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Heart-Healthy Cooking Tips

    • Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. every year, but you can reduce your risk by modifying what you eat.

      A healthy diet has been proven to positively affect your blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and weight – all controllable risk factors of cardiovascular disease.

      Clinical dietitian Michelle Keh, R.D., of Alta Bates Summit Medical CenterOpens new window. shares advice and her tips for heart-healthy cooking.

    • Cut the Butter

    • “I recommend to my patients that they use vegetable oils over butter or margarine,” Keh says. “But, if you have to choose between using butter or margarine, the American Heart AssociationOpens new window recommends liquid margarine or soft margarine in a tub without trans fats".

      Many oils are good for heart-healthy cooking, such as olive oil, almond oil, avocado oil, hazelnut oil, peanut oil, sesame oil and vegetable oil. The amount that you use depends on the amount of food you’re cooking. “Remember that 1 tsp of oil has around 40 calories, so try to use the least amount of oil that allows you to cook evenly,” Keh says.

      Tip: Put olive oil in a spray bottle and use instead of butter. This way you can spray the oil, enjoy the flavor and reduce the amount of fat and calories.

      Tip: In baking, try using applesauce or avocado to replace at least half the butter. If you’re using a store-bought mix that calls for oil in a recipe, reduce the amount or leave it out completely. You may not notice a difference in flavor.

    • Load Up On Fruits and Vegetables

    • “Studies show that Americans aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables,” Keh says. “You want to eat a variety of produce for heart health. Each fruit and vegetable provides a different vitamin, mineral and antioxidant complex, and each can contribute to heart health in its own way.”

      Fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, as opposed to canned, tend to contain the most nutrients. How you cook them can also change their nutrient levels and flavor. “I don’t recommend deep frying your produce for good heart health,” Keh says.

      “How you cook – or don’t cook – your fruits and veggies doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things, as long as you’re eating them,” Keh says.

      Tip: Thoroughly rubbing clean your vegetables and fruits under running water is enough to clean them. You don’t need to use fruit and vegetable soaps. Sometimes, people who use fruit and vegetable soaps tend to spend much less time rubbing their veggies clean, and as a result many not get as much debris and bacteria off. They may also leave some soap residue.

      Tip: If canned produce cannot be avoided, chose a low-sodium, no-sugar-added version and rinse them before eating.

    • Choose Lean Protein

    • “Poultry and fish are great sources of lean protein. You can also choose lean cuts of red meat, which are usually anything with ‘round’, ‘chuck’ or ‘loin’ in its name. ‘Choice’ and ‘select’ cuts often have less fat than ‘prime’ cuts, too,” Keh says. “Most ways of cooking meat are heart-healthy except using lots of fat, deep frying or over-charring the meat.”

      Keh recommends substituting meats with plant-based proteins as able. In general, minimally-processed, plant-based proteins – such as beans, lentils and tofu – are better for heart health and are lower in saturated fat. However, Keh cautions against frequently eating highly-processed “fake meats” (meat analogues or meat substitutes), which may have fiber and healthy nutrients removed, and extra sodium and chemicals added.

      Tip: Choose these heart-healthy protein sources for meals and snacks: low-fat cheese, low-fat milk, low-fat and unsweetened yogurt, low-fat and unsweetened kefir, beans, peas, lentils, edamame, hummus, nuts and nut spreads, soy nuts, tofu, tempeh, seeds and high-protein veggies.

      Tip: Try making a few dinners a week meatless, using plant-based naturally-occurring protein sources.

    • Reduce Salt

    • “To reduce the amount of sodium (salt) in your cooking, choose antioxidant-rich herbs and spices (oregano, cinnamon, mint, thyme, black pepper, turmeric, etc.) or no-salt seasoning mixes such as Mrs. Dash or Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute,” Keh says.

      Be wary of replacing sodium chloride with potassium chloride, such as that found in the salt alternative NoSalt – too much potassium can be dangerous for heart health, especially if you have kidney problems.

      Also, remember that most Americans consume sodium in the form of pre-packaged and processed foods like frozen TV dinners, chips, crackers, canned goods and take-out meals. You’ll be better off limiting your sodium intake by cooking most of your meals at home and utilizing herbs and spices instead of salt.

      You can change the flavor profile of your foods by cooking them in different ways too, Keh says. Roasted Brussels sprouts taste very different from steamed Brussels sprouts, and adding various herbs and spices – like garlic or cinnamon – can give the same food an entirely different taste.

      Tip: Overall, sea salt has about the same amount of sodium as table salt – one isn’t better for your heart than the other – so be sure to use both sparingly.

    • Heart-Healthy Food Substitutions

    • Here are some common food substitutions you can use for heart-healthy cooking:

      Instead of: All-purpose flour
      Try this: Use half all-purpose flour and half 100 percent whole-wheat flour.

      Instead of: Bacon
      Try this: Turkey bacon – but check to make sure it is not higher in fat or sodium than the bacon you’re replacing.

      Instead of: Canned fruits
      Try this: Fresh or frozen fruits. If you must buy canned, canned in water is best, canned in its own juice is OK.

      Instead of: Dairy products (full fat)
      Try this: Low-fat, reduced-fat, fat-free or light dairy products.
      Note: Look at the ingredients list carefully, especially with yogurt. Fruit-flavored yogurts and fruit-containing yogurts often add a lot of extra sugar, syrup or artificial sweeteners, which drastically reduces the health benefits of the product. Add fresh fruit to low-fat plain yogurt for maximum health benefits.

      Instead of: Deep frying
      Try this: Baking, boiling, broiling, microwaving, roasting, steaming

      Instead of: Desserts
      Try this: Fresh fruit with no added sugar

      Instead of: Mayonnaise
      Try this: Plain, unsweetened nonfat yogurt

      Instead of: Red meat (beef, pork, lamb, veal)
      Try this: Poultry, fish, tofu, beans, peas, lentils

      Instead of: Refined grains
      Try this: 100% whole grains (whole barley, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, whole corn, whole farro, oats, whole rye, whole sorghum, triticale, whole wheat, wild rice).
      Note: Check the packaging to verify they are 100 percent whole grains. A product labeled as multigrain or organic is not necessarily made of 100 percent whole grains. Foods labeled as enriched, degerminated (on corn meal), bran and wheat germ are never whole grains.

      Instead of: Salt
      Try this: Spices, herbs, salt-free seasonings without potassium chloride

      Instead of: Sour cream
      Try this: Plain, unsweetened nonfat yogurt

      Instead of: Sugar
      Try this: Reduce the amount of sugar you use (instead of ¾ cup, use ½ cup); add vanilla, cinnamon or nutmeg; or use fresh fruit as a sweetener.
      Note: The American Heart Association recommends keeping added sugar to less than 6 tsp per day for women and less than 9 tsp per day for men.

      Instead of: Whole milk
      Try this: Unsweetened low-fat milk, skim milk, soy milk, almond milk, rice milk
      Note: Soy, almond and rice milk have vastly different nutrient profiles and little natural calcium. They do not provide the same nutrition as whole milk.

    • Heart-Healthy Eating Suggestions

      • Avoid eating a lot of fried foods.
      • Reduce the amount of saturated fats you eat.
      • Minimize your added sugar intake.
      • Incorporate plant-based proteins into your diet.
      • Eat all the food groups mindfully and in moderation.