Heart-Healthy Cooking

Love may last forever but that Valentine's Day dinner you enjoyed earlier this month probably disappeared before the clock struck ten. Whether you indulged in a romantic chocolate soufflé with your partner or shared the love at a dinner party with friends, it's not too late to make a meal that's all about your heart. February is American Heart Month, and you can celebrate by cooking your way to a healthier life.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. Even if you are not currently experiencing cardiovascular issues like high blood pressure or high cholesterol, it's always a good idea to take care of your heart. Cooking is a great way to be proactive about your cardiovascular health because it lets you take control of the ingredients you consume.

As a wellness advisor, I always tell patients who have experienced stroke or other heart issues to avoid foods that contain trans fats and saturated fats. These fats are most commonly found in processed foods like granola bars and crackers, so when you cook for yourself it's easier to make sure you're steering clear of them.

An simple way to cut out those unhealthy fats is to use oils that are high in Omega 3's (like extra virgin olive oil or almond oil) instead of butter. If you suffer from high cholesterol, you're at a higher risk for stroke and heart disease, and you may also want to think about limiting your intake of meats and dairy products. Instead, focus your diet on vegetables, lean-proteins, grains, and fruit.

[pullquote:left]Heart-healthy cooking doesn't have to be all about restrictions. One of the best Valentine's Day gifts (in my book) is dark chocolate, which has shown in numerous studies to improve blood flow to the heart and reduce blood pressure. Of course, the key to unlocking the health benefits of dark chocolate is to eat it in moderation, but there's certainly no need to feel guilty if you indulged in some cacao hearts earlier this mo nth.

If your Valentine's Day sweet tooth is still strong, try whipping up a dessert recipe that's heart-healthy. One of my favorite treats growing up was always brownies, and, as an adult who is conscious of my heart's health, I still make them today. The only difference is that I use black beans instead of butter; they give the brownies a perfect consistency and provide health benefits for your heart.

Cooking is the perfect way to involve your partner in your heart healthy goals. If you like staying in and cooking a healthy meal together, try taking a romantic walk together after your dinner. A recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that higher amounts of sitting time are associated with a higher risk of heart disease. Long periods of sedentary time can be harmful even for those who regularly work out. 

Why not celebrate American Heart Month by doing something good for your heart?

Lisa Gorman, RN, is passionate about wellness. A registered nurse with 25 years of health care experience, Lisa believes proper nutrition, stress relief, and life balance are vital to good health. In her role as director of the St. Joseph Health Wellness Corner in Irvine, Lisa helps employees reach optimum health. She has worked in wellness and prevention for more than 10 years and is a certified yoga teacher/therapist.