5 Ways To Be Good To Your Heart This Valentine’s Day

Posted in Nutrition + Health
on February 14, 2018

Valentine’s Day is a day where we often indulge in our favorite foods and drinks.  This Valentine’s Day have your (dark chocolate) cake and eat it too! Below is a list of foods that you can indulge in that will have added heart healthy benefits to keep your ticker in tip top shape.

1. Go Ahead, Have Some Chocolate

I don’t know about you guys but the first thing that comes to mind when I think Valentine’s day is CHOCOLATE (sorry Andrew!).  Valentine’s day is a day where you shouldn’t feel guilty about indulging and with the heart healthy benefits of dark chocolate you don’t have to! That’s because dark chocolate is high in a naturally occurring plant compound called flavonoids.  Flavonoids have antioxidant properties and have been shown to improve blood flow and lower our risk of heart disease and stroke.  In fact, a long a long term study done found that a square of dark chocolate per day can lower the risk of heart attack and stroke by nearly 40%!

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It’s important to note however that not all chocolate is created equal.  Dark chocolate contains a higher percentage of cocoa or cacao which is where we find those beneficial little compounds called flavonoids.  When at the store you want to look for minimally processed dark chocolate: one that has at least 70% cocoa.  That’s where you’ll find enough concentration of flavonoids to make a difference in your heart heath.  Another tip: read the label and make sure that cacao is the first ingredient on the list rather than sugar.  And remember: while dark chocolate does have some heart healthy benefits you still want to enjoy this in moderation.  You don’t want to overdo as it still contains fat and sugar that will contribute to weight gain if you eat too much. If you snack on it frequently it’s best to enjoy just a square for a daily fix.  If you don’t indulge that often keep your portion size to 2-3 squares max.

My other favorite chocolate, our chocolate lab Barrett: AFD5784E-134B-48B0-A6FB-218F3E7C532E.JPG

2. Go Fish

Swap your turf for surf this Valentine’s day.  The American Heart Association recommends eating fish twice per week to lower your risk of heart disease.  Fish, particularly oily fish such as salmon, mackeral and tuna are high in omega-3 fatty acids which have been proven to lower your risk factors for heart disease such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure.  If you do chose to have a steak this V-day make sure to pick lean cuts of beef and look for the words round, loin or sirloin on the package.  These cuts of meat are typically lower in cholesterol and saturated fats.  Also, be mindful of portion size as the standard serving of meat should be 3 ounces or about the size of a deck of cards.

3. See Red

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Deep, dark red foods don’t just look beautiful, they offer a slew of health benefits as well.  Red fruits and veggies are loaded with antioxidants such lycopene and anthocyanin which can help ward off heart disease.  This February stock up on strawberries (maybe some dark chocolate covered ones for V-day? 😉) red peppers, cherries, beets, raspberries and tomatoes.  Not only do these red beauties have powerful antioxidants that protect our heart but they are also high in fiber which has been proven to decrease our LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.

4. Be a Little Nutty

Reach for a handful of almonds this V-day as a heart healthy snack.  Almonds are a smart snack choice because not only do they contain fiber that can lower our LDL cholesterol levels but eating more nuts has also been linked to lower levels of inflammation linked to heart disease. Walnuts are another heart healthy choice because in addition to fiber they are also high in omega 3 fatty acids.  Omega 3 fatty acids have an anti-clotting effect to keep blood flowing and reduce our risk of blood clots and stroke.   In fact, a study that was published by the American Heart Association showed that eating nearly 1/3 cup of almonds a day — either alone or combined with almost 1/4 of dark chocolate and 2 1/3 tablespoons of cocoa a day — may reduce a risk factor for coronary heart disease.

5. Fill up with Fiber

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Pair your Valentine’s Day dinner with some fresh fruit and veggies.  The American Heart Association recommends that you consume at least one serving of fruits and vegetables at every meal for optimal heart health.  Not only do fruits and vegetables contain powerful antioxidants but they are also loaded with fiber.  One type of fiber, soluble fiber, forms a gel when mixed with water and slows digestion to help you keep you fuller.  Soluble fiber is proven to lower cholesterol and decrease our risk of heart disease.

in fact, consuming 5 to 10 g of soluble fiber per day has been proven to reduce LDL cholesterol levels by approximately 5%.  The National Cholesterol Education Program Expert Panel recommends consuming 10 to 25 g of soluble fiber per day to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.  Some good fruit choices high in soluble fiber include: apples, blueberries, plums, pears, bananas and oranges.  Vegetables containing at least 1 gram of soluble fiber per serving include parsnips, carrots, brussels sprouts, baked potato with skin, spinach, squash, string beans, cabbage, baked sweet potato, turnips, broccoli, kale and zucchini (which if you haven’t been able to tell I’m pretty fond of 😏).

What about red wine?

You may have noticed I didn’t mention red wine which is the beverage most people seem to associate with heart health.  In further research, the benefits of red wine on the heart seem to be inconclusive. Bummer, I know.   While it’s still unknown if red wine in moderation really benefits the heart, what we do know is that excessive consumption of alcohol (of any kind) can lead to an increase in blood pressure and other symptoms of heart disease.  So if you do want a glass of wine this V-day, that’s fine, just make sure to stick to one serving daily which is about a 5 oz pour.

So go ahead and grab some dark chocolate covered strawberries with your sweetie and enjoy your Valentine’s Day!

XOXO,

Alex

Lemon & Garlic Hummus

Posted in Recipes
on September 20, 2017

If you haven’t been able to tell from some of my previous posts, two of my favorite ingredients are lemon and garlic. So naturally I chose this delicious combo for my go-to hummus recipe.  I don’t think you could ever look in my fridge and not find some type of hummus in it!   Hummus makes a great, high protein snack that is rich in both fiber and heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

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Homemade hummus is surprisingly simple to make and the flavor combinations are endless.  I’ve found the key to great homemade hummus is shelling your chickpeas (yes, even canned chickpeas!).   Shelling your chickpeas makes the hummus extra smooth and creamy.  I know it sounds strange, but I promise it’s worth the extra effort- I actually find it kind of relaxing!  For this recipe I used lots of fresh garlic because really, I can never have too much garlic, but feel free to use less if that suits you. This makes a great veggie dip with peppers and carrots or works well as a sandwich spread for a healthier swap for mayo.

 

{Ingredients}

1 can (19 oz) chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1/4 cup tahini

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 garlic gloves

Pinch of red pepper flakes

1 tsp chili powder

Sea salt

{Directions}:

Remove outer shell of canned chickpeas.

Puree the chickpeas, tahini (make sure to stir well first), olive oil, chili powder,  lemon juice and garlic in a food processor until smooth.

With the food processor running, drizzle in up to 1/4 cup water to thin the hummus to the desired consistency.

Spoon hummus into a bowl and add an additional drizzle of olive oil plus some red pepper flakes and sea salt.

Serve with a wedge of lemon.  Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Enjoy!

Grilled Peach & Arugula Salad

Posted in Recipes
on July 24, 2017
Grilled Peach & Arugula Salad

This gorgeous arugula salad with juicy grilled peaches just screams summer. One of my (as well as the BF’s) favorite summer pastimes is grilling in the backyard.  Grilling and summer just seem to go hand and hand, don’t they?  While grilling can be a much healthier alternative to frying your foods, there can be a few downsides. Recent studies have shown that grilling meats (whether red or white meat) at high temps can create cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (try saying that 5 times fast!).  Sounds scary right? Luckily,  grilling fruit at high temps don’t create the same harmful compounds (check out this post for some safe and healthy grilling tips).

 

 

Grilling the peaches helps to caramelize it’s natural sugars so it helps bring out the natural sweetness of the fruit. I find the sweetness of the peaches perfectly balances the slight bitterness of the baby arugula.  This refreshing salad is so simple to make and makes a great entree or healthy side dish.  It’s sure to be the star of your next barbecue!

 

 

{Ingredients}:

For the dressing:

3 tablespoons EVOO

1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Pinch of sea salt

Pinch of fresh ground black pepper

For the Salad:

8 cups baby arugula

1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion

1 oz crumbled blue cheese

{Directions}:

Preheat grill to high

Halve and pit 2 peaches and cut each one into 6 wedges

Brush peach wedges liberally with oil and grill for 30 seconds on each side

Whisk together olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt and pepper to taste

Add arugula and red onion to the dressing and toss lightly to coat

Arrange grilled peaches on top of salad and sprinkle blue cheese on top.

Enjoy!

 

 

Watermelon, Blueberry & Feta Salad

Posted in Recipes
on July 23, 2017

I made this refreshing salad for the 4th of July and it was a big hit!  This salad isn’t just beautifully patriotic looking, it is also super healthy and full of cancer-fighting compounds.  Did you know that in addition to being an excellent source of vitamin A and C, watermelon is also rich in the phytochemical lycopene?  Phytochemicals are naturally occurring plant chemicals that provide plants with their color, smell and flavor.

Lycopene is the carotenoid found in watermelon that is responsible for it’s beautiful rich red color.  And while most people may think of tomatoes when they hear the word lycopene, watermelon actually contains more than tomatoes with about 15-20 mg of lycopene per every two cup serving.  Yay watermelon!  Watermelon isn’t the only star of this salad though. The blueberries also lend a healthy helping hand as they are rich in fiber, vitamins and several antioxidants.  In addition, they contain phytochemicals called anthocyanins, which give these berries their vibrant blue color.

 

 

What’s also so great about this fruit salad is that since the lycopene in watermelon is fat-soluble, the addition of the olive oil helps to improve it’s absorption since it contains lots of healthy fats.   Healthy AND delicious!

 

Recipe: 

{Ingredients}:

8 cups (about 1/4 of a medium sized watermelon) seedless watermelon, chopped into ~1 inch cubes

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

2 cups fresh blueberries

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, thinly sliced

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

 

{Directions}:

-In a large bowl, whisk together olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt.

-Add the watermelon cubes, blueberries, mint and feta cheese to the bowl and gently toss to coat.

-Garnish with additional mint leaves

Enjoy!

 

 

Mini Eggplant Pizzas

Posted in Recipes
on June 26, 2017

In my latest batch of produce from the CSA I got a TON of cherry tomatoes and some gorgeous eggplants.  I was going to do my usual go-to eggplant recipe (and probably a lot of other people’s too)- eggplant parmesan.  Can’t go wrong with good ole eggplant parm, right?  As I started gathering the ingredients I realized I didn’t have any breadcrumbs (I later found out the BF had been using them to put in our burgers- his secret is out!).  So I had two choices: go to the store or come up with another way to use the ingredients. Feeling lazy, I chose the latter.  I used ingredients I had on hand, including some fresh herbs from the garden.  These little guys were a big hit!

 

I’ve found the key to good eggplant recipes is in how you prep the eggplant.  I’m a big texture person and if eggplant is even the slightest bit mushy I just can’t bring myself to eat it.  Salting the eggplant before cooking helps draw out the extra water, so the baked eggplant will turn out less watery and mushy as well as less bitter.  Bonus: the eggplant will also absorb less oil when the extra water is removed.  I’ve included this key step in my instructions.  I promise ya’ll it’s worth the little bit of extra effort and time.

 

{Ingredients}:

2  eggplants, sliced ~1 inch thick

24 oz jar pizza sauce (can use regular marina sauce as well)

1 cup shredded mozzarella

3-4 oz cherry tomatoes, sliced

1 tablespoon salt

1 handful fresh basil

1 handful fresh oregano

 

{Directions}:

For the eggplant prep:

-slice off the stem end of eggplants

-cut eggplant into 1 inch slices

-place the eggplant in a colander-sprinkle with 1 tablespoon salt

-set colander over a plate and allow to drain for 20-30 minutes

-rinse eggplant under cool water

-dry eggplant completely

For the pizzas:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Spray 2 baking sheets lightly with olive oil spray.  Arrange the sliced eggplants on each (about 6 slices per pan). Bake for 15-20 minutes.
  3. Remove eggplant from oven and turn broiler on.
  4. Spread one tablespoon of pizza sauce over each eggplant round.
  5. Sprinkle shredded mozzarella over each eggplant round.
  6. Top with basil, oregano and sliced cherry tomatoes.
  7. Broil each pan for 3-5 minutes.  Keep a close eye on them as they can burn quickly!
  8. Let cool for about 5 minutes and serve with additional basil and oregano leaves as garnish.

Enjoy!

Quick and easy little eggplant pizzas from From A to Zucchini.

Delicious little eggplant pizzas

Delicious little eggplant pizzas

Sesame Soy Swiss Chard

Posted in Recipes
on June 16, 2017

My last bunch of produce from the CSA was full of leafy greens including some beautiful bunches of chard.  I honestly had more than I knew what to do with!  Good for me though because chard (commonly referred to as Swiss chard) is chock full of health-promoting nutrients. Low in calories and high in nutrition, chard is an excellent source of bone-boosting vitamin K and the antioxidants vitamins A and C.

Native to the Mediterranean (not the Alps as the name would suggest), Swiss chard is closely related to beets and spinach and shares a similar taste profile.  Swiss chard is pungent, slightly salty and a bit bitter.   It’s typically only good to eat raw when it’s young, otherwise it’s better cooked.  The key to making sure the cooked greens aren’t too bitter is to blanch them.  Also, it’s important not to soak chard as this will result in the loss of water-soluble nutrients.  A quick rinse under cold water is all they need.  Easy right?  This simple recipe practically takes no time at all makes a beautiful side dish.  The addition of lime not only adds a pleasant tang, it’s vitamin C also helps to make the iron in Swiss chard more bioavailable for body to absorb.

 

{Ingredients}:

1 pound Swiss chard, stems trimmed

2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce

2 cloves minced garlic

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon olive oil

sesame seeds, for sprinkling

{Directions}:

Blanch the chard in a pot of salted boiling water until bright green and just tender (about 15 seconds) and drain. Once cool enough to handle, squeeze out excess liquid and chop the leaves.  Whisk together lime juice, garlic, soy sauce and olive oil in a large bowl and season with salt to taste. Add the Swiss chard and toss to coat.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve with lime wedges.  Enjoy!

Spicy Sofritas Tacos

Posted in Recipes
on May 28, 2017

I decided to do a mash-up on Meatless Monday and Taco Tuesday for this meal.  If you haven’t tried sofritas before I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.  It even passed the meat-loving BFs taste test!

Sofritas is the term Chipotle coined for their delicious, savory scrambled tofu.   It’s  based on the word Sofrito which is a type of flavorful sauce used in Spanish and Latin American cooking.  The sauce is typically a combo of sautéed garlic, peppers and onions and is often used as a base for meat dishes, stews, and rice and beans.  For my sofritas sauce I decided to use pineapple salsa as I find the sweetness really balances the heat of the chili peppers.  I like to top with a dollop of plain greek yogurt in lieu of sour cream, or even better, this guacamole.  It pairs well with an ice cold Coronita ;).

{Ingredients}:

2 tablespoons adobo sauce

2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce

3 cloves minced garlic

1 1/2 cups salsa

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

Pinch of brown sugar

2 handfuls of chopped fresh cilantro

16 oz extra firm tofu

1 cup black beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup minced red onion

6 whole wheat tortillas

~Extra cilantro, greek yogurt, lime, avocado/guacamole, queso fresco and red onions for toppings.

{Directions}:

  1.  For the sofritas sauce: pop the chipotle peppers, adobo sauce, salsa, olive oil, garlic, salt and brown sugar into a food processor/blender and blend until smooth.
  2. Slice the block of tofu into about 10 slices and press with paper towels to remove any excess moisture. Heat some oil over medium high heat and stir fry the tofu until it’s starting to get a little bit golden. Once slightly golden, use a whisk to mash and scramble the tofu into small bits
  3. Once scrambled, add in the sofritas sauce and simmer for 15 mins and then remove from heat
  4. Fill tortillas with black beans and sofritas mixture.  Top with onions, avocado slices or a dollop of this guacamole.  Sprinkle crumbled queso fresco and extra cilantro on top. Enjoy!

 

Greek Yogurt Guac

Posted in Recipes
on May 28, 2017

 

OK guys, you might be thinking- “Yogurt?! In guacamole?! No way Jose!”  I promise this unlikely combo is a good one.  Once I started adding greek yogurt to my guac I haven’t gone back.  The addition of greek yogurt makes this guacamole oh so creamy and adds a healthy dose of gut friendly probiotics.  It also packs a powerful protein punch.  Taco Tuesday just got a whole lot better folks.

 

 

{Ingredients}:

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 cup plain 2% greek yogurt

2 tablespoons fresh cilantro

1/4 cup chopped red onion

2 teaspoons cumin

4 ripe avocados

{Directions}:

Halve and pit the avocados then scoop out the flesh into a medium bowl. Add the lime juice to the bowl then use a fork to mash up the avocado until it reaches your desired consistency.

Stir in the Greek yogurt, red onion, cumin and cilantro. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with chips or veggies. Store covered securely with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator.

Enjoy!

Spotlight on: Olive Oil

Posted in Nutrition + Health
on May 13, 2017

Did you know that May is National Mediterranean Diet Month?   If I had to pick one “diet” for my patients the Mediterranean diet would be it.  There is strong evidence that following the dietary pattern of the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea can lower your risk of many chronic diseases including cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.  The traditional Mediterranean diet is characterized by high consumption of vegetables, fruits, legumes, fish and unprocessed grains, and low consumption of meat and meat products (maybe two to three times per month).  One of the biggest staples of the Mediterranean diet is olive oil.

Olive oil is rich in the heart healthy type of fats, monunsaturated fats or MUFAs.  These types of fatty acids are believed to have anti-inflammatory properties and help to reduce the a amount of bad (LDL) cholesterol while helping to boost your good (HDL) cholesterol. In addition to MUFAs, olive oil is also loaded with powerful antioxidants.  These work to lower oxidative stress which is the root of many chronic diseases.  And although just 1 tablespoon of olive oil contains about 120 calories and 14 g of fat, observational studies do not show a link between high olive oil consumption and weight gain or obesity.  Score one for olive oil!  So now that we’ve established how great olive oil is-  which one to pick? With all the choices out there nowadays, choosing which olive oil to buy can be a bit overwhelming.  A good rule of thumb: go for quality.

The quality of olive oil is based on its acid content.  As acid content goes up, quality goes down.  The best olive oils come from the first pressing and range from golden yellow to almost bright green in color.  Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) has the lowest acid at less than 3% and is therefore the highest quality. Extra virgin olive oil is also the only olive oil that contains all the beneficial antioxidants and bioactive compounds since it is minimally processed.  Unfortunately, there’s some fraud in the olive oil market.  There are some olive oils that are labeled as extra-virgin that may actually be diluted with refined oils.  Be sure to check the bottle for a label from the North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA), a trade group that tests olive oils to see if they measure up to the manufacturer’s claims. The trade group tests olive oils to determine if they are what the labels say they are and not adulterated or a mislabeled product.

Since light and oxygen can effect the quality of EVOO  be sure to look so look for containers that contain the sell-by date or harvest date.  Keep in mind that olive oil generally has a shelf life of about 12 months so the newer the better (note sell-by or harvest dates are not mandatory so you may have to do a little searching). Also, look for opaque or dark glass containers and choose bottles toward the back of the shelf, where no direct light reaches.  Since EVOO is the typically the most expensive I recommend to use it in dishes where you can really appreciate the flavor.  A great way to incorporate EVOO into your diet is to drizzle on raw foods such as salad greens, ripe tomatoes or green beans.  You can also use it as a base for a homemade salad dressing like the one here.  Mangia!

 

Garlicky Lemon Vinaigrette

Posted in Recipes
on May 7, 2017

 

The addition of garlic adds an extra dose of cancer-fighting antioxidants to this fresh, summery vinaigrette.

{Ingredients}:

1 glove garlic, minced

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 tsp fresh thyme

1/2 tsp lemon juice

{Directions}:

Mix the garlic, mustard and vinegar in a small bowl.  Using a whisk, slowly add the oil.  Stir in the thyme and lemon juice.  Pour into a glass cruet or mason jar with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate.   Bring to room temperature and shake well before using.  Enjoy!

 

Garlickly Lemon Vinaigrette- From A To Zucchini

Quick and easy summery vinaigrette.