Becky Varner: February's heart-healthy recipes

Nutritionist Becky Varner discusses matters of the heart, which are under the spotlight each February.
BY BECKY VARNER Modified: February 10, 2014 at 3:25 pm •  Published: February 11, 2014
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February has been celebrated as American Heart Month since 1963, to urge Americans to join the battle against heart disease. Since 2004, February also has been the signature month for the American Heart Association's Go Red For Women campaign, with the message that heart disease is not only a man's problem.

Of course, February is also the home of Valentine's Day, so it's a perfect time to consider matters of the heart, both literally and figuratively.

Heart disease kills an estimated 630,000 Americans every year. It continues to be the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. The most common type of heart disease in our country is coronary artery disease. This occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. It can lead to a heart attack.

The good news is that we can reduce the risk of heart disease with a healthy diet and lifestyle.

The American Heart Association has identified seven health and behavior factors that affect health and quality of life. These are known as “Life's Simple 7” and can add years to life. They are:

• Stop smoking.

• Maintain a healthy weight.

• Engage in regular physical activity.

• Eat a healthy diet.

• Manage blood pressure.

• Take charge of cholesterol.

• Keep blood sugar, or glucose, at healthy levels.

There are only a few risk factors such as age, gender and family history that can't be controlled. High cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity can be prevented or controlled with lifestyle changes and/or medication prescribed by your physician.

A healthy meal starts with half of the plate being fruits and vegetables, adding some lean protein, a serving of grain (half of the grains should be whole grains) and some fat-free or low-fat dairy.

Practicing heart-healthy cooking guidelines is a great place to start. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers the following tips:

• Select lean cuts of beef and pork, especially cuts with “loin” or “round” in their name.

• Remove all visible fat from meat before cooking. Take the skin off chicken or turkey before eating it.

• Cut back on processed meats high in saturated fat, such as hot dogs, salami and bacon.

• Bake, broil, roast, stew or stir-fry lean meats, fish or poultry. Drain the fat off cooked ground meat.

• Eat fish regularly. Try different ways of cooking such as baking, broiling, grilling and poaching to add variety.

• Include plant foods as sources of protein, including soybeans, pinto beans, lentils and nuts.

• Replace higher-fat cheeses with lower-fat options such as reduced-fat feta and part-skim mozzarella.

• Thicken sauces with evaporated fat-free milk instead of whole milk.

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If You Go

Healthy cooking class offered

Becky Varner will teach a healthy cooking class featuring pork chops with apple Dijon gravy and spinach salad with walnuts and pear vinaigrette at noon Tuesday at the Buy For Less at 3501 Northwest Expressway; at noon Feb. 18 at the Buy For Less at 10011 SE 15 in Midwest City; and at 9:30 a.m. Feb. 19 at Uptown Grocery Co., 1230 W Covell Road in Edmond. Class size is limited. Call 302-6273, ext. 332, for reservations.

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