Guest Blog: Connie Evers – Enjoy a Heart-Healthy, Flavorful February
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By Connie Evers MS, RD, LD – Nutrition for Kids

Connie’s Healthy Eating Blog – Flavor your February with delicious heart-healthy Foods

February is American Heart month, which is a great time to revisit your lifestyle habits and set goals for adopting heart healthy habits. Heart disease remains the leading killer in the US for women and men alike. We also know that heart disease begins in childhood, so adopting healthy family food habits early in life is especially important.

Mediterranean food is easy to prepare and emphasizes whole ingredients.

My philosophy about heart-healthy eating is simple: eat nutritious food that looks good and tastes good. I think this is true for most people – no one likes to eat food that is boring, bland and flavorless. Steer clear of ready-made and fast foods that derive so-called “flavor” from dangerous combinations of fat, salt and sugar. Don’t get caught up in the marketing hype that says kids will only eat “kid-friendly” foods such as chicken nuggets, greasy pizza and French fries. Instead, teach your kids to enjoy real, whole foods.

Fortunately, eating well does not mean giving up delicious foods. My favorite eating plan is the Mediterranean diet because it features heart-healthy foods – fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, flavorful herbs and spices, and healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados – that that are packed with color and flavor. Add seafood, poultry, eggs and low-fat dairy to round out most of your meals. Oldways: Health Through Heritage has produced a Mediterranean pyramid that illustrates this eating plan in vivid, mouth-watering colors.

A Day of Heart-Healthy Meals
Another benefit of the Mediterranean diet is its focus on simple, whole ingredients. You don’t have to be a gourmet cook to assemble a day’s worth of meals and snacks. I’ve provided examples below of how even a “non-cook” can pull together a day of heart-healthy eating.

Start your day with a bowl of oatmeal or hot multi-grain cereal topped with colorful berries, a sprinkle of cinnamon and a tablespoon of walnuts. Add a dollop of fat-free Greek yogurt and a teaspoon of natural sweetener such as honey, agave nectar or real maple syrup.

Make fresh vegetables the star attraction of your midday meal. Start with a plate filled with colorful salad greens and add additional fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, pepper strips, avocado chunks, red onion rings, grated carrots or other favorite and/or accessible produce. Top with a 1/4 cup of canned beans (drained and rinsed), a sprinkle of sunflower seeds and an ounce or so of your favorite natural cheese. Lightly spray with olive oil, add oregano, basil or other herbs and finish with a sprinkle of red wine or balsamic vinegar. Serve with a whole grain roll.

Sauté fish fillets* (e.g. wild salmon, trout, U.S. farmed tilapia, etc.) in a tablespoon of olive oil for 3-5 minutes per side, until fish just “flakes”. Top with lemon and fresh herbs (rosemary, parsley, cilantro, etc) or use your favorite fresh salsa as a topping. Serve with lightly buttered microwaved sweet potatoes and steamed asparagus spears. For dessert, enjoy an ounce of dark chocolate or a mug of homemade cocoa (made with 1% milk) with pear, apple or your favorite fruit slices. 

*For a guide on choosing safe, sustainable fish in your area, see these tips from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Keep snacks small, yet satisfying. Toast a piece of hearty whole grain bread and top with almond or sunflower seed butter. Other ideas: a small container of plain Greek yogurt mixed with banana slices or a handful of pistachios paired with two fresh clementines.

Next week, I’ll be sharing a wonderful recipe that’s hearty enough for winter, and healthy enough for everybody!

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