Heart Healthy Cooking No matter how much time you have or don't have for cooking, you can make heart-healthy meals by following these suggestions.Heart-healthy cooking focuses on lowering your intake of fat, especially saturated and trans fats. It also includes limiting salt while upping fibre and making sure you eat four to 10 servings of vegetables and fruit a day.What's on your plate?Start by changing the proportions of your plate so that protein sources such as meat and fish are no longer the main attractions. Instead, fill about half of the plate with a colourful variety of vegetables, a quarter of the plate with whole grains such as brown rice and 100% whole-grain bread. Fish, poultry, lean meat or legumes (chickpeas, lentils, tofu) should make up the remaining one-quarter of the plate.Slash the fatTrim all visible fat from meat and take the skin off poultry and fish to reduce fat and calories. Instead of pan-frying or deep-frying, try baking, broiling, grilling or roasting (on a rack, so fat can drip away). Fish may be poached in water, sodium-reduced tomato juice or lower-fat milk. To sauté, use a non-stick pan or a small amount of heart-healthy olive or canola oil.Double upIf you're sautéeing, steaming or boiling a vegetable, it's just as easy to cook two or more in the same pot or pan. If you're making brown rice, cook twice the amount you need so you'll have enough for another meal.Try smart-switchingSubstituting healthy ingredients for less healthy ones won't take any more time and may even save you money. Use plain, lower-fat yogurt instead of sour cream, lower-fat cheese instead of the full-fat type, and evaporated skim milk instead of cream. Cook whole-wheat pasta instead of white. Replace some of the white flour in a recipe with 100% whole-wheat flour.Shake the salt habitInstead of salt, spice things up with fresh or dried herbs. Try dill with fish, paprika with chicken or ginger with beef. Lightly sautéed garlic, onions and sweet red peppers add flavour as well as assorted nutrients that promote good health. Get heart-healthy recipe ideas from our recipe file.Eating TogetherStudies show that families who sit down to regular meals together tend to eat better. Like most Canadians, you're probably juggling work and family life, leaving little time to cook and eat together. Here are some ways to plan ahead to make your meals heart healthy.Obstacle: I don't have time to cookWe all have days when we just can't get home in time to make meals. Here are some tips to overcome time crunches.Tip 1. Prepare foods ahead of time. While making one meal, slice extra onions, dice extra peppers, cook extra brown rice or whole-wheat noodles and marinate meat so that they're ready to use for the next night's meal.Tip 2. Take short cuts. Use pre-cut vegetables, bagged salads, pre-sliced meat and pre-grated cheese.Tip 3. Make double batches of your favourite recipes on weekends and freeze them. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight, heat and serve for an instant supper during the busy week.Tip 4. While roasting one meal in the oven, throw in some sweet potatoes, beets and squash in another roasting pan. When cooked, cool and store the roasted vegetables in the fridge for next night's meal.Tip 5. Cook stews, soups and casseroles in a crock pot. The food will stay heated and be ready to eat when family members arrive home.Quick and healthy meal ideasMix a jar of pasta sauce (some come with six vegetables) with fresh, ready-made whole-wheat, meat-filled ravioli.
Cooking time for ravioli: 5 minutes Stir-fry onions, celery, broccoli with fresh, store-bought BBQ chicken, diced. Serve on whole-wheat couscous.
Cooking time for the stir-fry: 15 minutes.
Cooking time for couscous: 5 minutes. Heat ready-made, cooked pork roast in microwave and serve with fresh salad of red-leaf lettuce and tomato.
Cooking time for pork roast: 10 minutes in microwave.
Obstacle: We don't eat meals togetherChildren these days have hectic schedules from soccer practice and dance classes to ice skating and guitar lessons. Here are some ways to work around a busy schedule so that you can eat meals together more often.Tip 1. Plan dinner around the day's schedule. On activity nights, cook a casserole in the crock pot (started in the morning), which will be ready when everyone gets home. Take healthy snacks such as single-serve yogurts, cottage cheese, cheese sticks, homemade mini oatmeal muffins, pre-cut vegetables and fruit to calm the munchies before dinner. Tip 2. Set menu themes to encourage everyone to be home for the meal. Spaghetti and meatball Tuesdays, home-made pizza Fridays, Sunday pancake brunches are just some ideas.Tip 3. Let each member of your family take turns choosing their favourite recipe for dinner. Get children involved in the cooking. If they make it, they're more likely to eat it!Tip 4. Plan family picnics and outings so that you can all sit down and eat together. Take this opportunity to catch up on the day's events and news with the whole family.Tip 5. Reassess your family's schedule. If you're out most nights of the week, maybe cutting back on one or two activities will allow you to spend more time eating and being together.Eating outCanadians, it seems, love to eat out often. By making wise choices, you may not only treat yourself to some special dishes, but you also ensure that your restaurant meals fit into your overall heart-healthy eating plan.When eating out, you're still in charge of what you eat even though you're not doing the cooking. More and more restaurants today are happy to accommodate individual preferences, so feel free to ask questions about how a dish is cooked or to make requests, such as asking for salad dressing on the side or having a baked potato instead of French fries. (You'll still want to avoid loading up your potato with sour cream, butter and bacon bits.) A steady diet of excess fat, calories and salt may increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.Many restaurant chains now post nutrition information on menus or on their websites consistent with the Nutrition Facts table on packaged foods.AppetizersIf you're going out for dinner, make sure you eat lunch or you may be too hungry to make healthy choices. At the restaurant, opt for a whole-grain offering from the breadbasket as opposed to higher-fat, buttery garlic bread. Appetizers tend to be very high in fat and calories, so choose a vegetable-based soup or a dark, leafy green salad with dressing on the side, instead of the deep-fried calamari or the creamy crab dip.Heart-healthy choicesWhen you see the words baked, barbecued, broiled, char broiled, grilled, poached, roasted, steamed or stir-fried, it most likely means the food is cooked with little or no fat and therefore a healthy choice.Take a passWhen you see the words Alfredo sauce, au gratin, cheese sauce, battered, breaded, buttered, creamed, crispy, deep-fried, en croute, fried, hollandaise, pan-fried, pastry, prime, rich, sauteed, scalloped, gravy, mayonnaise, thick sauce, it usually means that the food is higher in fat and calories.Similarly, foods that are pickled, smoked, or are served with soy sauce mean that the food is higher in sodium. (Ask for sodium-reduced soy sauce.)Portion sizesPortion sizes in restaurants are often large, so share or take half of your meal home for tomorrow’s lunch or dinner.DessertsKeep dessert light and simple, such as fresh fruit with sherbet. If you can't resist a rich dessert, indulge occasionally or share it with your tablemates.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is one of the most important things you can do to protect your health. In fact, up to 80 per cent of premature heart disease and stroke can be prevented through your life choices and habits, such as eating a healthy diet and being physically active.A healthy diet can help lower your risk of heart disease and stroke by:
improving your cholesterol levels
reducing your blood pressure
helping you manage your body weight
controlling your blood sugar.
What does a healthy, balanced diet look like?A healthy diet is made up mostly of whole or natural foods. We use the words whole and natural to refer to foods that have not been highly processed.A healthy diet includes:1. Eating lots of vegetables and fruit.This is one of the most important diet habits. Vegetables and fruit are packed with nutrients (antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibre) and help you maintain a healthy weight by keeping you full longer.Aim for 7-10 servings of vegetables and fruit every day.2. Choosing whole grain foods more often.Whole grain foods include whole grain bread and crackers, brown or wild rice, quinoa, oatmeal and hulled barley. They are prepared using the entire grain. Whole grain foods have fibre, protein and B vitamins to help you stay healthy and full longer.Choose whole grain options instead of processed or refined grains like white bread and pasta.3. Eating a variety of foods that provide protein.Foods with protein include fish, beans and lentils, tofu, dairy products and lean meat. Protein helps build and maintain bones, muscles and skin.Eat protein every day.Try to eat at least two servings of fish each week, and find recipes with beans, lentils and tofu for variety in your diet.Dairy products are a great source of protein. Choose lower fat, unflavoured options.4. Avoid highly processed foods.Highly processed foods are foods that are changed from their original food source and have many added ingredients. During processing, often important nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fiber are removed while salt and sugar are added. Examples of processed food include: hot dogs, chips, cookies, frozen pizzas, deli meats, white rice and white bread.Some minimally processed foods are okay. These are foods that are slightly changed in some way but contain few industrially made additives. Minimally processed foods keep almost all of their essential nutrients. Some examples are: bagged salad, frozen vegetables and fruit, eggs, milk, cheese, flour, brown rice, oil and dried herbs. We are not referring to these minimally processed foods when we are advising you not to eat processed foods.5. Watch out for sugar-sweetened beverages.Sugar-sweetened beverages are a large contributor to weight gain. It is easy to drink empty calories without realizing.Drink safe drinking water when you are thirsty, or choose unsweetened milk, coffee or tea. Sugar-sweetened beverages, including energy drinks, fruit drinks, soft drinks and flavored coffees include tons of added sugar. These drinks often offer no nutrition and have a negative impact on your health.100% fruit juice is considered a sugar-sweetened beverage, and has almost as much added sugar as a soft drink. Reach for the whole fruit and drink water instead.Where fresh drinking water is not readily available, stay hydrated with coffee, tea, unsweetened low fat milk, and previously boiled water.Top 5 tips from the expertsPrepare most of your meals at home using whole or minimally processed foods. Choose from a variety of different proteins to keep things interesting. Using catchy names for each day can help you plan. Try “Meatless Monday” with this meatless recipe.Make an eating plan each week – this is the key to fast, easy meal preparation. Check out our shopping tips here.Choose recipes with plenty of vegetables and fruit. Your goal is to fill half your plate with vegetables and fruit at every meal. Choose brightly coloured fruits and vegetables each day, especially orange and dark green vegetables (click here for more information ). Frozen or canned unsweetened fruits and vegetables are a perfect alternative to fresh produce. Try this recipe.Avoid sugary drinks and drink safe drinking water more often. Low fat, unsweetened milk is also a good way to stay hydrated. Keep a reusable water bottle in your purse or car so you can fill up wherever you are going.Eat smaller meals more often. Eat at least three meals a day with snacks in between. When you wait too long to eat you are more likely to make unhealthy food choices. Keep easy-to-eat snacks (like this) in your purse or bag for emergencies.
We’ve all heard that protein is an essential part of a healthy diet. But it can be tricky to understand what protein is, what foods contain it and how much of it we need.Basic facts about proteinProtein is one of three macronutrients that give us calories, or energy. The other two macronutrients are fats and carbohydrates. Protein is found in animal products – like fish, poultry, meat and dairy – as well as nuts, legumes and some grains. We need to eat protein every day.Most of us know that protein is essential for building muscle, but it’s also vital to your brain and heart.Protein provides the amino acids that make up our neurotransmitters, which carry signals from brain cell to brain cell. If you don’t get enough protein in your diet, your memory and mental agility can decrease.Studies suggest that eating proteins like fish, beans, poultry, nuts and low-fat dairy, rather than high-fat meats, helps prevent heart disease.Types of protein and the importance of varietyYou can get protein from many different sources, like meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, beans, lentils, tofu and some grains. And it’s healthy to try to get your dietary protein from a variety of different sources, not, for instance, always chicken or always meat.Tips for choosing proteinWhen choosing protein, variety is important. Try to eat at least two servings of fish each week and include beans, lentils and tofu as a regular component of your diet. Choose lean meats and keep your portion sizes to about 4 oz (the size of the palm of your hand).Some examples of foods with protein are:
beans and lentils
nuts (eat a variety of nuts for the most benefit)
lower-fat dairy and alternatives (choose from a variety of dairy products including yogurt, milk or fortified soy beverage, cottage cheese and low-fat cheese)
lean meat and game, poultry and fish.
When choosing foods with protein, keep these tips in mind:
Lentils are high in protein and are economical They come dried or canned: dried lentils require just 15-35 minutes to cook. When using canned lentils, be sure to drain and rinse them before adding to your recipe.
Beans are also economical and come dried or canned. Dried beans need to be soaked for a long time (4-8 hours) and then cooked for 1.5-2 hours. As with lentils, drain and rinse beans them before using.
Beans and lentils are perfect for stews, soups, salads, and dips like hummus*Nuts make a great snack or addition to salad. One serving is ¼ cup (50 mL).
Plain Greek yogurt is a great addition to breakfast because it has more protein per serving than plain yogurt. Just mix it with fresh or frozen fruit and top it with granola or raw oatmeal.
When preparing lean meats and poultry, take the skin off and trim any excess fat before cooking. When preparing fish, stick to smaller, non- predatory fish such as pickerel and mackerel. Try to eat a variety of different kinds of fish. (Make this easy by choosing differently coloured fish). Fish can be expensive, but you can save money by buying in bulk and cutting and freezing portions for up to six months.
Homemade hummus is preferred when available. When buying hummus at the grocery store, look for plain hummus, which will have less salt then flavoured varieties.
Heart and Stroke encourages Canadians to eat a healthy diet, control salt intake, and be physically active to lower blood pressure. The latest results from the DASH study – Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension – has confirmed these recommendations, providing more encouragement for people to choose a healthier diet. Research has shown that following a plan for healthy eating can reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure and lower already elevated blood pressure.What are the DASH studies?The DASH Diet is based on two studies, DASH and DASH-Sodium, that looked at ways of reducing blood pressure through changes in diet. In the DASH study, people were given one of three eating plans: a plan similar in nutrients to what most North Americans eat; the same plan but with extra vegetables and fruit; or the DASH diet, which is rich in vegetables, fruit and low-fat dairy foods and lower in saturated fat, total fat and cholesterol.The results were compelling. The diet higher in vegetables and fruit and the DASH diet both reduced blood pressure. The DASH diet had the greatest effect on blood pressure, lowering levels within two weeks of starting the plan. Not only was blood pressure reduced, but total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad cholesterol" were lower, too.In the DASH-Sodium study, participants were given one of three sodium plans: the DASH diet with 3,300 mg of sodium per day (a normal amount for many North Americans); 2,300 mg of sodium (a moderately restricted amount); or 1,500 mg of sodium (a more restricted amount, about 2/3 of a teaspoon of salt). Blood pressure was lower for everyone on the DASH diet. However, the less salt people consumed, the greater the decrease in blood pressure. People who already had high blood pressure had the largest decrease in blood pressure.Why is a healthy blood pressure important?High blood pressure causes the heart to work harder to pump nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood to the body. The arteries that deliver the blood become scarred and less elastic. Although these changes happen to everyone as they age, they happen more quickly in people with high blood pressure. As the arteries stiffen, the heart has to work even harder, causing the heart muscle to become thicker, weaker and less able to pump blood. When high blood pressure damages arteries, they are not able to deliver enough blood to organs for their proper functioning. As a result, organs may become damaged, too. For example, this type of damage can affect the heart, causing a heart attack, the brain, causing a stroke, and the kidneys, leading to kidney failure.How is DASH different from Canadian recommendations?The DASH diet isn’t unique – it is very similar to Canada’s Food Guide. Canada’s Food Guide has a greater range in the number of servings than the DASH diet, which also recommends a higher level of vegetable and fruit intake.The DASH eating planDASH Food Groups:
Grains (mainly whole grains)
Low Fat or No-Fat Dairy Foods
Lean meats, poultry and fish
Nuts, seeds and dry beans
Fats and Oils
DASH Daily Servings (except as noted) and examples:Vegetables: 4-5 servings
250 mL (1 cup) raw leafy vegetables
125 mL (½ cup) cooked vegetables
170 ml (6 oz) juice
Fruit: 4-5 servings
1 medium piece of fruit
63 mL (¼ cup) dried fruit
125 mL (½ cup) fresh, frozen or canned fruit
Grains (mainly whole grains): 7-8 servings
1 slice bread
250 mL (1 cup) ready to eat cereal
125 mL (½ cup) cooked rice, pasta or cereal
Low Fat or No-Fat Dairy Foods: 2-3 servings
250 mL (1 cup) milk
250 ml (1 cup) yogurt
50 g (1½ oz) cheese
Lean meats, poultry and fish: 2 servings or less
3 ounces cooked lean meats, skinless poultry, or fish
Nuts, seeds and dry beans: 4-5 servings per week
1/3 cup (1.5 oz.) nuts
30 mL (2 tbsp) peanut butter
2 tbsp (1/2 oz.) seeds
1/2 cup cooked dry beans or peas
Fats and oils: 2-3 servings
5 ml (1 tsp) soft margarine
15mL (1 tbsp) low-fat mayonnaise
30 mL (2 tbsp) light salad dressing
5 ml (1 tsp) vegetable oil
What about medication?Many people require medication to control their blood pressure. Lifestyle modification, which includes healthy eating and regular physical activity, may be the only treatment needed in those with mild high blood pressure. In those that require medication to control their blood pressure, following a healthy lifestyle may reduce the need for, or the amount of, medication required.What next?A full healthy lifestyle, including healthy eating, is part of the Canadian recommendations for the management of high blood pressure. Heart and Stroke is involved in developing blood pressure guidelines, which are updated every year. To control your blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease, the guidelines recommend that you:
Be active 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week.
Choose the following more often: vegetables, fruit, low-fat dairy or dairy alternatives, whole grains and protein from a variety of foods, such as beans, lentils, nuts and seeds, lean meats, poultry and fish. Limit fast foods, processed foods because they usually have more sodium.
If you are overweight, losing about 10 lb (5 kg) will lower your blood pressure. Reducing your weight to within a healthy range for your age and gender will lower your blood pressure even more.
Eat less salt by:
limiting your use of salt in cooking and at the table
avoiding salty foods
choosing fresh or plain frozen food
avoiding canned or prepared foods that are high in salt
reading the Nutrition Facts table on food packages for sodium content
using other seasonings such as herbs, spices, lemon juice and garlic during food preparation
If you drink alcohol, limit yourself to no more than 2 drinks a day, to a weekly maximum of 10 for women and 3 drinks a day to a weekly maximum of 15 for men. (Do not drink when you are driving a vehicle, taking medications or other drugs that interact with alcohol, pregnant or are planning to be pregnant, making important decisions, doing any kind of dangerous physical activity, living with alcohol dependence or mental or physical health problems, or responsible for the safety of others. If you are concerned about how drinking may affect your health, talk to your doctor).
Be smoke-free. It is important to stop smoking if you have high blood pressure. Smoking increases the risk of developing heart problems and other diseases. Your home and workplace should also be smoke-free.
Take your medication as prescribed.
Monitor your blood pressure regularly.
Avoid drinking sugar sweetened beverages. Choose safe drinking water, low fat milk or tea instead.
Changing your diet means a life-long commitment to healthier lifestyle choices. People who make small changes in their diet over a longer period of time, rather than a dramatic change all at once, are more likely to stay committed to a healthier diet.
If you are considering starting on the DASH diet, discuss it with your healthcare provider first.How much salt?We recommend Canadians consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium (about 1 teaspoon/5 mL of table salt) a day. The amount of salt you eat isn’t just what you shake onto your food – it is already added in large quantities to prepared foods, canned products, snack foods and restaurant meals.2 ways to get started on the DASH dietChange gradually
If you now eat one or two vegetables a day, add another serving at lunch and dinner.
If you don’t eat fruit now or have only juice at breakfast, add a serving of fruit to your meals or switch out your juice for the whole fruit.
Treat meat as one part of the whole meal, instead of the main focus.
Limit meat and alternatives to about 6 oz (170 g) a day, over two meals (two servings). Each serving is about the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand. Choose fruit or low-fat foods as desserts and snacks.
Fruit and low-fat foods offer great taste and variety. Fresh fruit require little or no preparation. Dried fruit is easy to carry with you.