Keep Your Heart Healthy and Happy with These Tips and Recipes – Atrium Health

Heart disease remains the number one cause of death in the United States, which is one of many reasons why we’re encouraging people to take better care of their heart through preventative measures. One of the best ways to do that is by paying closer attention to your diet and understanding what’s in the food you eat, says Elaine Jones, RDN, LDN, community engagement manager at Atrium Health Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute.
Elaine is a passionate advocate for food as a tool for keeping your body healthy. “My lifelong goal has been to help people choose foods that nurture the body over those that can harm it.” She shares these easy healthy eating tips for lowering your blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood sugar in order to reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular issues or to help manage a heart disease diagnosis.  
For an easy start, adopt the plate method at mealtime:
Try to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. When possible, choose the actual fruit or vegetable rather than a juice. “Your body absorbs juice as a simple sugar, causing more of a blood sugar spike,” explains Elaine. “Plus, juice can lack many of the vitamins, minerals and fiber contained in whole fruits and vegetables.”  
Over the course of a week, Elaine also suggests eating your way through all the colors of the rainbow with fruits and vegetables. For example, your seven-day meal plan might include tomatoes, watermelon, carrots, corn, yellow squash, zucchini, green peppers, blueberries, grapes, eggplant and blackberries.
“Salt has a love affair with water, causing your body to retain fluid, which can increase your blood pressure and put you at risk of cardiovascular issues,” says Elaine.
A low-sodium diet reduces this risk, which is why it’s important to read food nutritional labels, in particular noting the serving size and the sodium content per serving size. For any individual food you plan to eat or ingredient you’re putting into a recipe, shoot for 140 milligrams or less of sodium per serving size. Avoid prepackaged meals with more than 600 milligrams of sodium for the entire meal.
Elaine admits that this can be an adjustment to your taste buds at first, so she suggests using alternative flavor enhancers, such as pepper, herbs, spices and garlic.
Instead of cooking with a lot of butter or eating too many fried foods, opt for healthier fats, which include things like:
Elaine recently tested the following recipes in Sanger’s demonstration kitchen and gives them a dietician’s thumbs up along with some suggestions for how to make them even heart healthier.
To make it even healthier, Elaine recommends substituting one half of the pound of lean ground beef with a half a pound of ground turkey for a 50/50 mix. This is also a good way to start converting to leaner protein options. Additionally, you can substitute four egg whites for the two whole eggs for a lower fat version of this recipe.
Elaine Jones with meatloaf and cilantro pesto salad recipes
Elaine says don’t worry if you can’t find fresh salmon. Just use pre-packaged frozen salmon filets that are available at most grocery stores. Her other pro tip: If you don’t have the cayenne pepper the recipe calls for, red chili flakes will do the trick.
Honey garlic salmon
By substituting coconut aminos for the soy sauce, you can reduce the overall sodium content of this recipe without sacrificing the flavor. And don’t worry if you don’t have a rice cooker. Elaine explains how to make brown rice without one:
Brown rice with tofu, dried mushrooms, and baby spinich
Elaine notes that if you’re not a fan of cilantro, you can stick with a more traditional basil pesto. She also says that you can switch the pine nuts for less expensive walnuts, which come with the added benefit of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids. 
Cilantro pesto pasta salad
For the best results, Elaine recommends using extra firm tofu. On top of that, these substitutions make it even healthier:
General Tso's health tofu
These recipes introduce you to leaner protein options and lower-sodium flavor enhancers. As you try them and Elaine’s healthy eating tips, she reminds everyone that it takes time to change your taste perspective. But she also notes that you’ll start feeling better within days, making the changes well worth it.
Learn more about the heart care available at Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute or find a cardiologist.
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