A recipe for better heart healthA heart-healthy eating plan can help you manage your blood cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. The simple cooking tips below will help you prepare tasty, heart-healthy meals that could help improve your cholesterol levels by reducing excess saturated fat and trans fat. You can also look out for the Heart-Check mark on products at your grocery store. It’s a simple tool to help you eat healthier. When you see it, you can be confident that a product aligns with the American Heart Association’s recommendations for an overall healthy eating pattern.
Reduce saturated fat in meat and poultry
The American Heart Association recommends a diet that emphasizes fish and poultry and limits red meat. The amount of saturated fat in meats can vary widely, depending on the cut and how it’s prepared.
Here are some ways to reduce the saturated fat in meat:
- Select lean cuts of meat with minimal visible fat. Lean beef cuts include the round, chuck, sirloin or loin. Lean pork cuts include the tenderloin or loin chop. Lean lamb cuts come from the leg, arm and loin.
- Buy “choice” or “select” grades rather than “prime.” Select lean or extra lean ground beef.
- Trim all visible fat from meat before cooking.
- Broil rather than pan-fry meats such as hamburger, lamb chops, pork chops and steak.
- Use a rack to drain off fat when broiling, roasting or baking. Instead of basting with drippings, keep meat moist with wine, fruit juices or a heart-healthy oil-based marinade.
- Cook a day ahead of time. Stews, boiled meat, soup stock or other dishes in which fat cooks into the liquid can be refrigerated. Later, remove the hardened fat from the top.
- When a recipe calls for browning the meat first, try browning it under the broiler instead of in a pan.
- Eat chicken and turkey rather than duck and goose, which are usually higher in fat. Choose white meat most often when eating poultry.
- Remove the skin from chicken or turkey before cooking. If your poultry dries out too much, first try basting with wine, fruit juices or a heart-healthy oil-based marinade. Or leave the skin on for cooking and then remove it before eating.
- Limit processed meats such as sausage, bologna, salami and hot dogs. Many processed meats – even those with “reduced fat” labels – are high in calories and saturated fat. Such foods are often high in sodium, too. Read labels carefully and eat processed meats only occasionally.
Eat more fish
Fish can be fatty or lean, but it’s still low in saturated fat. Eat at least 8 ounces of non-fried fish each week. Choose oily fish such as salmon, trout and herring, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Prepare fish baked, broiled, grilled or boiled rather than breaded and fried, and without added salt, saturated fat or trans fat. Non-fried fish and shellfish, such as shrimp, crab and lobster, are low in saturated fat and are a healthy alternative to many cuts of meat and poultry.
Research has shown the health benefits of eating seafood rich in omega-3 fatty acids, especially when it replaces less healthy proteins that are high in saturated fat and low in unsaturated fat. Including seafood high in omega-3 fatty acids as part of a heart-healthy diet can help reduce the risk of heart failure, coronary heart disease, cardiac arrest and the most common type of stroke (ischemic).
Eat less meat
Try meatless meals featuring vegetables or beans. For example, think eggplant lasagna, or instead of a burger, consider a big grilled portobello mushroom on a bun. Maybe substitute low-sodium beans for beans-n-franks. Or treat meat as a sparingly used ingredient, added mainly for flavor in casseroles, stews, low-sodium soups and spaghetti.
Cook fresh vegetables the heart-healthy way
Try cooking vegetables in a tiny bit of vegetable oil and add a little water during cooking, if needed. (Or use a vegetable oil spray.) Just one or two teaspoons of oil is enough for a package of plain frozen vegetables that serves four. Place the vegetables in a skillet with a tight cover and cook them over very low heat until done.
Add herbs and spices to make vegetables even tastier. (It’s a healthier choice than opting for pre-packaged vegetables with heavy sauce or seasonings.) For example, these combinations add subtle and surprising flavors:
- Rosemary with peas, cauliflower and squash
- Oregano with zucchini
- Dill with green beans
- Marjoram with Brussels sprouts, carrots and spinach
- Basil with tomatoes
Start with a small quantity of herbs and spices (1/8 to 1/2 teaspoon for a package of frozen vegetables), then let your family’s feedback be your guide. Chopped parsley and chives, sprinkled on just before serving, can also enhance the flavor of many vegetables.
Use liquid vegetable oils in place of solid fats
Liquid vegetable oils such as canola, safflower, sunflower, soybean and olive oil can often be used instead of solid fats, such as butter, lard or shortening. If you must use margarine, try the soft or liquid kind.
Use a little liquid oil to:
- Pan-fry fish and poultry.
- Sauté vegetables.
- Make cream sauces and soups using low-fat or fat-free milk.
- Add to whipped or scalloped potatoes using low-fat or fat-free milk.
- Brown rice for Spanish, curried or stir-fried rice.
- Cook dehydrated potatoes and other prepared foods that call for fat to be added.
- Make pancakes or waffles.
Puree fruits and veggies for baking
Pureed fruits or vegetables can be used in place of oil in muffin, cookie, cake and snack bar recipes to give your treats an extra healthy boost. For many recipes, use the specified amount of puree instead of oil. Check the mix’s package or your cookbook’s substitutions page for other conversions. You can:
- Use applesauce in spice muffins or oatmeal cookies.
- Include bananas in breads and muffins.
- Try zucchini in brownies.
Lower dairy fats
Low-fat (1%) or fat-free (skim) milk can be used in many recipes in place of whole milk or half-and-half. (Some dishes, such as puddings, may result in a softer set.)
When it comes to cheeses used in recipes, you can substitute low-fat, low-sodium cottage cheese, part-skim milk mozzarella (or ricotta) cheese, and other low-fat, low-sodium cheeses with little or no change in consistency.
Sauces and gravies
Let your cooking liquid cool, then remove the hardened fat before making gravy. Or use a fat separator to pour off the good liquid from cooking stock, leaving the fat behind.
Increase fiber and whole grains
Consider these heart-smart choices:
- Toast and crush (or cube) fiber-rich whole-grain bread to make breadcrumbs, stuffing or croutons.
- Replace the breadcrumbs in your meatloaf with uncooked oatmeal.
- Serve whole fruit at breakfast in place of juice.
- Use brown rice instead of white rice and try whole grain pasta.
- Add lots of colorful veggies to your salad – carrots, broccoli and cauliflower are high in fiber and give your salad a delicious crunch.