The startling statistics you are hearing this Heart Month like how someone in the U.S. dies from heart disease, stroke, or cardiovascular disease every 40 seconds and how heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., accounting for 1 in every 7 deaths, has probably driven home to you the importance of taking better care of yourself. However we all recognize though that knowing the facts is only one step towards a healthier life. For many of us, it is actually making those heart healthy changes in our diet and lifestyle that is the most challenging part; so Rima Kleiner, a nationally-recognized nutrition expert, is here to offer us some practical advice on eating heart-healthy.
Picture your plate divided into sections.
Kleiner tells us the best way to make sure you are getting the right nutrition at each meal is to visualize a plate in which half of it is filled with fruits and veggies which are all good for the heart, and tend to be low in calories, while only a quarter of your plate is dedicated to healthy grains like brown rice, green wheat freekeh and quinoa. Another quarter of the plate is left for your heart-healthy protein like seafood, nuts, poultry or lean red meat (but only on occasion). You can also have a cup of low-fat dairy as part of your meal.
"The plate visual is so simple, but it is good for protecting the heart," Kleiner explained.
Not the next Emeril Lagasse? No problem.
Two big obstacles that tend to make trying to eat healthy so frustrating for many of us are the misconceptions that your wallet is going to take a big hit and that you will need to log in many more hours in the kitchen than you have the time or desire to do so. Luckily though, according to Kleiner, neither of these is true.
"We tend to think eating healthy is synonymous with expensive, but there are ways to make it more affordable like stocking up on frozen salmon at a wholesale market or when it is on sale at the grocery store. Pouch or canned seafood is also very affordable and convenient. It is pretty much ready to eat or just mix it with sauce or put in a wrap," she said.
"You can also buy a big container of brown rice that will last you for awhile. Make a large pot one night and then freeze a portion for later. It is a lot less expensive than the pre-packaged or frozen types."
Kleiner also recommends that you limit processed foods as much as possible even if they are labeled organic. "Some packaged foods get the health halo because they make claims like they are high in fiber or they are organic, but often times this can be misleading."
"You should always read the ingredients and stick to the most natural version of the food. Be careful because some yogurts are really loaded with sugar. Also avoid added sugars especially in drinks."
As a registered dietician, Kleiner not only works with clients in her private practice, but also consults with the National Fisheries Institute reviewing seafood science and sharing the information with others. She stresses the importance of Omega 3 in our diet and tells us to aim to eat seafood 2-3 times a week to really reduce the risk of heart disease. To help those of us intimidated by cooking seafood, she offers us some cooking tips and a healthy seafood recipe that even novice chefs will feel comfortable making.
"People are surprised by the fact that cooking doesn't have to take long. You can get a healthy meal on table in less than 30 minutes. Simply boil water for whole grain pasta, take a salmon fillet and put in the oven or grill with a little bit of olive oil, and then slice up your favorite veggies and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper," she said. "You don't have to go online for an elaborate recipe. It is great if you have the time and energy but you don't have to."
Blackened Salmon with Veggies
Prep time: 20 minutes
In a shallow bowl, whisk together seasonings (smoked paprika, garlic powder, thyme, salt, onion powder, cayenne and black pepper) until combined.
Use a paper towel to lightly pat salmon filets to remove excess moisture. Then dip a salmon filet in the seasoning mixture until it is evenly coated on all sides. Repeat with remaining salmon filets.
Heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat until hot and shimmering, swirling to evenly coat the bottom of the pan. Add salmon filets and cook (without disturbing) for 3-5 minutes, or until the sides of the filets are cooked and no longer dark pink about 2/3 of the way up. Carefully flip the filets and cook an additional 2-3 minutes on the other side until the salmon appears cooked and the sides are no longer pink. (Cooking times will vary depending on the thickness of your salmon filets.)
Transfer salmon to a serving platter and serve warm with vegetables and/or rice, garnished with lemon and parsley.