Once the holiday season wraps up and the new year rolls around, we start to see Valentine’s Day themes all around us. It’s no secret February is a month to celebrate love as well as hearts. February has long been observed as “American Heart Month” to raise awareness about the management and prevention of heart disease.
You may be thinking “I don’t have heart problems,” but a “heart-healthy” diet is something most anyone can benefit from. It is never too early or too late to make lifestyle changes to support not only your heart but overall health.
Follow these tips to get started:
Consume more heart-healthy fats and limit saturated fats. Some unsaturated fats can actually help improve blood cholesterol levels by increasing HDL (“good” cholesterol) and decreasing LDL (“bad” cholesterol). Unsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature such as cooking oils (canola, olive, avocado, etc) but are also found in foods such as salmon, nuts and nut butters, ground flax seed and avocados.
Eat more lean protein, nuts and beans. Meat, fish, eggs, beans and nuts are great sources of protein. Limit saturated fats by consuming fish and lean meats such as chicken and turkey without the skin and lean cuts of beef and pork. Incorporate more beans and nuts for plant-based protein and fiber.
Aim for six servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Fruits and vegetables have so many benefits for our bodies, and they are something that often lacks in our diets. Fresh, frozen, or canned fruits and vegetables can all be good sources of nutrients. Look for frozen and canned produce without added salt and sugars.
Eat more fiber. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans are great sources of fiber. Fiber has many beneficial traits like keeping you full longer after a meal, helping steady blood sugars, keeping your GI tract regular and even improving blood cholesterol. Work up to 30 grams per day as tolerated.
Limit saturated fat, added sugar, excess sodium, and alcohol. Avoid trans fats. Notice we recommend limiting these things, not necessarily avoiding them completely. Eating out less, eating less fried foods, limiting sugar-sweetened beverages and managing portion sizes may be a good place to start for some. USDA’s “MyPlate” guidelines can be a beneficial tool for visualizing appropriate portion sizes.
Eating healthy does not mean you have to give up your favorite foods. It is important to focus on your overall intake and consume more nutrient dense foods (i.e., high in vitamins, minerals, fiber) while limiting foods that have excess calories but offer little nutritional value.
Other recommendations for heart health include staying hydrated, getting good sleep, managing stress and maintaining an active lifestyle.
With so much information about food and nutrition readily available at our fingertips, it can be difficult to decipher what is truly accurate and reliable information. When looking for nutrition information, look to a registered dietitian or accredited organization such as the American Heart Association whose recommendations are rooted in strong scientific evidence.
Try this recipe full of nutrient dense ingredients to jump start a heart healthy journey.
Rachel Hughes, RDN, LD, is a clinical dietitian at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital.
MEDITERRANEAN STUFFED PEPPERS WITH TURKEY, LENTILS AND FETA
6 medium bell peppers tops sliced off, cored and seeded
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion chopped
3 cloves garlic minced
1 pound ground turkey breast
1 tablespoon dried basil
2 teaspoons fennel seeds or less to taste
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
sugar optional, if tomatoes are too acidic
1/4 cup dried lentils
3 ounces crumbled feta cheese divided
1. Wash the cored peppers, and tops if using them. Lightly salt them if desired. Place the bottoms of the peppers in a large crockpot.
2. Heat a saute pan to medium-high. Add the olive oil, onions, garlic, and turkey. Cook until the onion is softened and the turkey is no longer pink.
3. Add the basil, fennel seeds (to taste),salt, tomatoes, and Worcestershire sauce. Stir well to combine. Taste the sauce, and if it is too acidic, add up to 1 teaspoon of sugar.
4. Add the lentils. Stir well to combine everything, and bring the mixture to a simmer.
5. Let the meat, lentil mixture simmer for about 15 minutes, and then stir in half of the feta cheese.
Spoon the meat-lentil filling into the bell peppers. Sprinkle the remaining feta cheese over the top of each pepper and place the tops on the peppers if using them.
6. Cover the crockpot and let the peppers cook on low for about 3 hours, or until the peppers are tender.
7. Cool any leftover peppers and place them in freezer bags or plastic containers to store in the freezer for up to 2 months.
NOTE: if you prefer to bake these in a casserole dish or baking pan, just put about 1/2 inch water in the bottom of the pan, cover the container with a lid or foil, and bake them for about 1 hour.
Recipe source: cravingsomethinghealthy.com/Mediterranean-stuffed-peppers-turkey-lentils-feta/