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Eat smart for your heart

January 15, 2018

Dipti Shah, M.S., RDN, LDN, Clinical Dietitian, Nutrition and Food Services at Northwest Community Hospital

Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States of America. Many of the risk factors for heart disease are preventable and food choices have a big impact on heart health. Here are some tips on how to implement a heart-healthy diet in your daily meal plan:

1. Choose your fats wisely

Not all fats are created equal. Limiting how much saturated and trans fat you eat is an important step to reduce your blood cholesterol and lower your risk of coronary artery disease. This can be done by limiting use of butter, margarine and shortening in cooking and trimming fat off your meat or choosing lean meats with less than 10 percent fat. Also, buy low-fat or fat-free dairy products (e.g., milk, yogurt, cheese). For example, top your baked potato with low-fat yogurt rather than butter or sour cream or use a small amount of almond butter on the toast instead of margarine. Most trans fats in our diet come from boxed goods such as cookies, crackers and chips. A mention of “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredients list tells you the food has some trans fat. Replace the unhealthy saturated fats with healthy unsaturated fats found in olive or canola oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, nut butters, flaxseed meal/oil and certain fish (e.g., salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, lake trout, sardines). But moderation is essential. All types of fat are high in calories.

2. Limit your sodium

Eating a lot of sodium can contribute to high blood pressure, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Reducing the amount of salt added in cooking or at the table may be the first step. However, much of the sodium we eat comes from canned or processed foods such as soups, frozen dinners and restaurant foods. Also, cold cuts and cured meats such as ham, sausage and bacon are high in sodium. Eating fresh foods and making your own soups and stews can help reduce the amount of salt you eat. As for convenience foods, be mindful while you shop by reading ingredients and nutrition labels carefully.
• Pick fresh and frozen poultry that has not been injected with sodium solution.
• Choose frozen vegetables without any salty sauces over canned vegetables with added sodium.
• Use natural herbs and spices to season food instead of salt.
• Drain and rinse canned beans and vegetables.
• Choose reduced-salt versions of condiments such as low sodium soy sauce or garlic powder versus garlic salt.

3. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables

Vegetables and fruits are good sources of vitamins and minerals and dietary fiber. Soluble fiber especially helps in reducing blood cholesterol levels and can be found in the flesh of most fruits and vegetables in addition to oats, dried beans and barley. Shop around the perimeter of the grocery store where most of the fresh food is located and avoid the center aisles where junk foods lurk.

4. Drink in moderation

Whether it’s alcohol or sugary drinks such as fruit juices or soda, drinks contribute to empty calories and weight gain, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Alcohol raises triglyceride levels in blood. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. This means an average of one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. A drink is 12 ounces of beer, four ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits or one ounce of 100-proof spirits. A typical 12-ounce can of soda has roughly nine teaspoons of sugar. The 2015 dietary guidelines for Americans call for no more than 12 teaspoons of added sugar per day from any source.

5. Get active

Every week, be sure to include 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity and two or more days of muscle strengthening activities. Changing long standing habits may be difficult to break. Therefore, take small steps towards you goal. Start out by writing a goal or two which are specific and achievable, and continue adding to the goals every two weeks. This will allow you to begin to develop new healthy habits. Keep at it and you will succeed with several heart-healthy improvements.

Pretzel-Crusted Salmon, Over Spinach and Brown Rice Pilaf

Enjoy this baked salmon encrusted with pretzel topping served with sautéed spinach and a brown rice pilaf.

Yield: 4 servings

Salmon dish ingredients

  • 1 lb skinless salmon, cut into 4 fillet pieces
  • 2 tsp yellow mustard
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp, pretzels, ground in food processor

Roasted Tomato Coulis ingredients

  • 3 Tbsp vegetable broth
  • ½ cup tomatoes, diced
  • ¼ cup red peppers, diced
  • 1 Tbsp shallots, diced
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ½ tsp sherry vinegar
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper

Spinach ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp canola oil
  • ½ cup onions, julienned
  • 1 lb spinach, rinsed and dried
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper

Brown Rice Pilaf ingredients

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp onions, minced
  • ¼ cup carrots, diced
  • ¼ cup red peppers, diced
  • ¾ cup brown rice
  • 1 ½ cup vegetable broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/8 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp Italian parsley, minced


  1. Roasted Tomato Coulis: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the tomatoes, peppers, shallots and garlic on a baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes in the oven. Remove and place in a food processor and puree. In a sauce pan over medium heat, add the vegetable broth, vinegar and black pepper and puree. Bring it to simmer and heat for 5 minutes. Reserve.
  2. Spinach: In a skillet over medium heat, add the oil and onions and sauté for about 5 minutes until browned and soft. Add the spinach and toss until wilted, about 3 minutes. Set aside.
  3. Brown Rice Pilaf: In a sauce pan over medium heat, add the olive oil and sauté the onions, carrots and peppers until vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the rice, vegetable broth, bay leaf and pepper. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until rice is thoroughly cooked. Remove the bay leaf and stir in the parsley.
  4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the salmon fillets on an oiled baking sheet. Spread each with mustard and sprinkle with the pepper. Top each with the ground pretzel. Bake for 8 minutes.
  5. To assemble: Place a quarter of the spinach on a plate and top with the baked salmon fillet and garnish with the tomato coulis. Serve alongside a serving of the brown rice pilaf.

Nutrition Facts:

Calories: 285; carbs: 15g; protein: 31g; fat: 10g; saturated fat: 1g; cholesterol: 75mg; sodium: 211mg; fiber: 2g