then add tomato layer.
3. Add a dash of salt and pepper to each slice then top with fresh basil leaves.
4. Eat immediately and love it!
Try It You’ll Like It Turkey Chili
Serve this over some quinoa or brown rice, and add some avocado slices and pumpkin seeds on top for even more fiber, flavor and phytonutrients!
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb ground turkey breast (or lean ground beef)
2 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/2 Tbsp cinnamon
1 large red onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped (any color)
3 (14.5 oz) cans organic diced and no salt added tomatoes
1 (15 oz) can black beans, rinsed
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1. Heat olive oil in large pot or pan over medium high heat.
2. Add turkey meat. Brown meat while stirring it and breaking it up with a wooden spoon or spatula.
3. Add all seasonings (chili powder, cinnamon, cumin, salt and pepper) as well as chopped onion and peppers. Cook 10 minutes.
4. Add both types of tomatoes and black beans and bring to boil.
5. Reduce heat to low and let chili simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and serve. Season to taste as desired.
Susan Greeley, MS, RDN, is a staff nutritionist at Somerset Hills YMCA. At the Y, Susan helps her clients to develop programs and provides them with nutrition education for weight loss, disease management and prevention. She also offers tips on healthy cooking and meal planning, and is the author of Cooking with Trader Joe's Cookbook: Lighten Up!