With February being ‘American Heart Month,’ it’s a good time to be reminded that heart disease, the number one killer of both men and women in the US, can best be prevented when a heart healthy diet is implemented from childhood on. Focusing on creating heart healthy meals that appeal to your entire family can be a great way to improve not just your own health, but also the future health of your entire household. While you probably think the idea of your family eating heart healthy sounds great, you are most likely concerned that heart healthy dishes will taste bland or fail to appeal to picky palates. And these concerns are valid. If your family isn’t enjoying the food being served, it will be much harder for any of you to stay on track with your heart health goals. But I have good news for you – eating heart healthy does not have to be time consuming, confusing, or tasteless! You can make easy, nutritious, on-the-go meals that appeal to your whole family. In just four simple steps, you can be serving up heart healthy meals that appeal to even the most selective taste buds in just minutes:
Photo credit: Flatout
Make produce a staple at every meal
It goes without saying that fruits and vegetables provide a variety of nutrients to the diet. However, just how large an impact produce has on heart disease is often underestimated. These foods are rich in soluble fiber, which helps your body eliminate artery hardening LDL cholesterol by binding cholesterol-rich bile acids in your digestive system so you literally “flush” cholesterol away. In addition, produce delivers minerals like potassium, magnesium and calcium that help keep blood pressure lower and healthier. However, on average, less than 1 in 3 people get two or more servings of fruits & vegetables each day. Research out of Japan found that by simply upping your intake can help to reduce your risk of heart disease or stroke by as much as 30%!
By following just one simple rule, you can significantly increase your intake with little effort: Fill your plate half way with produce at each meal. That’s it! It really is that simple. Get half of that plate filled by mixing stir-fried vegetables with starchy dishes like pasta and rice or roll up a wrap sandwich with a mix of protein along with raw or cooked vegetables. Add a cup of vegetable soup or a side salad to a meal. And try finishing your meal with fruit for dessert. With a few simple tweaks, you can easily exceed your daily produce goals.
Pack in the whole grains
Whole grains can offer tremendous health benefits, yet the average person eats just one serving per day. By making sure to eat at least three servings of whole grains per day, you can help to reduce your risk of heart disease by as much as 30%. In addition, diets rich in whole grains have been associated with a reduction in unhealthy LDL cholesterol levels and waist circumference, which when elevated can be a major risk factor for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Try fitting in more whole grains each day with easy swaps such as:
- Select 100% whole grain cereal over sugary options
- Choose brown rice over white rice
- Select whole grain breads and wraps over refined versions such as the line of Flatout Flatbread products
- Enjoy whole grain pastas such as those made with whole wheat, bean, and quinoa flour over white flour options
Fill up on fiber
Fiber offers a variety of health benefits from helping to reduce cholesterol levels to promoting the maintained of a healthy body weight. Aiming for 25-35 grams of fiber per day has been associated with improved health outcomes. But if you are like many individuals, you may be falling short of this goal. Some of the best dietary sources of fiber include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. However, even within these categories, some foods significantly outweigh others in fiber content. One example is in the bread/wraps category. An average whole grain bread or wrap may contain 2 to 3 grams of fiber. However, when you choose a product such as Flatout Flatbread Light Original or Flatout Flatbread Multigrain with Flax you are getting 8 grams of fiber per serving. That’s almost one third of your entire daily fiber needs in just one serving of Flatout Flatbread. If you are looking for a simple and great tasting way to boost your family’s fiber intake, keeping Flatout bread on hand can be a very valuable staple.
Make meal prep a breeze
Sure, your house can be packed full of produce, whole grains, and fiber, but if you don’t have time to pull a meal together (or are creating meals that you don’t enjoy), you aren’t going to gain the health benefits. To maximize heart health, keep meal planning as simple as possible. Start by pulling together seven nutritious recipes your whole loves. Then simplify meal planning by creating a calendar listing what recipes you will make which days. My favorite recommendation for easy meal plan is to plan one recipe every two to three days. When making the recipe, double or triple the recipe to yield two to three days worth of meals. This way, you are only preparing and cooking every two to three days while setting yourself up to have delicious, nutritious home cooked meals every day of the week. Once you have your calendar, it’s easy to create a shopping list for the week, stock up, and get started. For some easy recipes that can be made in a snap, be sure to check out the Flatout recipe resource here.
Disclosure: This post has been sponsored by Flatout Flatbread. All opinions are my own.
- Sauvaget, C, et al. Vegetable and Fruit Intake and Stroke Mortality in the Hiroshima/Nagasaki Life Span Study. Stroke. 2003;34:2355-2360. http://stroke.ahajournals.org/content/34/10/2355.full.pdf
- Liu S, Stampfer MJ, Hu FB, Giovannucci E, Rimm E, Manson JE, Hennekens CH, Willett WC. Whole-grain consumption and risk of coronary heart disease: results from the Nurses’ Health Study.Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;70(3):412-9.
- Jensen MK, Koh-Banarjee P, Hu FB, Franz MJ, Sampson L, Gronbaek M, Rimm EB. Intake of whole grains, bran, and germ risk of coronary heart disease among men.Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Dec;80(6):1492-9.
- Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism. 2014 Feb 12:1-10 (Mostad et al.)
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, its time to show our children just how important it is to love your own heart. February is American Heart Month, which makes it the perfect time to raise awareness of heart health for your entire family. With heart disease being the number one killer of both men and women in the US, and child obesity rates on the rise, every member of the household from toddler to elder can benefit from adding heart healthy nutrients into their meal plan.
Boosting the heart health benefits of meals doesn’t have to be boring or cause those much dreaded food battles. With a few easy tricks, you can have your children excited about their meals, willing to try new food, and most importantly eating a nutritious, heart healthy diet and enjoying it!
#1 Make Fruits & Vegetables Fun
The research is clear. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables have been shown to be protective to the heart by helping to maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels while promoting a healthy body weight. But as any parent with a picky eater is aware, just telling your child to eat their veggies does not always work. So how can you get your little ones to start gobbling up their greens without a fight? Make it fun!
The more creative you can be with your little one’s food, the more likely they will be to try it. Try cutting fruit and vegetables into fun shapes, calling them fun names such as broccoli ‘trees’ or carrot stick ‘swords,’ and allowing your child to take a stab at creating food art will have them begging to eat produce. A simple activity of arranging fruits and vegetables into funny faces can increase your child’s exposure to new foods, which over time has been shown to increase acceptance and intake. And you don’t have to be an artist to make food art fun. Just be creative, silly, and have fun with it. Your kids, and your whole family, will love it. Who wouldn’t want to eat food that looks this fun?
#2 Say No to Fat Free
If you were under the impression that all dietary fats are damaging to the heart, think again! Plant based fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats have been found to provide multiple health benefits such as improving cholesterol levels, decreasing inflammation, and even promoting a healthy body weight. Incorporating a good source of these nutritious fats daily may aid in nutrient absorption while promoting heart health. Great sources include nuts, seeds, avocado, hummus, and plant-based oils such as olive oil.
To help your children incorporate more healthy fats into their meal plan, aim to add a healthy fat source to every meal and snack. Try topping cereal or yogurt with chopped walnuts, snacking on a handful of almonds, or using hummus or guacamole as a dip. Cooking in plant-based oils such as olive or avocado oil can be another great way to add these healthy fats into your family’s diet.
#3 Hello Whole Grains
Grains are a staple in many meals and snacks and include foods such as bread, pasta, rice, and pretzels. Although most of us eat plenty of grains, we aren’t always choosing whole grains. On average, most people consume just one serving of whole grains per day. That means that the majority of grains we are ingesting are the refined, rapidly digested forms, which can have a negative impact on overall health. Whole grains on the other hand can promote a healthy heart. These nutrient-dense foods are packed full of soluble fiber, a form of fiber that has been found to decrease unhealthy LDL cholesterol levels.
If you worry that your child will never become a whole wheat bread covert, there’s no need to be concerned. Whole grains don’t just have to be just whole wheat. One hundred percent whole grains include options such as rye bread, brown rice, quinoa, and even popcorn (and what kid doesn’t love popcorn?!). Try introducing your child to a variety of whole grain options to find out what they love. You can even use whole grain flours, such as oat flour, to create family favorites such as pancakes and muffins.
#4 Embracing Balance
Teaching your child the important of balancing a variety of food groups at each meal is a fantastic way to get them started on the path to good health. Research has shown that visual cues are one of the best ways to educate portion size and meal planning. Using a compartmentalized lunchbox such as Yumbox, you can help illustrate what a balanced meal looks like to your child. The individualized compartments with graphics and text help to make meal planning fun and educational. Younger children can use the visual images to help them identify food groups, while older children can begin to understand the basics of meal planning and portion control. Providing a balanced meal rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, lean protein, low fat dairy, and healthy fats at each meal is the perfect combination for a healthy heart. Using a tool like Yumbox can help to take the stress out of meal planning and transform heart healthy eating into a fun activity the entire family can join in on together.
Disclosure: This blog post has been sponsored by Yumbox Lunchboxes. All opinions are my own.
Happy National Chocolate Cake Day! Today’s food holiday makes me happy because who doesn’t love a delicious, moist chocolate cake? I’ll tell you who- anyone trying to lose weight or manage her blood sugar levels. Sure, a chocolate cake tastes great, but it’s the weight gain and blood sugar spikes after eating it that make you curse every bite that you took. So how can you celebrate this food holiday? Should you just find your head in the sand and pretend it doesn’t exist? Absolutely not! I say “let them eat cake!” – just in a slimmed down way.
Photo credit: Kelly Sloan
With a few simple alterations you can transform a chocolate cake into a slimmed down, healthier version that still satisfies your sweet craving. There are many ways you can whip up lower calorie version. For instance, you can swap butter for applesauce or oil for yogurt. You can even replace added sugars with mashed banana. Whichever way you do it, these simple swaps can significantly reduce the overall calorie and carbohydrate content of your recipe. One of my favorite secret swaps is to add vegetables into the batter. This not only reduces calories, but adds a good source of vitamins and minerals to the final product. The way I see it, if you’re going to eat cake, you should enjoy it AND feel good about it after. No more chocolate cake guilt- that’s how I’m celebrating today!
My intern Kelly came up with a delicious Slimmed Down Dark Chocolate Zucchini Cake recipe to help you celebrate today. Happy cake eating!
Slimmed Down Dark Chocolate Zucchini Cake
Photo credit: Kelly Sloan
- 1/2 cup coconut oil
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ½ cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt
- ¼ cup buttermilk
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- ½ cup whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup dark cocoa powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 cups shredded zucchini
- ¼ cup dark chocolate chips
- Powdered sugar
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Cream the coconut oil, sugars, and vanilla. Add the butter milk and Greek yogurt. Mix well.
- Add the flours, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda and mix again. Stir in zucchini and chocolate chips, until batter is well combined.
- Spread the batter in a greased bundt cake pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool.
- Top with powdered sugar and serve.
Tip: You can also add walnuts or coconut to this recipe to change it up!
Nutrition Facts Per serving (with powdered sugar on top)
112 calories, 13 g CHO, 6 g FAT, 3 g PRO, 137 mg sodium, 5 g sugar