February is American Heart Month, and even though you’ve probably had your share of heart-shaped chocolates over Valentine’s Day, it doesn’t mean you’re too far gone to get in some heart-healthy meals before the month is out. Better yet, save these recipes to use year round. Heart health is something to carry forward all year long, all life long.
If you know me, you know I love balance more than anything. I love a good cheeseburger, but I will never scoff at a salad because everything has a purpose, and I try hard to assign purpose responsibly. Women are more prone to heart disease and heart health issues, so I try to keep that in mind when I’m choosing my meals. Luckily for me, I love almost every food and am excited to eat things when they taste good, but also when I know I’m doing something great for myself.
A few methods to incorporate heart-healthy habits into your routine is to reduce sodium intake, eat like a Mediterranean and drink more tea. You might not have to revamp your entire diet from top to bottom, but making small changes like these will lead to a snowball effect where you’ll start incorporating even more healthy habits into your routine.
Method #1: Reduce Sodium
I am so guilty of being heavy handed with the salt and I try really hard to hold back from doing so. One of the best ways to reduce sodium without simply taking salt out is to swap some of your ingredients for those without sodium or with low sodium, such as broths, soups and many chips. Switch out your need for salt with the tartness from a lemon where applicable. This fish recipe is low- to no-added sodium, fresh and flavorful and a great example of not trading flavor for health.
Sauteed Trout with Zucchini & Cannellini Salad
- 2 to 4 pieces trout fillets
- juice and zest of 1 small lemon
- 2-4 tbsp. capers
- 2 tsp. fresh garlic, minced
- 2-4 tbsp. good olive oil
- 2 sprigs fresh oregano, divided
- 2 zucchini, cut into pieces
- 1 can no-sodium cannellini beans, drained
- 1 roma tomato, diced
- 1/4 cup crumbled feta
- 1/4 cup kalamata olives, sliced
In a large bowl, mix together the zucchini, beans, tomatoes, feta, olives and half the olive oil and half the oregano together and set aside.
Heat half of the olive oil gently in a skillet, add in the fish pieces and cook on medium heat, then add in the remaining oregano, half of the lemon juice and zest, garlic and capers. Gently saute until the fish is cooked through.
Serve warm with the side salad.
Method #2: Eat Like a Mediterranean
The above recipe was a great example of a recipe that’s not only low on sodium, but a great example of following a Mediterranean diet, which has many heart health benefits. Here is a handy list of foods to adhere to when trying to eat like a Mediterranean.
Fruits & Vegetables:
- good olive oil
- brown rice
Use these ingredients as a guide when you need a road map to healthy eating. Remember to eat when you’re hungry instead of the pendulum of restrictive and binge eating, which actually adds extra stress on the heart in trying to catch up to such different energy levels of eating. When you need a snack, try these:
Carrot Cake Energy Balls
- 1 cup pitted medjool dates
- 1/2 cup rolled oats
- 1/4 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped
- 1/4 cup chia seeds
- 3 tbsp. hemp hearts
- 2 carrots, finely grated
- 2 tsp. good vanilla extract
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. cardamom
- 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp. turmeric
- pinch of kosher salt
- 1/2 cup shredded coconut (optional)
- 1/2 cup puffed rice (optional)
Combine dates, oats, nuts, chia seeds and hemp hearts in a food processor and pulse until well combined.
Add in carrots, vanilla, spices, salt and blend until mixture forms a paste. Add in puffed rice (optional) and mix together by hand.
Roll mixture into small balls and roll in shredded coconut (optional).
Ready to eat or can refrigerate until needed.
Method #3: Drink More Tea
Tea has proven health benefits and if you can even replace one cup of coffee with a cup of tea, you’re on your way to changing habits slowly. True story: I used to drink coffee regularly in my 20s. I think I was almost up to three cups of coffee a day, and I cannot express how much I loved my morning ritual of my coffee and flavored creamers, but it all stopped one day. I went to work like any other day and made my cup of coffee, except this morning I had the worst heart palpitations and was sweating and couldn’t breathe properly. It took me hours to feel normal, but I had no idea what caused it because I did nothing out of the ordinary.
I carried on and the next day, I felt sick the same way. It took me the rest of the week to figure out my heart just rejected coffee overnight. I could not drink it without heart palpitations. I had no choice but to switch to tea, so for the last almost 20 years, I’ve been a tea drinker, and I cannot express how much I love tea now.
There is so much variety, and the smooth gentle flavor has actually calmed my entire demeanor. Morals of the story: 1) Listen to your body, and 2) Tea may be the change your body needs, even if it’s once in a while.
Here’s one of my favorite recipes that’s not just soothing, but has a ton of antioxidants in it. Grow into it slowly and start by drinking it a few nights a week.
Golden Milk Tea
- 1 cup ginger tea, brewed
- 1 cup milk or plant-based milk
- 1 tsp. turmeric powder
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- pinch of black pepper
- 1 to 2 tsp. honey
Mix all ingredients (except pepper) together in a sauce pan and simmer together for a few minutes or until bubbling. Add the pepper right before drinking.
Drink while hot. Recipe can be reduced or increased depending on servings needed.
From Z to A with Zara Abbasi
Zara Abbasi is the pastry chef and recipe developer for Zara Made It. Follow her food adventures on Instagram at @zaramadeit.