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Heart-healthy cooking

With nutritious choices and some fairly simple changes in your kitchen habits, you can start to dish up more of the foods your heart will love.

You've heard the news: Eating right is among the keys to a heart-healthy lifestyle. But just thinking about how to bring it all together in the kitchen can seem a little daunting at first.

Take heart: Creating delicious meals that are good for your ticker can be easier than you might think.

"Little changes can mean a lot," says Angela Lemond, RD, national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

You can even begin to embrace a heart-healthy strategy today with these basic kitchen tips:

When meat is on the menu, let it be lean. Choosing lean meat and poultry is one way to cut back on artery-clogging saturated fat and cholesterol.

When buying red meat, choose loin or round cuts. With poultry, choose breasts rather than legs or thighs.

To cut down on even more fat, try these simple steps when preparing meats:

  • Trim away the visible fat.
  • Remove the skin from chicken or turkey.
  • Use a strainer to drain off excess fat from cooked ground meat.

Get hooked on fish. Here's an exception where you want to go fatty versus lean. Aim to work in fatty fish, like salmon or canned light tuna, twice a week for their heart-healthy omega-3 oils. Salmon, for example, is a snap to prepare.

"Just squeeze some lemon on, put on your favorite spices and you can have that grilled up in 10 minutes," Lemond says. "It's really quick and easy."

Cook with less fat. Frying foods in a lot of oil adds a lot of fat and calories—probably more than your heart and your waistline need. Here are some methods the American Heart Association recommends for cooking with little or no fat:

  • Roasting, grilling or broiling meat or poultry. Use a rack in your pan so the fat drips away from the food.
  • Sautéing or stir-frying veggies, poultry or seafood. Use a nonstick pan. That way, you'll only need to add just a tiny bit of nonfat cooking spray or vegetable oil instead of shortening or butter.
  • Baking in a covered pot with a little extra liquid.
  • Poaching chicken or fish.
  • Steaming vegetables to retain their nutrients and flavors.

To illustrate how easy and delicious oven-cooked foods can be, Lemond offers this no-fry chicken and potato meal idea: Marinate a skinless breast in the fridge with some olive oil, balsamic vinegar and Italian spices. After work, pop it in a 400-degree oven for 20 minutes alongside some new potatoes tossed with olive oil and fresh rosemary. Add a nice colorful salad, and enjoy.

Season without salt. Cooking with a lot of salt could contribute to your risk of high blood pressure. To cut back, try seasoning foods with herbs and spices (basil and rosemary are two of Lemond's favorites). You can also try adding peppers, onions or a little lemon juice. Or try a spicy addition, such as diced jalapeños.

Choose healthier oils. Liquid vegetable oils, such as canola, olive, corn, soybean and safflower, are better for your heart than solid fats like butter. They contain mostly unsaturated fats, which—when used in place of saturated fats—may help lower blood cholesterol. You can often use them for cooking or in recipes that call for butter or shortening. But remember: All oils pack a lot of calories, so easy does it.

Update your recipes. You can often make heart-healthy substitutions with some of your favorite recipes. Try these ideas:

  • Use two egg whites in place of one egg yolk.
  • Use low- or nonfat versions when recipes call for milk.
  • Try lower-fat cheeses, like reduced-fat feta or part-skim milk mozzarella.
  • Serve up more fiber-rich grains by using brown rice and whole-wheat pastas instead of regular pastas or white rice. In some recipes, you can replace up to half the all-purpose flour with whole-wheat. Try it with waffles, pancakes or muffins, for example.

Finally, you might want to collect some heart-healthy cookbooks and recipes. Recipes with fewer than 10 ingredients and a preparation time of 30 minutes or less can be a good place to begin, Lemond suggests.

You can find a variety of heart-healthy recipes at heart.org/recipes.

Reviewed 9/24/2020

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