Quick nutritional fixes for a healthy heart

Most people know that a heart-healthy diet includes olive or canola oil rather than butter, less animal protein and processed foods, and more fish, beans, whole grains, and vegetables. Recent trends indicate that people are shopping for less processed foods and that food companies are responding by reducing the number of added ingredients, minimizing trans fats, adding more whole grain, and reducing sodium content.

“It is encouraging that heart-healthy eating habits are becoming more prevalent, but nonetheless, preparing a healthy dinner while trying to squeeze in a little exercise and help with homework still presents a daily challenge,” says Susan Rodder of UT Southwestern Medical Center's Preventive Cardiology Program.

Ms. Rodder, a registered dietitian, offers these solutions to this common work-week dilemma.

  • ‘Fix and freeze’ meals. If you do this as you unpack your groceries, you’ll have prepared at least one ready-made meal for the upcoming week.
  • ‘Slow-cook’ Sundays. Use a slow-cook recipe to minimize food preparation and cleanup time – you’ll feel like it’s still your day off, and there could be leftovers to pack for lunches.
  • Meatless Mondays. This concept started during World War I to ration protein for the troops. Today, it is also one way to reduce the amount of heart-unhealthy fat that we get from animal products. Rice and beans, with a side salad of packaged prewashed lettuce, tomatoes, and a splash of olive oil with balsamic vinegar is a typical offering.
  • Pre-cook protein. It’s easier to prepare dinner if you have precooked fish, chicken, or lean meats ready to serve with easy side dishes such as instant brown rice and frozen vegetables, which are flash frozen soon after harvesting and still have a high nutrient content.
  • Pack in potassium. One of the cornerstones of a heart-healthy diet is lowering sodium intake.  Studies of the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension) diet also have shown that getting sufficient potassium is equally important.  Serve foods rich in potassium such as fruits, milk, and yogurt, lower-sodium tomato products (e.g. sauce, paste), and beans. 

Visit UTSW Medicine to learn more about clinical services in nutrition at UT Southwestern.

February is American Heart Month.

Media Contact: Lisa Warshaw