Be smart with your heart on Valentine's Day

Registered dietitian Becky Varner shares heart-smart recipes for Valentine's Day.
BY BECKY VARNER beckyvarner@cox.net Published: February 13, 2013

Celebrate American Heart Month and Valentine's Day by having a heart-smart meal with your sweetheart.

A healthful diet and lifestyle can reduce the risk of heart disease. According to data provided in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines for Americans in 2010, 81.1 million Americans — 37 percent of the population — have cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease includes diseases of the heart and diseases of the blood vessel system (arteries, capillaries, veins) within a person's entire body. The major risk factors for heart disease are high levels of blood cholesterol and other lipids, type 2 diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), metabolic syndrome, overweight and obesity, physical inactivity and tobacco use. Heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States.

This is a great time to start making healthier food choices as a step to reduce the risk of heart disease. How about a heart healthy Valentine's Day meal for that special person in your life?

Implementing food preparation guidelines conducive to heart health is a great step for a heart healthy diet. One way to reduce the sodium and fat intake is to season foods with ingredients such as herbs, spices, vinegars and citrus and other fruit juices instead of salt (which is high in sodium) and added fats.

Herbs grow in temperate climates and are the fragrant leaves of plants. A few examples of commonly used fresh herbs are basil, chives, dill, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary and thyme. Dried forms of the herbs can be whole, crushed or ground.

Spices grow in tropical areas and come from the bark, buds, fruit, roots, seeds or stems of the plant. A few commonly used spices include cinnamon, cloves, mustard seeds, black pepper and paprika. Seasoning blends may be mixtures of herbs and spices. Some plants supply both the herb and spice.

There are a variety of vinegars available each having certain characteristics. Balsamic vinegars are often used as an intense sauce or condiment on finished dishes, in marinades, dressings and cooked in recipes. Cider vinegar, also called apple cider vinegar, is a full-bodied vinegar and frequently used in pickling. Distilled white vinegar is often used in pickling when no color is preferred. Herb vinegars are vinegars, often cider or wine vinegar to which herbs such as tarragon or rosemary are added. Malt vinegar is most often used as a condiment, traditionally with fish and chips. Rice vinegar is weaker in acid content and milder than most vinegar. Sherry vinegar is much like a cross between balsamic and red wine vinegar. The three most common types of wine vinegar are red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar and Champagne vinegar. Red wine vinegar is the strongest in flavor of wine vinegars and Champagne vinegar is the weakest. All are excellent for marinades or in vinaigrettes.

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Balsamic Pork Chops

with Rosemary

Makes 4 servings

1 pound lean pork chops, ½-inch thick (4 chops)

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary or ½ teaspoon dried rosemary

½ teaspoon pepper

½ tablespoon minced garlic

2 cups reduced sodium chicken broth, divided

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

• Combine oil, rosemary, pepper and garlic in a medium size bowl and stir to mix.

• Place pork chops in bowl and turn in oil mixture several times to coat the chops.

• Spray a large skillet with a nonstick cooking spray. Place on burner and turn heat to medium.

• When skillet is hot add chops and cook 2 minutes to brown. Turn chops and cook another 2 minutes to brown other side.

• Add 1 cup chicken broth to skillet and cover. Cook 6 to 7 minutes. Turn chops and cook about 10 more minutes until chops are done. Remove from skillet and poor remaining 1 cup of broth and balsamic vinegar in skillet. Turn burner to high and boil about 8 to 10 minutes until liquid begins to thicken to make glaze. Return chops to skillet and turn in glaze to coat both sides of chops. When chops are hot remove and serve immediately.

Nutrition Information: This recipe makes 4 servings. Each serving contains approximately 294 calories, 14 grams fat and 363 mg sodium.

Poached Pears with Pecans Dessert

Makes 4 servings

4 medium pears

2 cups 100% apple juice

2 tablespoons chopped pecans

• Wash and dry pears. If you have an apple corer, insert into the bottom of each pear to within 1 inch of the stem end. Twist to cut around the core and slowly pull the corer out of the pear to remove the core. If you do not have a corer just cut each pear in half lengthwise and remove the core with a sharp knife or vegetable peeler starting at the bottom of the pear.

• Pour apple juice in large skillet and place pears cut side down in skillet. Turn heat to medium and bring to a gentle simmer.

• Cover and cook 10 to 12 minutes until pears are the desired degree of tenderness. They should still be firm enough to hold their shape.

• Remove pears from skillet and place on a plate. Cover with skillet lid to keep warm.

• Bring apple juice to a hard boil to reduce liquid. Boil until sauce is a thick but pourable consistency.

• Place two pear halves on each of 4 dessert plates. Divide ½ tablespoon pecans in the center of each of the two pear halves on each plate. Drizzle the sauce over each dessert and serve immediately.

Nutrition Information: This recipe makes 4 servings. Each serving contains approximately 209 calories, 6 grams fat and 8 mg sodium.

Becky Teaches

• Heart Healthy Learn with Lunch — Roasted Butternut Squash Soup Appetizer, Glazed Pork Chops and Sesame Slaw, at noon Tuesday in the Buy For Less at 10011 SE 15 in Midwest City; at noon Feb. 26 in the Buy For Less at 2500 N Pennsylvania Ave.

• Heart Healthy Learn with Brunch — Glazed Pork Chops and Roasted Sweet Potato Medallions, at 9:30 a.m. Feb. 20 at Uptown Grocery Co., 1230 W Covell in Edmond.

Class size is limited, call 302-6273, ext. 332, for reservations.

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