With February being ‘American Heart Month,’ it’s a good time to be reminded that heart disease, the number one killer of both men and women in the US, can best be prevented when a heart healthy diet is implemented from childhood on. Focusing on creating heart healthy meals that appeal to your entire family can be a great way to improve not just your own health, but also the future health of your entire household. While you probably think the idea of your family eating heart healthy sounds great, you are most likely concerned that heart healthy dishes will taste bland or fail to appeal to picky palates. And these concerns are valid. If your family isn’t enjoying the food being served, it will be much harder for any of you to stay on track with your heart health goals. But I have good news for you – eating heart healthy does not have to be time consuming, confusing, or tasteless! You can make easy, nutritious, on-the-go meals that appeal to your whole family. In just four simple steps, you can be serving up heart healthy meals that appeal to even the most selective taste buds in just minutes:
Photo credit: Flatout
Make produce a staple at every meal
It goes without saying that fruits and vegetables provide a variety of nutrients to the diet. However, just how large an impact produce has on heart disease is often underestimated. These foods are rich in soluble fiber, which helps your body eliminate artery hardening LDL cholesterol by binding cholesterol-rich bile acids in your digestive system so you literally “flush” cholesterol away. In addition, produce delivers minerals like potassium, magnesium and calcium that help keep blood pressure lower and healthier. However, on average, less than 1 in 3 people get two or more servings of fruits & vegetables each day. Research out of Japan found that by simply upping your intake can help to reduce your risk of heart disease or stroke by as much as 30%!
By following just one simple rule, you can significantly increase your intake with little effort: Fill your plate half way with produce at each meal. That’s it! It really is that simple. Get half of that plate filled by mixing stir-fried vegetables with starchy dishes like pasta and rice or roll up a wrap sandwich with a mix of protein along with raw or cooked vegetables. Add a cup of vegetable soup or a side salad to a meal. And try finishing your meal with fruit for dessert. With a few simple tweaks, you can easily exceed your daily produce goals.
Pack in the whole grains
Whole grains can offer tremendous health benefits, yet the average person eats just one serving per day. By making sure to eat at least three servings of whole grains per day, you can help to reduce your risk of heart disease by as much as 30%. In addition, diets rich in whole grains have been associated with a reduction in unhealthy LDL cholesterol levels and waist circumference, which when elevated can be a major risk factor for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Try fitting in more whole grains each day with easy swaps such as:
- Select 100% whole grain cereal over sugary options
- Choose brown rice over white rice
- Select whole grain breads and wraps over refined versions such as the line of Flatout Flatbread products
- Enjoy whole grain pastas such as those made with whole wheat, bean, and quinoa flour over white flour options
Fill up on fiber
Fiber offers a variety of health benefits from helping to reduce cholesterol levels to promoting the maintained of a healthy body weight. Aiming for 25-35 grams of fiber per day has been associated with improved health outcomes. But if you are like many individuals, you may be falling short of this goal. Some of the best dietary sources of fiber include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. However, even within these categories, some foods significantly outweigh others in fiber content. One example is in the bread/wraps category. An average whole grain bread or wrap may contain 2 to 3 grams of fiber. However, when you choose a product such as Flatout Flatbread Light Original or Flatout Flatbread Multigrain with Flax you are getting 8 grams of fiber per serving. That’s almost one third of your entire daily fiber needs in just one serving of Flatout Flatbread. If you are looking for a simple and great tasting way to boost your family’s fiber intake, keeping Flatout bread on hand can be a very valuable staple.
Make meal prep a breeze
Sure, your house can be packed full of produce, whole grains, and fiber, but if you don’t have time to pull a meal together (or are creating meals that you don’t enjoy), you aren’t going to gain the health benefits. To maximize heart health, keep meal planning as simple as possible. Start by pulling together seven nutritious recipes your whole loves. Then simplify meal planning by creating a calendar listing what recipes you will make which days. My favorite recommendation for easy meal plan is to plan one recipe every two to three days. When making the recipe, double or triple the recipe to yield two to three days worth of meals. This way, you are only preparing and cooking every two to three days while setting yourself up to have delicious, nutritious home cooked meals every day of the week. Once you have your calendar, it’s easy to create a shopping list for the week, stock up, and get started. For some easy recipes that can be made in a snap, be sure to check out the Flatout recipe resource here.
Disclosure: This post has been sponsored by Flatout Flatbread. All opinions are my own.
- Sauvaget, C, et al. Vegetable and Fruit Intake and Stroke Mortality in the Hiroshima/Nagasaki Life Span Study. Stroke. 2003;34:2355-2360. http://stroke.ahajournals.org/content/34/10/2355.full.pdf
- Liu S, Stampfer MJ, Hu FB, Giovannucci E, Rimm E, Manson JE, Hennekens CH, Willett WC. Whole-grain consumption and risk of coronary heart disease: results from the Nurses’ Health Study.Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;70(3):412-9.
- Jensen MK, Koh-Banarjee P, Hu FB, Franz MJ, Sampson L, Gronbaek M, Rimm EB. Intake of whole grains, bran, and germ risk of coronary heart disease among men.Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Dec;80(6):1492-9.
- Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism. 2014 Feb 12:1-10 (Mostad et al.)