A month to change your heart: Day 4

The Healthy Change of Heart nutrition program embraces a way of eating known as the Mediterranean Diet, which is rich in fish, vegetables, and fruits and contains fats called monounsaturated fats, in the form of nuts, avocado, fish, olive oil or canola oil. This diet also contains fewer simple carbohydrates (such as starches and sugars) because in some people, a high simple carbohydrate diet raises triglycerides, a harmful blood fat. By following this diet, Mediterranean people have far less heart disease and diabetes and a longer lifespan than Americans. 

The emphasis of this program is to make permanent lifestyle changes. If your current lifestyle consists of grabbing coffee and a muffin as you fly into the office, getting fast food for lunch and dinner comes from a take-out restaurant, then your lifestyle will need to change.  You will be able to eat out in restaurants occasionally, but it will take more planning to keep to your new eating plan. 

Though NOT a weight loss program, a popular side effect of this diet is weight loss due to the elimination of high-calorie fast food, processed foods and an increased intake of fruits, vegetables, beans and other high-volume, low-calorie foods.

The main focus of this diet is to decrease your saturated fat and sugar intake. The first step? Awareness.

You should take the time to learn where the fat is “hidden” in your diet.  Keep detailed food records so that you’ll know how many calories and grams of fat you are eating on a routine basis.  You can analyze your diet using a web-based program, an app on your smartphone, or a good old-fashioned calorie book.  Once your current habits are identified, you will be able to make changes to your diet so that you are eating the Mediterranean way.

Our goal will be to eventually do the following:

  • Eat a minimum of 3 cups of vegetables and 2 pieces of fruit every day
  • Choose whole grains such as barley, quinoa and brown rice as well as 100% whole grain bread and beans.
  • Fresh fruit is your dessert of choice.
  • Keep white flour products to a minimum. Foods such as bagels, white breads, soft and hard pretzels etc. should be replaced by foods containing whole grains and fiber (don’t go by color – many “brown” products are made mostly from white flour. Look for the words “whole wheat flour as the first ingredient).

As you probably noticed, you will be greatly increasing the fiber content of your diet.  While this change is critically important to your health, you need to make it gradually.  Too much fiber, all at once, can lead to unpleasant side effects.   Beans are good for your heart, but…

When choosing the protein portion of your diet, think good, better, best! The BEST choice is that your only source of “meat” should be chicken, turkey and fish. You should keep your consumption of even these animal products to about 4-6 ounces per meal because they also contain saturated fat and cholesterol.  If you are currently consuming red meat five times a week, then limiting your intake to only three times a week is certainly a better choice than what you had been doing.  We are all “a work in progress”.    

Also consider vegetarian sources of protein, such as beans and tofu.  Beans such as pinto, kidney, lentil, and garbanzo contain no cholesterol and are very low in saturated fat, making them perfect for this diet. Egg whites are another great source of protein.  Each egg white contains only 15 calories and 4.5 grams of protein.  Egg yolks are full of cholesterol, which you do not need.

Heart healthy sources of fat are essential to the Mediterranean diet.  The fat found in fish such as salmon and tuna, nuts, avocado, olive and canola oil are great choices with your new lifestyle.  One caution: Be mindful or your portions.  A quarter cup of walnuts are 200 calories  (1 cup of walnuts = 800 calories).

There is so much more to come, but for now, start working on these diet changes and watch your cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and weight begin to decrease. 

On the 4th day of Healthy Change of Heart my doctor said to me:

  1. Heart healthy eating and exercise go together like peanut butter and jelly.  If you are changing your diet, make sure you are changing your exercise.  If you are just starting to exercise – good for you.  Walk or do some form of exercise every day for 10-15 minutes.  If you are a more seasoned exerciser, how can you change it up?  Surprise your muscles with a new workout.
  2. Is stress a major problem? No one stress reduction technique works for everyone.  Tai chi, yoga, meditation, they are all good.  We will be posting videos demonstrating an assortment of techniques.  Find something that works for you. 
  3. Every change you make with the suggestions offered in Healthy Change of Heart is making your heart stronger.  Keep up the good work

 To return to the full calendar, click here.

 Here are a few recipes to get you started:

Chicken and Black Bean Wrap

  1. Sautee one red onion in a frying pan using Pam or other cooking spray.
  2. Add one 12-ounce can of black beans, rinsed well.
  3. Add 8-ounces of cooked, shredded chicken.
  4. Add 6-8 ounces of salsa (mild to hot, your preference)
  5. Heat ingredients together.
  6. Spoon into whole-wheat tortillas.
  7. Add fat-free sharp cheddar cheese if desired.

Weeknight Turkey Breast Chili

Looking for a fast dinner?  This recipe uses ground turkey breast, which is high in protein but very low in fat.  It contains beans, which adds about 6-8 grams of fiber for 1/2 cup and salsa for a little spice.

  • 20-ounce package of Ground Turkey Breast                                    
  • 15-ounce can of black beans                                   
  • 15-ounce jar of salsa

The turkey: Ground turkey breast is more expensive than ground turkey.  The reason is that it is much higher in protein and much lower in fat than regular ground turkey.  The fat content for 4 ounces of ground turkey is 17 grams of fat.  The fat content for 4 ounces of ground turkey breast is 1.5 grams of fat.  Very big difference.

The beans: Dried beans are best but if you want to use the short cut of canned beans, that is perfectly acceptable.  Just open the can, put the beans in a colander and rinse well.  Rinsing will remove more than 50% of the sodium.

Cook the ground turkey breast thoroughly, breaking the meat into small pieces. When cooked, add the rinsed beans and the