Heart-Healthy Cooking Tips for All Types of Food
“A lot of my patients initially resist changing their eating habits because they’ve grown up cooking a certain way and they can’t imagine doing anything differently,” says Malissa Wood, MD, co-director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center Corrigan Women’s Heart Health Program in Boston. “The reality is, by just making a few smart substitutions, they can serve virtually the same dishes but cut back dramatically on saturated fat and sodium.”
1. Boil or bake instead of fry. “Frying foods in heavy amounts of oil makes even a relatively healthy dish like high-ﬁber plantains unhealthy,” says Melanie Pearsall, RD, a senior clinical nutritionist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “Boiling plantains instead cuts the calories and fat in half. If you bake empanadas rather than fry them, you get only about a third of the calories and fat.”
2. Make the same dish with leaner protein. “My Hispanic clients don’t realize that they can make empanadas with 93 percent lean ground beef, or even shredded chicken, and it’ll taste pretty much the same since they’re using all the same spices,” says Pearsall. “I tell my Italian patients they can still make their meatballs, but to substitute egg whites for eggs, which work just as well.”
3. Make your own bread crumbs. These are a staple of many ethnic foods, but they’re high in salt. “Instead of using the ready-made bread crumbs, take your leftover day-old bread, grind it up, and toss in a teaspoon or two of herbs like oregano and rosemary,” recommends Pearsall. You can also add in ground-up almonds, which are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and provide extra protein.
4. Practice portion control. “A lot of my Middle Eastern patients eat from big communal plates at family gatherings, so they have no idea how much they’re really eating,” says Pearsall. “When you use your own plate, you can control portion sizes.” Remember: One serving of meat should be no bigger than a deck of cards, one serving of bread about the size of a cassette tape, a serving of hummus no bigger than a golf ball. Keeping those visuals in mind should help you cut back.
5. Stock up on staples. No matter what your background, being prepared is the best way to avoid reaching for the takeout menus or heading to a drive-thru. “Many women tell me that they don’t have the time or money to cook any differently, but I explain to them that they can boil rice in 10 minutes, pop a bag of frozen vegetables in the microwave, and top everything with a can of beans and add some spices. In 15 minutes, they have a huge meal of rice, beans and vegetables, and it’s no more expensive than fast food,” says Noel Bairey Merz, MD, medical director of the Women’s Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Be sure to also wear red this Friday as part of “The Heart Truth” message to show your support for women’s heart disease awareness. How do you keep your heart healthy? (Nudge, nudge, in addition to diet, exercise does wonders!) —Jenn