February is American Heart Month – let’s show your ticker some love! Why is heart health so important? Heart disease is the leading cause of death and disability in the US. When I worked in the hospital, I spent time on multiple units dedicated to patients with heart disease. It really can have devastating effects on your life and your ability to perform daily activities. There is some good news about heart disease, though, in that good lifestyle choices have a huge effect on preventing it! Some of the major risk factors for developing heart disease are smoking, poor diet, sedentary lifestyle and being overweight. Keep loading up your plate with veggies and exercising, and your heart will be in good shape.
As a dietitian, it’s my job to help you navigate the diet portion of the whole lifestyle picture. How can you optimize your diet specifically for heart health? The Standard American Diet (SAD) falls short in heart healthy foods. It is high in saturated fat, processed meats, refined grains, sodium and added sugar. Diets consisting of lots of red meat, butter, margarine, deep fried foods and processed foods can lead to atherosclerosis (plaque buildup) and hypertension. On the other hand, the Mediterranean diet is a really great eating pattern to choose for heart health. This diet includes plenty of fresh produce, fish and seafood, whole grains, legumes and healthy fats coming primarily from olive oil. This eating pattern is naturally high in heart healthy nutrients like potassium and antioxidants, and low in sodium and saturated fat. Consume an abundance of these foods on a regular basis for optimal heart health!
While I don’t think it’s possible that eating a specific food can prevent or cure a disease, there are a few particular foods that are especially important for heart health. Try adding the following foods to your diet more regularly!
Salmon or fatty fish: These foods are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to improve blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Aim for about 8 oz of seafood a week, or consider taking an omega-3 supplement.
Oatmeal: Oatmeal is a good source of soluble fiber, which can help decrease the amount of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol absorbed into your bloodstream. Aim for 5-10 grams per day.
Beets: Beets are rich in nitrates, which are converted to nitric oxide in your body, which helps lower blood pressure. They are also rich in antioxidants and fiber. I love to keep a few packs of Love Beets in my fridge to quickly throw into salads or grain bowls!
Beans: Beans are an amazing source of plant based protein. They also contain resistant starch, a nutrient that is fermented by your gut bacteria and may lower cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure. Try replacing meat with half a cup of beans for one meal next week!
Olive Oil: This is a staple ingredient of the Mediterranean diet, and is one of my favorite cooking oils. Olive oil is rich in antioxidants, high in monounsaturated healthy fats and low in saturated fat. Choose olive oil when cooking to replace butter, lard or margarine, and drizzle it over salads with vinegar for a simple dressing.
I made these delicious fritters to add to my lunches over the week! I picked up a big package of Love Beets at Costco, and wanted to experiment with using them as an ingredient for a heart healthy recipe. This recipe features lots of good-for-your-heart nutrients, like nitrates, antioxidants, fiber, and healthy fats. I also baked these fritters with olive oil spray, rather than deep frying them to keep them light and limiting added fat. They’re delicious on their own, or spread with a heart healthy dip like guacamole or hummus!
This recipe made 9 large fritters, but might vary for you based on the size of your veggies.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with olive oil spray.
Grate the zucchini, beets, sweet potatoes, garlic and onion using a grater or food processor with grater attachment. Use a clean tea towel to squeeze out excess liquid with your hands. I grated each vegetable and squeezed out the liquid individually (because the zucchini and beets have more liquid than the others), then combined them in a large bowl.
Scramble 1 egg and add to the bowl of veggies, along with flour, salt and pepper. Stir to combine. If you are unable to form loose patties with your hands and ingredients are not sticking together, add another egg to help bind ingredients.
Form round patties, about 3 inches across, using your hands, squeezing out extra liquid once more in the process. Place each patty on the prepared baking sheet. Give the patties a quick spritz of olive oil spray on top.
Bake for 10-15 minutes until patties begin to brown and crisp up, then flip and bake for another 10 minutes.
Serve warm or at room temperature. I served these with a simple avocado mash with lemon juice, salt and garlic powder.
If you guys try this recipe, tag @daisybeet on Instagram so I can see your creations!
Thank you Love Beets for sponsoring this post! I’m grateful to partner with brands I love to cook with, and all opinions are my own.