February – Heart Health Month

Posted: February 15, 2012 by amygilman in Nutrition Conversations

Make this Valentine’s Day a healthy day for your heart!  February is American Heart Month, a time to encourage long term changes for all the hearts in your family.  According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), heart disease is the number one cause of death in theUnited States.  About every 25 seconds, an American will have a coronary event.  The chance of developing coronary heart disease can be reduced by taking steps to prevent and control factors that put people at greater risk.

One of the most effective ways to prevent heart disease is through diet. (Of course, not smoking, exercising regularly, and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check are also important in keeping heart disease at bay.) The key to creating a healthy lifestyle is to make it fun.  This month, try to say no to sugar-laden Valentine’s treats and switch to heart healthy ideas for your Valentine’s Day celebrations.

  • Here are some nutritious, easy, and delicious ideas that will keep the whole family happy and their hearts healthy.
  • Indulge in Sweets with Benefits.  Make your own heart-healthy desserts by dipping fresh and dried fruits in dark chocolate, rich in antioxidants protecting our heart. Or send a fruit basket to your loved one that has natural sugar as well as healthy nutrients instead of sending sweets with added sugars.
  • If your children are having a Valentine’s Day party at their school or day care, instead of sending candies, consider mini-boxes of raisins, mini-bags of pretzels, pencils or stickers as tokens of their friendly affection.
  • Plan a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner or a month-long celebration with heart-healthy foods that celebrate your love. Devise a menu of your own, trying to incorporate heart-healthy foods, or use my sample menu.

Sweetheart Menu:

Parmesan Spinach Cakes (recipe below)
Roasted Pecan Salmon (recipe below)
Steamed brown rice
Medley of roasted  vegetables
Yogurt Parfait (recipe below)
Glass of red wine

  • If you go to a restaurant to celebrate, check out healthydiningfinder.com to find heart-healthy meal options at restaurants in your area.
  • Sharing is caring – if you do go out for a romantic dinner date, order one entrée to share. Many restaurant servings are enough for two – splitting will keep you from overdoing it.
  • Take it slow – if you were gifted a luxurious box of chocolates from your sweetie, stick it in the fridge or freezer and enjoy in moderation over several weeks.
  • Go fish – did you know for ideal health you should eat fish (particularly oily fish such as salmon, mackerel or tuna) twice a week?
  • Try something new – dare yourself to try a new fruit or vegetable. Next time you’re at the store pick up something you’ve never made before. Many grocery stores have free recipe cards in the produce section or just type the food into your favorite search engine.
  • Rekindle an old flame – try preparing one of your less-favorite foods in a new way. Not crazy about bananas? Try grilling one for dessert. Pop grapes in the freezer for mini-ice pop snacks

Parmesan Spinach Cakes (adapted from eatingwell.com)
Yield:  4 servings, 2 spinach cakes each


12 ounces fresh spinach

1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese, or low-fat cottage cheese

1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish

2 large eggs, beaten

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper


1. Preheat oven to 400°F.

2. Pulse spinach in three batches in a food processor until finely chopped. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add ricotta (or cottage cheese), Parmesan, eggs, garlic, salt and pepper; stir to combine.

3. Coat 8 cups of the muffin pan with cooking spray. Divide the spinach mixture among the 8 cups (they will be very full).

4. Bake the spinach cakes until set, about 20 minutes. Let stand in the pan for 5 minutes. Loosen the edges with a knife and turn out onto a clean cutting board or large plate. Serve warm, sprinkled with more Parmesan, if desired.

Nutritional Information:  Per serving: 141 calories, 13 g protein, 6 g carbohydrates, 8 g fat, 4 g saturated, 3 g monounsaturated, 123 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber; 456 mg sodium, 560 mg potassium.

Roasted Pecan Salmon (adapted from medicinenet.com)

Yield: 4 servings


4 salmon filets (4-6 oz. each)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons seasoned breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons chopped pecans
1 teaspoon parsley
Wedges of fresh lemon


1. Sprinkle salmon with salt and pepper. Place skin side down on baking sheet.

2. Combine mustard and honey, brush on top of salmon.

3. Mix topping of breadcrumbs, nuts, and parsley and sprinkle over salmon.

4. Bake at 400 degrees 10-15 minutes or until flaky. Serve with wedges of fresh lemon.

Nutritional Information:  Per serving: 265 calories, 29 g protein, 9 g carbohydrate, 12 g fat 1.6 g saturated fat, 4.7 g monounsaturated fat, 4.3 g polyunsaturated fat, 78 mg cholesterol, 0.4 g fiber, 282 g sodium.

Yogurt Parfait (adapted from medicinenet.com)

Yield: Makes 1 parfait


1/8 cup fresh fruit (such as berries, sliced peaches, etc.)
1/8 cup low-fat or regular yogurt (flavor of your choice)
1/8 cup low-fat granola


1. Layer the different ingredients in a parfait glass and repeat layers.

Nutritional Information: per parfait: 160 calories, 5 g protein, 32 g carbohydrate, 2.5 g fat, 0.4 g saturated fat, 3 mg cholesterol, 2.6 g fiber, 80 mg sodium.


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