When the doctor told me that I had to improve my diet to keep my heart healthy I was reluctant to make any changes. It turns out I wasn’t alone; lots of people aren’t sure what changes need to be made or how to get started on such a big undertaking. I can tell you that changes are possible and it doesn’t have to be as hard as you think it is. Here are a few of my favorite heart-healthy recipes.
Lentil Soup with Vegetables
Lentils can be used in soup in place of pasta or rice. They bring a chewy, satisfying texture to all kinds of dishes. They’re filled with fiber, which is a nutrient that is key to heart health.
- 1 cup green/brown lentils (or French lentils)
- 6 cups low-fat vegetable broth
- 1 eight ounces can of no-salt tomato sauce
- 1 zucchini, chopped into bite-size pieces
- 1 carrot, chopped into bite-size pieces
- 1 stalk of celery, chopped into bite-size pieces
- 1 onion, diced
- ½ lb. of fresh spinach, roughly chopped (or 1 cup of frozen spinach)
- ½ tsp dried marjoram
- ½ tsp dried thyme
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 2 tsp olive oil
- Dash of red pepper flakes (optional)
Use the olive oil to lightly sauté the diced onion in the bottom of your soup pot. When onion begins to turn translucent add vegetable broth, zucchini, carrot, celery, spices, and lentils. Turn the heat to high to bring broth to a boil; once the broth is boiling lower the heat a simmer; cover and allow to cook for 15 minutes or until lentils are tender. Add the chopped spinach and tomato sauce; cook until spinach begins to soften (or is thawed and warm). Allow the soup to rest ten minutes before serving. Serve with thick slices of whole grain bread and a mixed fruit salad for dessert.
Hearty Green Salad
This salad replaces plain iceberg lettuce with nutrient-dense dark green salad mix. Fruit and nuts add crunch and the zesty vinaigrette brings it all together. Canned chickpeas are easy to find at the grocery store. They’re naturally cholesterol- and fat-free; look for low/no salt versions. This salad is easy to make ahead of time for a lunch on the go.
- ¼ cup chickpeas
- 1 – 2 cups mixed salad greens
- 1 apple, chopped into bite-size pieces
- 1 carrot, grated or finely chopped
- 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
- A sprinkling of roasted, salt-free sunflower seeds or walnuts
- A light drizzle of low-fat vinaigrette (look for a fruit flavored one)
Mix salad greens, carrot, and celery together in a bowl; add chickpeas, sunflower seeds, and apple after mixing. Top with some vinaigrette and enjoy! For variety, try kidney beans or some cooked quinoa instead of chickpeas, chopped orange slices instead of apples, and slivered almonds instead of sunflower seeds. Experiment with your own homemade dressings, too!
A Lower-Fat Smoothie
Smoothies are notoriously high in fat and calories. Most smoothie bases are made from high-fat yogurt and milk. You can skip the fat without getting rid of the good stuff. Here’s how.
- 3-4 strawberries
- A handful of blueberries
- 1 ripe banana, broken into pieces
- A splash of orange juice
- 1/3 cup 1% or skim milk (light soy and almond milk work great, too!)
- 1 tsp bran or wheat germ
Place fruit, orange juice, bran, and milk into your blender. Pulse lightly until a mixture forms; some chunks are alright. If you want a frosty drink, add a few ice cubes and pulse a few seconds more in order to crush the ice. Frozen fruit can be used instead of ice cubes.
Grilled Vegetable Sandwich
Give your vegetables the spotlight for a change! Gently roasting vegetables is an easy way to bring out their natural flavors. This sandwich can be enjoyed hot or cold.
- 1 red or yellow bell pepper, cut into medium pieces
- 1 zucchini or yellow squash, sliced ¼” thick from end to end
- ¼ sweet onion, cut into large rings
- 8 – 10 narrow stalks of asparagus, tough ends trimmed
- 2 ripe Roma tomatoes, thickly sliced
- 3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 – 2 tsp pesto
Marinate all vegetables in the vinegar for at least 20 minutes (more time is better). Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place vegetables on a cookie sheet and roast for 7 – 10 minutes; stir the mixture and then roast for another 3 – 5 minutes. Spread pesto on your favorite whole grain bread and add vegetables. Add a dash of oregano or black pepper for an extra kick.