I was blessed as a child to be surrounded by a family that loved to cook. My mom has pictures of me standing in a chair and stirring soup at my grandmother’s house when I was only 4 years old. Everyone knew how to cook in this family. From grandparents to uncles to parents, I’ve been lucky enough to be taught techniques that have served me well in adult life. Sometimes, they served me too well…because the old family cooking we used to do is not really that good for you.
When I became sick with heart health problems, I did what everyone else does. I got a cookbook of mostly flavorless recipes recommended by the American Heart Association. With a lifetime of family cooking under my belt, I was determined to find a way to enjoy food again. I began to cultivate knowledge about what makes heart healthy recipes actually heart healthy. What I found out was by applying the principles below, you can take pretty much any recipe and convert it to a much healthier version of itself.
The 5 Heart Healthy Recipe Principles
The following heart healthy cooking tips can help you take just about any family favorite recipe, and convert it to a delicious, nutritious meal that your cardiologist would approve of.
Upgrade Up Your Fats
Choose leaner cuts of meat and limit saturated fats. For example, if a recipe calls for a Ribeye steak use a leaner cut like a NY Strip or even a Sirloin. You can use leaner cuts like pork loin to make bbq instead of a fattier pork butt. Some fats are actually good for you, Like the Omega 3 fats found in cold water fish, nuts, and avocados.
Stop using butter and heavily processed canola and vegetable oils. Olive oil and avocado oils are great sources of healthy fats. Use olive oil in salad dressings and sautéing foods. Anything that needs a higher smoke point, use avocado oil.
Add Flavor With Herbs and Spices
If you are anything like me you have an entire cabinet filled with dried seasonings. Be careful of these! If you read the labels, many seasonings main ingredient is salt! I’d recommend that you check out the selections from FlavorGod. But, even better is using fresh herbs in your cooking. You just won’t believe how much better your food tastes with fresh herbs! This boost in flavor will make up for the fatty, sweet, and salty you may be cutting back on in a heart healthy diet.
Cut Out Refined Carbs
The people in this country struggle with refined carbs, sugars, and portion control. Refined carbs keep us fat, and extra calories to our meals, and increase the amount of sugar in our diet. Steer clear of bread, cakes, cookies, and Pasta! Pasta is a big one, and by eliminating it you might find you’re no longer able to eat some of your favorite dishes. But you can replace pasta with other foods. I’ll show you one example below, so keep reading!
Uptake Fiber Quantity
Increasing your daily fiber intake has been shown to lower blood pressure, aide in digestion, and improve cardiovascular performance. Fiber also helps you feel “fuller”, so it’s a great way to satisfy your hunger if you are trying to cut calories. Beans and legumes are excellent ways to add fiber and protein to your diet. And, sneaking spinach and vegetables into your meals is easier than you might think.
Alternate Cooking Methods
Is a recipe calling for your to bread and deep fry a chicken breast? Why not grill it instead? Roasting, sautéing, and broiling foods are all great ways to prepare foods that don’t add oils or fats to the end result.
The Principles In Action
To show you how I go about converting a recipe, I just picked a random web search for Baked Ziti with Sausage. You can see the recipe here. Now, let’s pick this recipe apart, and make it a more heart healthy option.
Looking at the list of ingredients on the right, three things pop out at me right away. Number one, I would throw out the ziti pasta. That is a refined and highly processed, high carbohydrate food. Let’s used chopped up cauliflower instead. What I would do chop the cauliflower up into ziti size pieces and steam it for about 10 minutes. Then I would just add it into the dish like the recipe calls for you to use the ziti.
Secondly, the sausage is a red flag. Most Italian sausage in the supermarket is very fatty and full of salt. Look for a lower sodium turkey or chicken alternative. You could even buy ground turkey, and make your own Italian seasoned “sausage” out of it. I have a local beef farm that makes a lean beef Italian sausage that is great for dishes like this. I often put it in my zucchini lasagna or spaghetti sauce.
Thirdly, I would be paying attention to the label on that pasta sauce. Make sure it isn’t high in sodium or sugar. You could even just add a can of crushed San Marzano tomatoes and a small can of tomato sauce if you wanted to make your own. Season it how you like!
The ricotta is not that much of a problem to me, but it can be high in sodium. Check the label! I’d also not buy the “Full Fat” ricotta. I’d probably not use a full container of it, and would also cut down on the other cheese if I was really being a stickler for fat on this recipe.
Personally…I don’t think you need the egg, and probably won’t miss it. But, there’s nothing wrong with eggs in my book. They are nature’s perfect food.
Now…since we are cutting some salt, and fat, and there’s not much fiber (besides the cauliflower), I’m going to add the following to this dish.
When the “sausage” is just about finished being browned, I’m going to throw in a large handful of baby spinach. This will add fiber and heart healthy nutrients to the final dish. I’m also going to be using my FlavorGod Italian Zest seasoning, as well as using fresh basil at the end. Just sprinkle it on top after the dish comes out of the oven. I might even drizzle a little good quality extra virgin olive oil at the end, because we left out some of the cheese.
Once you get the hang of it, you’ll learn what to change in a recipe, what to eliminate, what to add, and how much. It really isn’t that hard. Just play around, and find what works for you and your family. But the above principles are how I was able to start eating some of my favorite foods again without worrying about the effects it might have on my body.
Now, what family favorite are you going to give a heart healthy makeover to first? Let me know! Please share this post on social media and tag me!
If you don’t know where to start, I’m here for you. Each and every week I set aside times for what I call Success Strategy Sessions. These short (and FREE!) coaching calls are designed to get you moving toward your goals and reaching them at lightening speed. During the call we’ll talk about where you currently are, where you’d like to be, and come up with some quick actionable steps you can take right away.
These calls are FREE, but I only have a limited amount of time to do them each and every week. They are “first-come-first-serve”. Schedule a free Success Strategy Session today!