Thursday, February 28, 2013

Spinach Salad with Grapefruit and Feta

Here's a heart-healthy recipe to wrap up American Heart Month. In the last post, Go Red (and Orange and Yellow) for Heart Health, I talked about how to add the benefits of brightly-colored fruits and veggies to your meals, since they're great for heart health. This recipe suits that goal by including ruby red grapefruit. Yes, I know--it's something you might not ordinarily add to your salad. But the sweet and salty combination will make you fall in love! This is a great winter-time salad too since both spinach and grapefruit are seasonal this time of year.

There are many components of meals that benefit cholesterol and heart health and this one makes the grade on all fronts:
  • High fiber
  • Low in saturated fat
  • Contains unsaturated fats
  • Low sodium
  • High potassium content
  • High vitamin and antioxidant content

Let's break down the ingredients. One medium grapefruit contains 340mg potassium (nearly as much as a banana), 3 grams of fiber, 84mg vitamin C (a little more than an orange) and 300 IU vitamin A (almost as much as one cup of milk).

For reference, the recommended daily values for these nutrients are: Vitamin C 50-60mg | Potassium 4,700mg | Vitamin A 2300 IU for women and 3000 IU for men | Fiber 20-35 grams.

Pumpkin seeds (pepitas) are a good source of unsaturated fats and fiber. The olive oil found in the dressing also contains heart-healthy unsaturated fats. And the spinach is packed with vitamins and antioxidants along with, you guessed it, fiber. Just a dab of reduced-fat feta cheese adds a little salty flavor with minimal amounts of saturated fat, a nutrient commonly found in high concentrations in cheese. Enjoy the flavor and the health. Cheers!

Spinach Salad with Grapefruit and Feta
Serves 4.

  • 8 cups baby spinach
  • 1 grapefruit, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 ounces light feta cheese, crumbled (I like Trader Joe's)
  • 2 tablespoons raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds; again I like Trader Joe's)
  • 1 tablespoon blood orange olive oil (may substitute olive oil)*
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cranberry pear balsamic vinegar (may substitute rice vinegar)*
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley

  1. Prepare the salad dressing (this can be done ahead of time): Add olive oil, vinegars and seasonings to a small jar. Shake to combine. (I like to keep a jar around just for mixing dressings. A canning jar works well or just one you saved from some finished olives or jelly. If you don't have a jar, just whisk together the ingredients in a bowl).
  2. Add spinach, grapefruit, feta and pepitas to a large salad or serving bowl. Pour dressing on top. Lightly toss to combine.
  3. Serve immediately.
*Flavored oils and vinegars are gaining popularity and are available at specialty stores such as Di'Olivas (in St. Louis) or sometimes at Homegoods. Check locally for a shop near you. It's worth it--they add incredible flavor to your home-cooked meals.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
Calories 116 | Total Fat 6g | Saturated Fat 1.5g | Cholesterol 2mg | Sodium 236mg | Carb 11g | Fiber 3g | Sugar 5g | Protein 6g.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Go Red (and Orange and Yellow) for Heart Health

Each color fruit or vegetable contains different vitamins, antioxidants and phytochemicals; that's why I advise my clients to eat a rainbow of different colors! Each of these nutrients serves the body in different ways and can help fight disease. For example:
  • Green veggies (spinach, kale, avocado) keep vision healthy
  • Purple/blue produce (purple cabbage, blueberries, beets) has anti-aging properties. Bring it on!
  • White vegetables (mushrooms, potatoes, onions) are a color too and benefit heart health.
Red, orange and yellow produce are especially beneficial for heart health, so in honor of the last few days of American Heart Month, I'll be sharing the particular benefits of these vibrant colors of the rainbow--and how to add them to your diet. Also check back on Thursday for a tasty, simple salad incorporating ruby red grapefruit.

What Red, Orange and Yellow-Pigmented Foods Have To Offer

Fruits and veggies that come in these vibrant hues contain a plant compound known as carotenoids. Carotenoids include beta-carotene, lycopene, zeaxanthin and lutein.

Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body and has many roles; it helps support the function of white blood cells (which is important for a healthy immune system), promotes bone growth, and helps to regulate cell growth and division.

Vitamin A and two other types of carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, are also important for healthy vision. Lycopene is found in red foods such as tomatoes and tomato products, watermelon and grapefruit. A major benefit of lycopene is the maintenance of prostate health. 

These antioxidants are thought to help support heart health by fighting free radicals--molecules that cause oxidation and cell damage. Antioxidant compounds attach themselves to free radicals so that is impossible for the free radical to react with (oxidize) other molecules.

Many red and orange foods are also a good source of potassium, a mineral that is important in maintaining healthy blood pressure. The following foods are also excellent sources of other vitamins, like vitamin C which helps preserve immune function, and other antioxidants, like anthocyanin and quercitin, which help to reduce inflammation. Plus all fruits and vegetables are good sources of fiber, which not only helps control cholesterol, but also will help regulate your digestive system, control blood sugars and help you stay full.

Check out all these red, orange and yellow-hued foods that contain carotenoids! And look how easy it is to add them to your diet. Try to eat red, orange and yellow-colored fruits and vegetables several times per week.
  • Carrots: The perfect afternoon snack with peanut or almond butter.
  • Pumpkin: Make some pumpkin muffins for an on-the-go breakfast. Did you know you can save the filling from your Halloween pumpkins for recipes later? {Here's how plus a recipe for Pumpkin Bread}
  • Sweet potato: A simple addition to dinner, topped with cinnamon.
  • Butternut or acorn squash: It's so delicious roasted! {Try Roasted Buttnernut Squash and Brown Rice or Butternut Squash with Haricot Vert}
  • Cantaloupe: Just slice and enjoy :)
  • Apricots: Fresh or dried, these are a high-fiber snack.
  • Mango and papaya: Chop and mix with red onion and cilantro for a fresh and simple salsa.
  • Oranges: Just peel and eat. A great way to start the day.
  • Golden raisins: My favorite type of raisin. I especially love them in oatmeal. Add them before you cook it so they get nice and plump. {Here's a recipe for Creamy Golden Oatmeal}
  • Bananas: Slice bananas and add them to cereal or on top of toast smeared with peanut butter. It's the Elvis!
  • Tomatoes (and tomato products): Create your own marinara sauce, toss them in pasta or rice dishes, or add them to your salad or sandwich. It's a snap to add them to your diet (and the most common source of lycopene in the American diet).
  • Watermelon: Ah, summer. Nothing beats a sweet, juicy slice of watermelon on a hot summer day.
  • Grapefruit: Slice it in half and dig in! Look for my recipe on Thursday.
  • Red peppers: I love eating sliced peppers with my sandwich at lunch.
  • Cranberries: Make a simple chutney or add the dried ones to a trail mix. {Here's a simple Cranberry-Orange Relish}
  • Pomegranate: Add these little gems to your salad for a change.
  • Cherries: Catch fresh ones at their peak in the summertime!
  • Red-skinned potatoes: How do I love potatoes? Let me name the ways...baked, roasted, boiled, mashed. Keep them on hand all of the time for a simple side dish.
  • Strawberries and raspberries: My favorite way to enjoy them is in yogurt or atop muesli. Also use frozen berries in a smoothie.
How do you add red, orange and yellow-hued fruits and veggies to your diet? Tell me your favorite way!


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Change Your Salty Ways in 21 Days!

There are many good reasons to eat a diet that is low in sodium (salt). The biggest reason is to help keep blood pressure controlled; and that's a key to maintaining heart health and preventing a stroke. That's why this month (American Heart Month) I'm challenging you to reduce the sodium in your diet!

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. Did you know that the average American eats 3,400 mg?! Believe it or not, the salt shaker is not the primary source of that sodium. The majority of sodium we consume is found in food already--and sometimes it can sneak up on you. For example, a slice of bread may have 240 mg of sodium. A 2-ounce portion of lunch meat is usually between 600 and 750 mg of sodium!

If you're ready to challenge yourself to eat less sodium, never fear; you can change your sodium palate and start enjoying foods with less sodium in just 21 days. Just break down the bigger goal into smaller steps by following the plan below. You'll be promoting a healthier heart and will see reduced swelling and bloating more immediately (and that feels good, right?).

Here are some simple ways to start becoming more aware of the sodium in your food:

  • Read food labels for sodium. Compare them to the daily goal of 2,300mg. How do they measure up? Don't forget to check the serving size too. Compare food labels between products and look for the label with the lowest sodium.
  • Look for the Heart-Check mark on products to easily identify those that meet the American Heart Association's guidelines for a low sodium food.
  • Know the "Salty Six;" the six common foods that may contain excess sodium: breads and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, poultry, soup and sandwiches.

Now here's your challenge:

Over the course of 3 weeks, you can reduce your sodium intake from everyday foods by following the weekly mini-challenges below. You'll be focusing on reading labels and reducing your intake of sodium from the "Salty Six." By taking it one step at a time, at the end of 3 weeks, you will have significantly reduced your sodium intake!

Week 1: Reduce your sodium intake from Breads and Rolls + Cold Cuts and Cured Meats
  • Compare food labels and look for lower sodium items
  • Track your sodium consumption in a food log
  • See how you've progressed by logging how much sodium you've shaved out of your diet.

Week 2: Reduce your sodium intake from Pizza + Poultry
  • If you do eat pizza, make it one with less cheese and meats (cured meats like pepperoni, sausage and bacon are high in sodium)
  • Add veggies to your pizza instead
  • Use fresh poultry rather than fried, canned or processed. Take it one step further and compare labels on fresh poultry too--broth containing sodium is often added.

Week 3: Reduce your sodium intake from Soups + Sandwiches
  • One cup of soup can have up to 940 mg of sodium. Look for lower sodium options (also check serving size).
  • Easily make your own batch of soup on the stove or in the crockpot. Make leftovers to freeze for a convenient meal later.
  • Use lower sodium meats, cheeses and condiments and plenty of vegetables to build healthier sandwiches. Many deli meats are offered in low-sodium varieties. "Natural" cheeses, like cheddar, are often lower in sodium than American cheese or other processed cheeses.

If you decide to take the challenge, keep me informed of what you find out and how you're doing! What surprises you along the way? Can you notice a difference in the way you feel? Post a comment below!

Download the "Change Your Salty Ways" challenge poster here (from the American Heart Association).

You can also participate in the Sodium Swap challenge on Facebook.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Lunchbox Salmon Pasta with Steamed Spinach

This is one of my favorite lunches. Not only is it a tasty way to incorporate omega-3-rich salmon into your diet, it's so easy too! I call this a "lunchbox" meal, but the method would be equally effective for a quickly pulled together dinner. The recipe contains simple, on-hand ingredients and leftover pasta.

Omega-3 foods, the best sources being certain types of fish, help to keep your cholesterol in the healthy range and your heart healthy. The American Heart Association recommends eating two 4-ounce servings of omega-3-rich fish per week to meet the requirements for DHA and EPA, the two most effective fatty acids for lowering cholesterol. Read more about omega-3s and where to find them in this post.

To easily prepare simple, healthy meals (like this one), there are certain ingredients you should always keep on hand in your kitchen. {You can purchase my Well Stocked Kitchen list here.} Another tip: Whenever you cook, think about making leftovers! When I make pasta or rice, I always make leftovers. If you don't eat them within 5 days, just stick them in the freezer in portion-controlled containers or a zipper-top freezer bag for later. They will always come in handy for a healthy lunch or quick dinner.

If you love salmon and get addicted, like me, there's no need to worry. This meal is just about as balanced and healthy as it can get! It's perfect for a clean-eating meal plan.

Lunchbox Salmon Pasta with Steamed Spinach
Serves 2.

  • 1 can (4 ounces drained) salmon, deboned and without skin
  • 2 cups whole wheat pasta (I used penne in this recipe)
  • 2 cups raw baby spinach (or more if you like)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • A sprinkle of each (to taste): Kosher salt, fresh black pepper, garlic powder, parsley and dill
  • 2 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese

Use two containers (glass or BPA-free plastic) that are at least 3 cups each and divide ingredients between the two per the following:
  1. Place 1 cup spinach in the bottom of each container.
  2. Top spinach with 1 cup pasta.
  3. Place half the can of salmon on top.
  4. Drizzle with 1 teaspoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon lemon juice.
  5. Add seasonings and cheese.
  6. At meal time, crack the lid on the container and microwave on high for 2 minutes. Gently stir to combine and distribute toppings.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Omega-3s and Your Heart

Since today is Valentine's Day, I think it's important to talk about what today is all about--your heart. We associate Valentine's Day with a heart full of love, but a healthy heart is just as important!

Health studies have established that eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids can improve heart and overall health. Omega-3s are essential nutrients, meaning our bodies require them, but cannot produce them; so we must consume foods containing them as part of a balanced diet.

Omega-3s consist of three different fatty acids: ALA, EPA and DHA. ALA is found in plant foods such as canola oil, flax and walnuts. But the most established health benefits associated with omega-3s come from EPA and DHA, which are found in fish and algae.

People who eat fish regularly enjoy significant heart-health benefits thanks to the naturally occurring EPA and DHA. Thus, the American Heart Association recommends consuming two 4-ounce portions per week. Here are some heart-health facts about fish:
  • Eating fish regularly can reduce the risk of developing heart (cardiovascular) disease. 
  • Omega-3s in fish help maintain healthy blood cholesterol levels by reducing triglycerides and raising amounts of HDL (“good” cholesterol). 
  • Eating fish several times per week can reduce inflammation throughout the body, including blood vessels. Inflammation of blood vessels is believed to contribute to plaque build-up and blood clots, which can lead to heart attack. 
  • The omega-3s in fish can help the heart maintain a slower and more regular rate, and reduce the occurrence of irregular heartbeat known as arrhythmia. 
  • People who eat fish regularly tend to have consistently lower blood pressure than those who do not. 
  • Although it is important for blood to be able to clot to repair damage to the body, clotting within the arteries can lead to a heart attack or stroke. The omega-3s in fish help blood flow more smoothly without clotting in the arteries. 
  • In addition to supporting excellent heart health, eating omega-3-rich fish regularly may also help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, depression, stroke and some types of cancer. It is also thought to boost immunity and provide relief from joint pain and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. 
Eating fish and seafood two to three times per week can provide the necessary amounts of EPA and DHA to reap the heart—and general—health benefits associated with omega-3s. Incorporate fish and seafood into your regular menus for delicious new flavors and better heart health.

Although all types of fish and seafood are lean sources of protein, making them a healthy protein choice, not all fish contain high levels of omega-3s. When trying to increase the amount of omega-3s in your diet, make sure to choose salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, sardines, herring or halibut.

Not a fish-lover yet? To help your taste buds acclimate to the flavor, start with "lighter" tasting fish such as tilapia. Keep trying new recipes with different cooking methods and flavors. Remember, you must try a new food several times to begin to develop a taste for it. Don't give up! Your heart will thank you. If you just can't stomach it or are vegan, talk with your doctor or dietitian about supplement options.

Guess what's next?! Fish recipes, of course. Next I'll share one of my favorite lunches. It includes heart-healthy salmon and is so simple to throw together!

Adapted with permission from Oldways Nutrition Exchange.

Related Posts:
#5 of 12 Foods to Eat More of in 2012

Fish Tacos with Mango Avocado Salsa

Salmon Photo:

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Chocolate and Caramel Mug Cakes with Sea Salt

Valentine's Day sort of calls for chocolate. Duh. But if you're like me, you don't want those boxes of chocolates lying around tempting you all week. This divine little treat is just the perfect size for two--you and your honey. Pure sweet and salty indulgence that's just right for a special day.

Inside these personal chocolate cakes, you'll find a creamy center of melted caramel. They're topped with a sprinkle of sea salt for that oh-so-sinful sweet-and-salty combination. (If you haven't tried salted chocolate yet, trust me, you should.) I like mine topped with a dollop of my favorite ice cream: Haagen Dazs coffee flavor. As if it couldn't get any more perfect, the ice cream will melt as you dig into the warm chocolate cake. Mmm.

Did I mention that these cakes are ready in less than 5 minutes? Oh yeah. Whip up the ingredients and pop them in the microwave. An extra special dessert in no time.

It's not quite too good to be true. They're not exactly fitting of the healthy food mantra. But everything has its place in a healthy meal plan and everybody needs a sweet treat every now and then. If you ask me, Valentine's Day is the perfect time to enjoy it. Walk by the aisle full of boxed chocolates and enjoy the perfect, couple-sized treat this Valentine's Day.

Chocolate and Caramel Mug Cakes with Sea Salt
Serves 2.

  • 4 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon coarse ground sea salt, reserve a sprinkle for the top
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tablespoons skim milk
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 4 caramels, cut in half

  1. In a small bowl stir together dry ingredients; all but a sprinkle of the sea salt.
  2. In another small bowl, stir together liquid ingredients.
  3. Pour liquids into dry ingredients and stir to combine; some lumps are okay.
  4. Pour batter into one or two mugs. Drop caramels into the center. 
  5. Microwave on high for one minute and 30 seconds (it will be a little gooey in the center; microwave up to 30 seconds more to cook throughout). Sprinkle remaining sea salt on top.
  6. Serve warm with a spoonful of ice cream.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
Calories 364 | Total Fat 12g | Saturated Fat 3g | Cholesterol 94mg | Sodium 455mg | Carb 60g | Fiber 4g | Sugar 39g | Protein 9g.

Download the recipe here.

Recipe adapted from Babble.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

8 Ways to Keep Your Heart Healthy

Cardiovascular diseases are typically the result of atherosclerosis, the gradual buildup of plaque along the inner walls of arteries. As the buildup continues, plaque constricts the blood flow through the arteries, which can lead to a heart attack, the formation of blood clots or stroke.

For most, cardiovascular disease is preventable, but you should know your risk factors. Some of these risk factors are beyond your control, such as your gender and your genes. Men typically have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease compared to women, as do people who have other family members who have the disease. There are other risk factors, however, that can be controlled or eliminated by following a healthy lifestyle. It is important to focus on these steps to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease whether or not it runs in your family. Not only will these actions help you lower your risk, they will also help you lead a healthier lifestyle overall.

Here are eight steps that you can take to have a healthy heart and lower your risk of developing cardiovascular disease:

1. Know your risk factors. If you have a parent or other close family member with cardiovascular disease, you are at a higher risk. The odds of developing cardiovascular disease also tend to increase as we age. People who have diabetes are also at elevated risk of developing cardiovascular disease because chronic high blood sugar is associated with the narrowing of the arteries. People with diabetes also tend to have lower levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and increased levels of triglycerides (blood fats). These are other factors that compound the risk of heart disease.

2. Make healthy food choices. Your diet can have a major impact on your chances of developing cardiovascular disease. This is an area where we can exercise a great deal of control! Choose wisely and limit your intake of greasy or fried foods, and fatty red meats. Fill your diet instead with fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats such as poultry and seafood, and fiber-rich foods such as whole-grain oatmeal and whole-grain breads. Talk to your RD (Registered Dietitian) for your individualized goals.

3. If you’re overweight, get to a healthy weight and maintain it. If you are currently overweight, your odds of developing cardiovascular disease are higher. A loss of just 10 to 20 pounds can help lower your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Work with your physician or dietitian to find a healthy eating plan that will work for you.

4. Establish and follow a regular exercise program. To reduce the risk of chronic disease, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend engaging in at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity most days of the week. Aim for cardiovascular (aerobic) activities such as brisk walking, bike-riding or exercise classes. Consult with your physician to see what forms of activity are appropriate for your age and current physical condition.

5. Have your cholesterol and blood pressure checked regularly. Have your physician check your cholesterol at least once a year and blood pressure at each visit. If either of these sets of numbers is high, your chances of developing cardiovascular disease greatly increase. Your physician may suggest ways to modify your lifestyle by improving your diet and adding exercise in order to bring your numbers under control. This is also the perfect time to meet with a dietitian, who can help you understand a heart healthy diet and your personal nutrition goals. In some cases, your physician may also prescribe medication to help return your cholesterol or blood pressure numbers to normal levels.

6. If you smoke, you should quit. Smoking is one of the leading causes of cardiovascular diseases. According to the American Medical Association, people can cut their risk of developing cardiovascular disease in half within one year of quitting smoking. Now that's a change that's worth it.

7. Get a handle on your stress. Stress may contribute to heart disease. Stress can also cause your blood pressure to rise and may lead to unhealthy behaviors such as smoking or binging on unhealthy foods. Try exercise or practicing yoga as a way to combat stress. Take a few minutes out of each day to do something you enjoy, such as listening to music or reading.

8. Don’t ignore possible warning signs. That burning sensation in your chest may be heartburn, but it could also be a warning sign of cardiovascular disease. Other symptoms may include a sense of tightness radiating from the breastbone and into the neck, jaw and arm or a shortness of breath. If you have any of these symptoms, don’t casually dismiss them. Let your physician determine what is causing them and follow his advice.

Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. While some of the causes are beyond your control, many of them are not. If you follow a healthy diet and lead an active lifestyle, you may be able to reduce your risk of heart disease. Work with your physician to develop a lifestyle plan that is right for you.

Adapted with permission from the "Eight Steps to a Healthy Heart" tip sheet from Oldways Nutrition Exchange.
For more information, visit


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Love Your Heart, Love Yourself

Did you know that heart disease is the NUMBER ONE cause of death for women and is among the top three killers for Americans? Some risk factors for heart disease are out of your control, but most are controllable. Leading a healthy lifestyle and keeping your cholesterol levels in check can help you prevent heart disease. By loving your heart, you are really loving yourself!

February is American Heart Month and that makes it the perfect time to begin thinking about the health of your heart. By keeping your heart healthy, not only do you reduce your risk of heart attack, but you can enjoy a better quality of life and reduce that chance that you'll need the help of medications. A healthy lifestyle can do a lot. That's why this month is dedicated to raising awareness of heart health and the prevention of cardiovascular disease.

Here are some things to do this month:
  1. Check in with your doctor and have your cholesterol levels checked.
  2. Learn about and start following a heart-healthy diet. Talk to your RD (Registered Dietitian).
  3. Begin a regular exercise routine.
  4. Find out about other risk factors for heart disease. Eliminate whatever you can.

This month on the GoodFood blog, we'll also be talking about how to keep your heart healthy. Check back all month for more information about heart disease, heart-healthy tips and heart-healthy recipes. Love yourself by loving your heart! Follow along to find out how easy it can be.

The signs of a heart attack include shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, pressure or pain radiating to the arm, jaw or neck. But if you're a female, the symptoms may be different. Watch this humorous and informative video starring Elizabeth Banks to see what the symptoms of a heart attach might look like.

For more information, visit the American Heart Association's website at