Myriad factors can impact our heart health; and some of the most important, are fortunately things completely under our control, such as what we eat and how often we exercise. If you want to exert a greater degree of influence over the condition of your ticker, one of the first places to start is the kitchen. Here are some heart-healthy cooking tips to get you started.
Cut the Sodium
High intake of salt can raise blood pressure, which is a key contributor to heart disease. If using canned foods, rinse them off before cooking to significantly reduce sodium content. If you have ever tasted the low-salt versions of your favorite foods, it is pretty clear how much salt impacts taste—but you can achieve this same effect without damaging your health—experiment with other items, such as lemon juice, and herbs and spices. Salt substitutes can also be a good idea, but if you have kidney problems, they may be problematic because of high potassium content.
Considerations for Meat and Protein
If you like your red meat, it is important to choose cuts with less fat. Reading the labels can easily guide you in picking healthier choices. Look for ‘’loin’’ or ‘’round’’—these are the lowest fat versions. In a meat-centric world, we often worry eating less of it will compromise our protein intake, but we need a lot less than we think; furthermore, there are many vegetarian foods that are loaded with protein. Work on incorporating some of these foods into your diet in lieu of meat. Soy products are the best—tempeh has nice meaty texture and flavor. If that does not do it for you, beans and legumes are a great choice. Not only are they rich in protein and low in fat, they are a great source of fiber—something else that is vital for a healthy heart. Put your protein worries to rest and cut down on meat consumption.
Healthy Baking Substitutions
Baked goods can be a major roadblock to heart health as they can be loaded with saturated fat, sugar and refined grains. But, it is possible to make healthier versions that taste just as good. Mashed bananas and applesauce can make great substitutes for butter and lard. Choose whole wheat flour over white flour; adding a bit of oat bran instead of flour can up fiber content, which is great for the heart. Using a baking soda substitute rather than the real thing can significantly reduce sodium. Instead of regular sugar, use cane sugar, which is high in antioxidants—substances that fight all sorts of damage in the body that can lead to heart problems. Use egg whites instead of egg yolks. Cottage cheese can be a good substitute for cheese.
When it comes to the best oils to use, it really depends on what you are using the oil for. Oils have different ‘’smoke points’’ and heating an oil above this point can lead to the release of damaging free radicals, which are not only bad for your heart, but your all around health. The following can serve as a general guide for the best oils to use for different food preparation scenarios. If you are frying, browning or searing, good choices include almond, avocado, hazelnut, palm, sunflower and light olive oil. If you are baking, cooking in the oven or stir-frying, good oils are canola, grapseed, macadamia nut, extra virgin olive oil and peanut oil. If you are sautéing, making sauces or using low-heat backing, good choices include corn, hempseed, pumpkin seed, sesame, soy bean, walnut and coconut oil.