Valentine's Day and American Heart Month make February the month we celebrate sweethearts. What a perfect time to show your main squeeze how much you adore him or her by preparing a meal laden with heart-healthy foods.
Heart disease is a dangerous and silent killer -- and, contrary to what you may have heard, it's not a problem for men alone. For most people, heart disease is preventable. One of the most effective ways to prevent heart disease is through diet. (Of course, not smoking, exercising regularly, and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check are also important in keeping heart disease at bay.)
Quite simply, some foods can promote good heart health. These "superfoods" contain a wealth of disease-fighting, health-protecting nutrients that taste good and are good for you. Eat them often, share them with your loved ones, and you will be doing your part for a healthier heart:
- Soluble fiber, from beans, oatmeal, apples, pears, peanuts, lentils, and whole grains, can lower "bad" cholesterol and reduce your heart disease risk. In addition, soluble fiber helps you control fluctuations in blood sugar. Bulky sources of soluble fiber, like oats and beans, can also help keep you feeling full longer and ultimately aid in weight loss.
- Omega-3 fatty acids are newcomers to the diet world. They are rich sources of plant sterols, which interfere with cholesterol absorption, thus lowering blood cholesterol levels. Excellent sources include salmon, nuts, flaxseed, canola oil, soybeans, wheat germ, and spinach. Special margarines such as Benecol and Take Charge are also good sources of plant sterols.
- Monounsaturated fats help lower your heart disease risk by cutting blood cholesterol levels. Choose foods like olives, olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds instead of saturated or trans fats, which are more likely to increase cholesterol levels.
- Whole fruits and vegetables are loaded with antioxidants, phytochemicals, fiber, vitamins, and minerals and contain virtually no fat and very few calories. These foods should be the foundation of any heart-healthy diet.
- Folate reduces blood levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that can increase your risk of heart disease. Surveys have shown that men whose diets are rich in folate have fewer strokes. Recent research recommends a diet rich in folate sources such as fruits, vegetables, leafy green vegetables, beans, lentils, and fortified grains.
- Nuts can help prevent heart disease, according to recent research. In fact, eating a handful two to three times per week may cut the risk of heart disease by as much as 15%. Nuts are rich in monounsaturated fats, fiber, folate, vitamin E, and B vitamins. Add nuts to salads, cereals, rice, and seafood, or just eat them by the handful (but do watch your portions, as they are relatively high in calories).
- Soy protein may help lower blood cholesterol levels, and if you can eat 25 grams per day, you'll reduce your risk of heart disease. Try pouring soymilk on your cereal and munching on soy nuts. Or sample some of the many new soy products on your grocers' shelf.
Putting It All Together
Plan a romantic Valentine's Day dinner or a month-long celebration with heart-healthy foods that celebrate your love. Devise a menu of your own, trying to incorporate as many of the above foods as possible, or use our sample menu. It includes a few standout favorites pulled from our WLC collection, as well as a new salmon recipe, for a wonderfully delicious meal fit for the love of your life.
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic's Sweetheart Menu
Spinach Squares (recipe below)
Quick Vegetable Bean Salad (recipe below)
Roasted Pecan Salmon (recipe below)
Steamed brown rice
Medley of steamed vegetables
Yogurt Parfait (recipe below)
Glass of red wine
By Elaine Magee
1/4 cup egg substitute
1/2 cup low-fat milk
1 cup unbleached or all-purpose flour (whole wheat can be substituted for half of the flour)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp butter or canola margarine, melted
1/3 cup fat-free or light sour cream
8 oz reduced fat Monterey Jack cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 10-ounce boxes frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained (gently squeeze excess water with hands)
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Coat a 9x9-inch baking dish with canola cooking spray.
- Beat egg, egg substitute, milk, flour, salt, baking powder, melted butter, and sour cream in mixing bowl on medium-low speed until smooth batter has formed.
- Stir in cheese cubes and spinach. Pour into prepared pan, spread evenly with spatula, and bake about 35 minutes. Test center to make sure it isn't runny. Let sit about 10 minutes before serving.
- Cut the spinach squares after they come out of the oven, then keep them refrigerated. Just eat them cold as a snack or warm what you need in the microwave. These are a low-calorie, higher protein snack with only 17 grams of carbohydrate per serving.
Yield: Makes 9 side servings or snacks
Nutritional Information: per serving: 188 calories, 12.5 g protein, 17 g carbohydrate, 8 g fat, 4.5 g saturated fat, 45 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber, 525 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 38%.
Our advice: Journal as 1 slice bread, 1 oz. low-fat cheese, and 1/2 cup vegetables with 1 tsp fat.
Quick Vegetable Bean Salad
By Elaine Magee
3 cups baby carrots, diced, or thinly sliced carrots
3 cups broccoli florets cut into bite-sized pieces
15 oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed well
1/2 cup finely chopped mild onion (use less if desired)
1/2 cup 1/3-less-fat bottled vinaigrette made with canola or olive oil (I use Seven Seas 1/3 less fat Red Wine Vinaigrette with canola)
6 oz can albacore tuna canned in water (optional)
- Add carrot pieces to microwave-safe covered dish with 1/4 cup water and cook on HIGH about 3-5 minutes (or until just barely tender). Drain well and add to medium-sized serving bowl.
- Add broccoli pieces to microwave-safe covered dish with 1/4 cup water and cook on HIGH about 3-5 minutes (or until just barely tender). Drain well and add to medium-sized serving bowl.
- Add beans, chopped onion, and vinaigrette (and tuna if desired) to serving bowl and toss well to blend.
Yield: Makes 8 servings.
Nutritional Information: per serving: 110 calories, 5 g protein, 19 g carbohydrate, 2.5 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 7 g fiber, 310 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 20%. Carotenes/vitamin A: 1568 RE (196% RDA), folic acid: 70 mcg (39% RDA), vitamin C: 51 mg (86% RDA).
Our advice: Journal as 1/2 cup vegetables with 1 tsp of fat, and 1 slice of bread.
One serving of this quick salad gives you a dose of alpha- and beta-carotene, folic acid, vitamin C, fiber, and plant omega-3 fatty acids from the canola oil. If you want to make this more of a meal and you want to add fish omega-3 fatty acids and some protein into the picture, stir in a can of albacore tuna.
Roasted Pecan Salmon
By Kathleen Zelman
4 salmon filets (4-6 oz. each)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons seasoned breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons chopped pecans
1 teaspoon parsley
Wedges of fresh lemon
- Sprinkle salmon with salt and pepper. Place skin side down on baking sheet.
- Combine mustard and honey, brush on top of salmon.
- Mix topping of breadcrumbs, nuts, and parsley and sprinkle over salmon.
- Bake at 400 degrees 10-15 minutes or until flaky. Serve with wedges of fresh lemon.
Journal 1 filet as 1 serving fatty fish.
By Elaine Magee
1/8 cup fresh fruit (such as berries, sliced peaches, etc.)
1/8 cup low-fat or regular yogurt (flavor of your choice)
1/8 cup low-fat granola
- Layer the different ingredients in a parfait glass and repeat layers.
Yield: Makes 1 parfait
Nutritional Information: per parfait: 160 calories, 5 g protein, 32 g carbohydrate, 2.5 g fat, 0.4 g saturated fat, 3 mg cholesterol, 2.6 g fiber, 80 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 12%. 96 mg calcium.
Our advice: Yogurt makes a great snack, but day after day it can get a bit boring. This is one way to make it a little more interesting.
Journal as 1 serving fresh fruit and 1/2 cup low fat yogurt sweetened with fruit or frozen.