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Developing a Heart Healthy Meal Plan

An assortment of vegetables placed together to make up the shape of a heart.When it comes to cooking, if the words “heart healthy” conjure up images of tasteless soups, bland casseroles and plain vegetables – think again. You can develop a heart-healthy meal plan that is anything but boring. With just a little practice, you’ll soon be adding some zing to a lean cut of meat or dressing up a vegetable side dish.

Before heading out to the grocery store, invest in a few heart healthy cookbooks and recipes for cooking ideas.

Develop a shopping list that includes the following basic items:

  • Opt for “choice” or “select” grades of beef instead of “prime”, and use cuts of meat that are labeled “loin”
  • For poultry, choose leaner light meat such as breasts rather than fattier dark meat from the legs and thighs. Remember to remove the skin or “round” because they typically have the least amount of fat.
  • Keep cholesterol in check with lean pork, such as ham or Canadian bacon, and certain types of fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon and mackerel.
  • Buy a variety of fresh, canned or frozen fruits and vegetables. Canned vegetables should be low in sodium, and frozen should not have added butter or sauces. Canned fruit should be in 100 percent juice, not syrup, and frozen berries need to be without added sugar. Dried fruits are good too.
  • Look for milk and milk products that are fat-free or low-fat, such as one percent milk, or cheese that has three grams of fat or less per serving.
  • Select breads, cereals and grains that list whole-wheat or whole-grain as the first ingredient.
  • Stock up on dried herbs such as thyme, rosemary and marjoram, and select cooking oils that are low in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol, including canola, corn, olive, sesame, soybean, sunflower and safflower oils. Avoid prepackaged seasoning mixes because they are often high in sodium.

Instead of frying, cook with less fat by stir-frying, roasting, grilling, broiling, baking, poaching, sautéing or steaming. Using nonstick pans and cooking sprays can cut down on total fat. You can boost the flavor of meats and vegetables with healthy seasonings and sauces instead of fats.

Try squeezing lemon juice on melons, drizzling vinegar on steamed vegetables, adding onion or garlic to meat, baking chicken with barbecue sauce or low-fat Italian dressing, and shaking lemon pepper on chicken. You also can make recipes or egg dishes with two egg whites substituted for each egg yolk.

It may be tempting to go for seconds now that your meals are so heart healthy, but you still need to control portion size.

For example, one serving of pasta (1/2 cup) is approximately the size of a hockey puck, and a serving of meat, chicken or fish (two to three ounces) equates to the size and thickness of a deck of cards and resist the urge to add salt to your food. Healthy adults should have less than about of teaspoon of salt per day.

For more information about heart healthy eating, visit the American Heart Association website at www.heart.org.

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