Just about every family in the U.S. has reason to improve heart health. According to an American Heart Association 2009 update, an estimated 80 million American adults (one in three) have one or more types of cardiovascular disease. One of the most straight-forward approaches for strengthening the cardiovascular system is to consume a heart healthy diet. However, those without access to a nutritionist may find this task more involved than previously thought. Choosing carrot sticks over a candy bar is a no-brainer; but there are many aspects to heart smart food preparation. Thus, eight food preparation tips have been compiled to help guide you into a more heart healthy relationship with food.
Although a gross generalization, the types of advisable foods for heart health typically include lots of vegetables and fruit, whole grains, fatty fish and lean protein options. But picking up such items at the supermarket is not enough to gain heart healthy stature. How your food is prepared carries just as much weight as what kind of groceries you begin with.
Below are eight strategies for cooking that ensure your fare supports your heart health goals:
- Cut the fat in your meat – Use “choice” or “select” grades of beef rather than “prime.” Be sure to trim any visible fat off the edges before cooking. Because they have the least fat, use cuts of red meat and pork labeled “loin” and “round.” With poultry, use the leaner light meat (breasts) instead of the fattier dark meat (legs and thighs). And don’t forget to remove the skin.
- Whiten your eggs – Make recipes or egg dishes with egg whites, instead of egg yolks.In general, two egg whites can be substituted for each egg yolk.
- Carefully select oils – To begin with, use liquid vegetable oils or nonfat cooking sprays whenever possible. Besides using them sparingly, choose oils lowest in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol such as canola oil, corn oil, olive oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, soybean oil and sunflower oil. Avoid oils high in saturated fat such as coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil.
- Use the oven – Delicious meals can be cooked in the oven with minimal amounts of fat. When roasting or broiling, use a rack in the pan so the meat or poultry doesn’t sit in its own fat drippings.Instead of basting with pan drippings, use fat-free liquids like wine, tomato juice, stock or lemon juice. When baking, cover and add extra liquid to keep the food moist.
- Speedy veggies – Preserve the nutrients and colors in fresh vegetables by cooking them quickly. The best cooking methods for this are steaming or stir-frying.
- Flavor not salt – Prepared seasonings usually have a lot of sodium which increases your risk for high blood pressure. Replace salt with herbs, spices or salt-free seasoning mixes.Grind fresh herbs with a mortar and pestle for the freshest and fullest flavor. Additional ways to boost the flavor of food without adding salt include lemon juice, black pepper, citrus zest, vinegar, dry mustard or hot chilies.
- Low-sodium broth – As long as it is low- or no-sodium – chicken, beef or vegetable broth can serve as a great heart healthy cooking tool. You can replace oil with broth in a marinade or to stir-fry or sauté in.
- De-fat dairy – Dairy foods with lower fat content can taste just as good as the full fat version. Cook with non-fat cheeses or mix non-fat with regular cheese, replace whole milk with skim milk and skip heavy cream and sour cream in favor of evaporated skim milk, nonfat plain yogurt or low-fat cottage cheese.
When aiming for a heart healthy diet, knowing which groceries to buy only gets you halfway there. To get the maximum cardiovascular benefit out of your food, it must also be prepared in a heart healthy fashion. Heart disease prevention requires a low-fat diet and good nutrition habits. Thus, utilizing these eight food preparation tips will help improve the heart health of everyone with whom your meals are shared.