With all of the focus on love and romance in February, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the health of our actual hearts takes centre stage, as February is Heart Month.
Between the frigid weather, the endless shovelling and the store shelves laden with St. Valentine’s Day sweets, there actually isn’t a better time to look at whether the life you lead is doing your heart a favour or fast tracking you to a fatal kind of a broken heart.
A recent report by the Canadian Institute of Health Information reports that Aboriginals are more likely to be admitted to hospital for a heart attack and at an earlier age than the general population of Canada.
The report looked at residents in areas with high and low Aboriginal populations and found that disparities exist in rates of heart attacks and hospital experiences of heart-attack patients.
The fact that Aboriginals have much higher rates of diabetes and are less likely to receive the kind of care they need – such as angiograms to examine their arteries or procedures to open up the blocked arteries and other socio-economic factors – were named as contributors by the authors of the study.
At the same time, some individuals are more prone to cardiovascular illness than others, particularly those who have certain genetic factors that can be seen by a family history of heart illness. Put more simply, if your ancestors had heart-related illness, you too could find yourself in the same boat.
This is why it is never a bad time to start eating heart smart in order to up your chances for a longer and healthier life.
If you are not sure what constitutes a heart-healthy meal, we’ve got some simple guidelines and several wonderful recipes by leading experts who know their way around the kitchen and can keep the blood-a-pumping.
The following delicious delights all employ the basic principles of heart-healthy eating: low in unhealthy fats and cholesterol, high in fibre, controlled portion sizes and utilizing as many fruits and vegetables as possible.
The first three recipes are adapted from Heart Smart: The Best of Heart Smart Cooking, Bonnie Stern’s fabulous cookbook that was recommended by the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation.
Please note that to make these meals even better for your heart, you can bypass the store-bought meats for any wild meat you may have in your freezer as game is certified heart healthy by the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay.
Pasta e Fagioli
(a festive Italian soup)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 onions chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 carrot chopped
¼ teaspoon of hot red pepper flakes, optional
1 28-oz can of plum tomatoes with juices
4 cups of chicken stock
2 oz of smoked ham in one piece
1 19-oz can of white kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup of small, whole wheat macaroni
2 tablespoons of Parmesan for garnish
1) Heat oil on medium heat in a large saucepan. Add onions, garlic, carrot and cook for 5-7 minutes or until tender and then add hot pepper flakes
2) Add tomatoes with their juices and break up tomatoes with spoon, add stock and bring to a boil. Add ham. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes
3) Add beans and cook for 10 minutes. Remove ham, dice and add back to soup
4) Puree half of the soup and then return all soup to saucepan. Bring to a boil
5) Add pasta and cook for 10 minutes, stirring often. You can add some water if you find the soup too thick.
Smoked trout spread
(makes two cups)
½ pound of filleted and deboned smoked trout
1 cup of plain Greek yoghurt or light ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
1 tablespoon of grated white horseradish
2 tablespoons of dill (fresh is best or 1 tablespoon of dry)
2 tablespoons of chopped green onions
½ teaspoon of dried pepper
Salt to taste
1) Break up your trout and chop in a food processor if you have one or with a knife if you don’t
2) Blend in the yoghurt, lemon juice and horseradish
3) Stir in dill, onions and pepper
4) Serve on mini-pitas or baguette rounds
(makes 12 servings)
1 ½ pounds of lean stewing beef, diced (or any kind of wild meat will also do)
1 ½ of lean stewing pork
½ cup of flour
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
4 large onions, finely chopped
6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons of chili powder
1 tablespoon of ground cumin
1 tablespoon of dried oregano
1 teaspoon of cayenne
½ teaspoon of pepper
1 28-oz of plum tomatoes, broken up with the juices
1 cup of water (or you can use beer)
2 19-oz cans of kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup of grated cheddar cheese
1) Pat meat dry, then toss with flour
2) Heat oil in pot on medium-high heat, brown meat in batches
3) Discard all but one tablespoon of the fat, return to heat, add onions and garlic, cook on medium for 10 minutes. Add spices
4) Return meat to skillet and mix well, add stock, bring to a boil. Cook uncovered for 2-3 hours until meat is tender and mixture is thick. Stir in beans
5) Transfer to a 3 quart casserole, top with cheese and bake uncovered in a 350º degree oven for 30 minutes
The following two recipes are from Anne Lindsay’s Lighthearted Everyday Cooking. Lindsay is another expert in the field of healthy recipes and her heart-healthy meals have been heralded as scrumptious.
Hamburger and Noodle Skillet Supper
3 cups of egg noodles (about ¼ pound)
1 pound of lean ground beef or ground wild meat if you have it
1 onion chopped
1 small zucchini cut into thin, 2-inch long strips
1 sweet red pepper cut into cubes
1¼ cups of mushrooms
4 tomatoes cut into cubes
½ cup of tomato sauce
¼ cup of chopped fresh parsley (optional)
1 teaspoon of dried basil
½ teaspoon of dried oregano
Salt & pepper to taste
1) In a large pot of boiling water cook pasta until tender but firm and then drain
2) Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook meat over medium heat, stirring to break up until browned, about five minutes
3) Add onion and cook for four minutes, add zucchini, sweet pepper and mushrooms, stirring over medium heat for five minutes. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, parsley, basil and oregano.
4) Simmer for five minutes and then stir in noodles. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
¾ cup of brown sugar
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 cup of whole-wheat flour
1 tablespoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 cup of finely grated carrots
2/3 of drain, crushed pineapple
½ cup of raisins
¼ cup of milk
1) In a large bowl combine sugar, oil, vanilla and egg. Stir well and set aside
2) In a separate bowl combine flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and then add to sugar mixture, stirring well
3) Stir in carrots, pineapple, raisins and milk
4) Pat mixture into a 13×9-inch cooking pan that has been lightly coated with cooking spray (Pam)
5) Bake at 350º for 25 minutes or until top is golden
6) Cool before cutting into bars and store in fridge