Ask any marathon runner: the hardest part of most challenges is mental. And that includes substantial changes to lifestyle like the way we cook and eat. But if you or your doctor has determined that you need to clean things up in the dining department, think of it as a cause for celebration, not deprivation. Heart-healthy foods are bursting with flavor, color, texture and nutrition, and we offer three adaptable, mouth-watering recipes to prove it.
Adhering to a few simple principles will help ensure that you consume enough of the necessary nutrients, including fiber, to have a positive effect on your weight, blood pressure, blood sugar levels and overall health, while limiting or eliminating those foods that wreak havoc. Remember that how much you eat is just as important as what you eat, so manage your portions; eat more fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables; select whole grains and unprocessed foods when possible; avoid trans fats/saturated fats; limit sugar and sodium; and opt for protein and moderate amounts of dairy that is lower in fat. Then add irresistible flavor with herbs, spices, citrus juices and zest, nuts and vinegars.
Beware of foods that are marketed as low-fat or as “healthy.” Many are loaded with sugar, calories and sodium to replace that fat. And other seemingly healthy foods like granola, flavored yogurts, health bars and drinks, microwave popcorn, acai bowls and “green” or “veggie” everything are equally guilty and may lack the implied nutrients. Take spinach wraps. They are pretty, but nutritionally lacking, so it is far better to stuff your wrap with fresh spinach. And baked veggie chips? They tend to be oily and salty, so have one serving with plenty of raw vegetables. Essentially, choose whole foods when you can and read labels for everything else.
Yield: 4 servings
Oatmeal is not just for breakfast anymore. Think of this scrumptious side dish as a healthier version of risotto. Its similar texture lends itself to all of the same flavor combinations and provides endless variations. Experiment with raw veggies or those that have been previously cooked, e.g. roasted red peppers or cubed baked sweet potato.
3 cups vegetable stock
2 1/2 cups diced or shredded vegetables, raw or cooked (as pictured: broccoli florets, carrots, green onions and diced red bell pepper)
2 large cloves garlic
1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
Optional: sea salt
1 ounce shredded cheese, e.g. Parmesan, non-dairy or dairy
Zest of 1 large lemon or lime or 1/2 a medium orange
1 generous tablespoon minced fresh herbs, e.g. parsley, basil, etc.
1/2 cup toasted nuts, e.g. walnut halves and pieces (toast for 5 minutes at 350 degrees)
In a medium-large pot, bring vegetable stock to a simmer over medium-high heat. If using raw vegetables, add and simmer for 5 minutes, partially covered, adjusting heat as necessary. Stir in oatmeal and any pre-cooked vegetables and garlic. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes or until moisture is absorbed and oatmeal is tender. Season with a pinch of sea salt if desired, and stir in half the cheese, zest, herbs and nuts. Divide among 4 bowls, and garnish with remaining shredded cheese, zest, herbs and nuts.
One-Bowl Chocolate Oatmeal Muffins or Cupcakes
Everyone needs a sweet indulgence now and then, but it need not diminish your healthy gains. These muffins become cupcakes with the addition of a surprising take on frosting. And either way, they contain no flour, added sugar or eggs; just simple, tasty and heart-healthy ingredients. Plus, even if you aren’t a baker, you can stir these up with no problem.
1 large banana or 1 cup fresh or thawed frozen berries
3 to 4 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons flaxseed meal
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 tablespoons skim or non-dairy milk (I use unsweetened soymilk)
1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats, processed in a food processor until they become a flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch sea salt
6 tablespoons nut butter
6 tablespoons (or a bit more) unsweetened Greek yogurt, non-dairy or dairy
2 to 3 teaspoons pure maple syrup
Line a muffin tin with 8 muffin papers. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mash banana or berries with a potato masher. Add all other ingredients, except frosting ingredients, in order, and whisk or stir until smooth. Divide evenly among prepared muffin papers, and bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool—or enjoy slightly warm—and store in an airtight container. To frost as cupcakes: in a small bowl, whisk together nut butter, yogurt and maple syrup, adding more yogurt if necessary. Swirl about 1 1/2 tablespoons of frosting on top of each cooled cupcake.
Fish (or Tofu) en Papillote
Yield: 2 servings (easily doubles)
This dish sounds—and looks—fancy, enough so for a dinner party, but it is super simple. Foil can be substituted for parchment paper (though it won’t have a party-perfect presentation), and, either way, all the aromatic juices are sealed in. The most heart-healthy fish include salmon, mackerel, albacore tuna and lake trout. But, believe it or not, tofu is delicious in this preparation. Stack up your favorite ingredients—experiment with spices—and let your oven do all the work.
2–4 ounce fish fillets or slices of tofu, about 3/4-inch thick (if fish is thinner, fold thinnest section under to create a 3/4-inch slab)
2 tablespoons olive oil or margarine, divided
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Approximately 3/4 cup vegetable florets, dice, slices or shreds (as pictured: broccoli florets and peas)
1 large clove garlic, very thinly sliced or minced
2 thin slices citrus
4 stalks, fronds or large leaves of fresh rosemary, dill, cilantro, basil, etc.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. For each serving: lay fish or tofu on one half of parchment paper. Drizzle with 2 teaspoons olive oil or top with 2 teaspoons margarine, pinched into tiny pats, sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt and pepper, top with half of vegetables, add remaining teaspoon olive oil or margarine and another pinch of salt and pepper, distribute half of garlic evenly over the surface, lay 1 citrus slice on top and crown with half of herbs.
Fold parchment over, align edges and seal which, if done correctly, creates a half-moon potsticker shape: fold up the edge on a diagonal about every 1/4-inch, overlapping and creasing as you go. Set on rimmed baking pan. Repeat with remaining filet or tofu slice and bake 20 minutes. Carefully cut each packet along seal with a pair of kitchen scissors, fold back top layer of parchment and serve immediately.