Heart-healthy eating… and why (recipe included!)

If you’re thinking about ways to be healthier, here’s a little more incentive for you and a possible direction of your focus: being petite may slightly increase your risk for cardiovascular issues. It’s something I’ve been thinking about ever since I came across an article that appeared in the New York Times a few years ago reporting on research just published in the New England Journal of Medicine. An international team of investigators, studying a pool of close to 200,000 people from around the world, found a small but significant link between short stature and an increased risk for cardiovascular health problems. The connection they found was slight, and nowhere close to the strong increased risk that comes from smoking, for example. To put things in perspective, the increased risk they found was around 13.5% for every 2.5 inches in height difference, compared to an increased risk of 200-300% from smoking.

Consuming a heart-healthy diet, generally speaking, is a just-plain-good idea for all… and could be even a little more so for those who are petite. So what does heart-healthy eating mean? To explain, I asked a friend with expertise in this arena (…and who just so happens to also be petite!) to weigh in.

Andrea Rein, NPc, is a nurse practitioner with a specialty in cardiovascular medicine. Andrea says that heart-healthy eating is one of several variables known to help achieve optimal cardiovascular functioning. Other factors include exercise and maintenance of numbers like body weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol within healthy ranges. She recommends checking out the Life’s Simple 7 guidelines by the American Heart Association to learn more.

Here are Andrea’s “Super Six” food choices that comprise a heart-healthy diet:

(1.) Select lean proteins
(2.) Incorporate whole grains
(3.) Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
(4.) Limit unhealthy fats
(5.) Limit sodium
(6). Limit carbohydrates

Michelle Rauch, MS RD, is a dietitian who specializes in menu planning for people in higher-level care settings, such as rehabilitation and assisted living facilities, where, for most of her clients, meals tailored to health concerns are a must. Michelle points out that sticking to any dietary guidelines can be a challenge, and offers some great suggestions for staying on track. Her top three tips:

(1.) Keep it interesting
…by adding in variety, like exotic fruits and unusual whole grains
(2.) Keep it easy and ready
…by pre-planning and advance prepping meals and snacks
(3.) Keep it real
…by allowing occasional treats

With this in mind, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite heart-healthy recipes for you to try. Andrea and Michelle have graciously agreed to review my heart-healthy recipes for a double thumbs-up. I’ve got the very first one for you right below. And stay tune for more from Andrea and Michelle!

From my heart to yours…bon appetit!

Cauliflower Rice

WHHHAAAATT? Did I say cauliflower? Yes, I did. Stick with me on this one — it may become your new addiction, as it mine. And hubby’s. I bought a version of it once for takeout, and decided to give it a whirl on my own, once I discovered frozen “pre-riced” bags of it… which means it can be whipped up presto-pronto. My original recipe used lite soy sauce, but my friend Jennifer introduced me to a healthier substitute — coconut aminos — which turn out to be readily available in many grocery stores… just like the bags of riced cauliflower. If you knew Jen, you would know she would say: “Try the coconut aminos… they will change your life!” (Lite soy sauce is still a good option, though.) Jen is also responsible for the addition of broccoli and red bell pepper to my recipe, so as you see, she’s a good bet.

2 T olive oil
1 cup broccoli, chopped
1/4 cup carrots, shredded
1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced
1 14 oz. bag frozen riced cauliflower, defrosted (or one fresh head of cauliflower, rough chopped and pulsed in food processor to rice grain consistency). Squeeze out excess liquid if needed.
2 T coconut aminos (tastes like soy sauce but lower sodium and soy-free… or use lite soy sauce)
1/4 t garlic powder
1 t sugar
1/2 t salt
pinch ground black pepper
1 stalk scallions, minced

1. Heat 1 T of olive oil in a large sauté pan on medium heat.
2. Sauté the broccoli, carrots, and red bell pepper for 3-5 mins. in the olive oil.
3. Add the cauliflower and 1 T olive oil and continue to sauté for 5-7 mins, until some of the vegetables start to lightly caramelize/brown.
4. Lower heat and stir in coconut aminos, garlic power, sugar, salt, black pepper, and scallions. Serves two to four.

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