4 Healthy Heart Tips

Happy American Heart Month! Each February, we bring awareness to the importance of a healthy heart. Why is this important? Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women. It is true that there are genetic components of heart disease, but lifestyle is also a major contributing factor. This week, I did a presentation on heart health at Springfield Clinic’s “Girls Night Out.” Here are the top 4 takeaways…

4 healthy heart tips

1. Heart-healthy fats

When counseling patients on fat, I emphasize that fat is a macronutrient, which means we need it for survival! We need healthy fats to be healthy! I always encourage olive oil as the plant-based oil of choice. Next to olive oil, I recommend real butter. Yes, real butter! Butter is actually made from whole ingredients that we can source, versus margarine and other liquid oils that have preservatives. I encourage patients to use olive oil as often as possible.

2. Sodium

Our bodies actually need sodium in appropriate amounts for nerves and proper muscle function. It is pretty safe to say that the majority of Americans consume more sodium than needed. Surprisingly, high salt intake does not come from the salt shaker! Sodium is found in fast food meals, sit-down restaurant meals and processed foods filling the shelves at the store. The American Heart Association recommends 1,500 mg of sodium daily for optimal cardiovascular health. For comparison, there is close to 1,500 mg sodium in 1 package of ramen noodles! A higher intake of salt is correlated with higher blood pressure. Salt attracts water into the bloodstream, which increases the volume of blood pumping. Imagine increasing the water supply to a hose. The increased water supply causes increased pressure as water moves through the hose. I recommend patients read nutrition labels for sodium information if they have heart disease or have a family history.

3. Vegetables and fruit

Dietitians do not recommend the ideal 5 cups of vegetables and fruit daily for no reason! Higher intakes of vegetables and fruit are associated with better cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Fruit and especially non-starchy vegetables contain fiber, which helps lower cholesterol. Higher intakes of vegetables and fruit are also shown to improve blood pressure.

4. Exercise

The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of physical activity each week. This is about 30 minutes 5 x per week. Regular physical activity is shown to increase HDL or “good cholesterol” and improve blood pressure. Two days per week of weight-bearing exercise is also encouraged to improve/maintain muscle mass.

Visit www.heart.org to find helpful tips on losing weight, how to keep weight off, and recipes that are heart-healthy!

For healthy heart recipes, visit our Health Library.

Alana Scopel

Salt Substitution Solutions for the Kitchen

One of the best things we can do for heart-healthy living is reduce the amount of sodium we consume. Decreasing dietary sodium intake, in combination with exercise and consuming an abundance of fruits, vegetables, fiber and healthy fats are all the ingredients one needs to start living more heart-healthy. Unfortunately, the majority of one’s sodium intake comes from the intake of processed food items. Just remember that the fresher a product is, the more likely it is to be better for you and your heart. However, we can often take fresh ingredients and make them less healthy if we’re adding too much salt, sugar or butter to the items. Here are some healthier substitutes for increasing flavor in your dishes.

All-Purpose Spice Blend

• 5 teaspoons onion powder

• 2½ teaspoons garlic powder

• 2½ teaspoons paprika

• 2½ teaspoon dry mustard

• 1½ teaspoon crushed thyme leaves

• ½ teaspoon white pepper

• ¼ teaspoon celery seed


Not Just Another Chicken Recipe

At our house we eat chicken…a lot. One goal that I have for this month is to try a variety of new chicken recipes (so my husband doesn’t get burnt out on having chicken five days a week!). You never have to sacrifice good flavor for eating healthy; however, you do need to step outside your comfort zone and experiment with spices, herbs and other fresh ingredients to create delicious, mouth-watering flavors. This is a perfect dish that incorporates natural ingredients and is solid on flavor. Want more healthy recipes? Follow our Pinterest board!

rosemary herb chicken recipeRosemary Herbed Chicken 

For the Chicken:

  • 3-4 chicken breasts
  • 1 Tbsp of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic (I am very liberal with this – we love garlic!)
  • 1 Tbsp of minced fresh rosemary
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar

For the Salad:

  • Mixed greens
  • ¼ avocado
  • ¼ cup artichokes (I use frozen artichoke hearts. After heating them up in the microwave, I add flavor by using an Italian seasoning blend on top of the cooked artichokes)
  • 2 Tbsp dried cranberries
  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinaigrette

1. Pre-heat oven to 400oF. Meanwhile, brush olive oil evenly over each chicken breast.

2. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spread minced garlic cloves over chicken breasts and sprinkle minced rosemary on top of each piece of chicken.

3. Cook for 20-25 minutes.

4. Toss salad ingredients together while chicken is cooking.

5. Once chicken is done, pour balsamic vinegar evenly over each chicken breast. Serve separately or together as an entrée salad.

Cleaning Up Your Habits

Do your eating habits need a little “spring cleaning?’food_MP900443279

If I could give only one piece of  nutritional advice to everyone, it would be “Eat Clean.”According to Diane Welland, MS, RD, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Eating Clean”, clean eating is described as choosing foods that are natural and wholesome—particularly foods that are free of chemicals, additives and preservatives and refined, processed ingredients. In delivering my own message regarding clean eating, I tell patients to focus on the foods that Mother Nature gives us and consume less of the foods that come from a factory/plant. It’s amazing how different one feels when they cut out processed foods from their diet. The benefits that are associated with eating clean can include increased energy levels, improved sleeping habits, weight loss/weight management, improved nutritional intake and healthier bowel movements.

Eating clean is especially important for individuals desiring to lower their sodium intake. Only 5-10% of our sodium intake actually comes from using the salt shaker. The majority of one’s salt intake comes from the consumption of processed foods with some of the biggest culprits being: yeast breads, chicken nuggets, chicken-mixed dishes, pizza, pasta and pasta dishes, cold cuts, condiments, Mexican mixed dishes, sausages, hot dogs, bacon, ribs, regular cheese, pastry desserts, soups and beef and beef-mixed dishes. Eating clean helps naturally reduce one’s sodium intake since fruits and vegetables are all very low in sodium or sodium-free food choices.

Here are some tipsfood3_MP900411701 to help make clean eating a part of your lifestyle:

  Stick to the perimeter at the grocery store. This is a message that many are familiar with; however, it is not put into practice as often as it should. You won’t find the most nutritious foods in the grocery store in the canned soup aisle or next to the boxed potatoes. The most nutritious foods are the ones that often do not come in a box or package. Along the perimeter of most grocery stores, you will find the fresh produce, fresh/unseasoned meats, eggs and dairy products. Stock up with all these items first and then use the aisles of the grocery store as needed for items such as whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.

Maximize your wholesale shopping trip. It makes me very sad when I see individuals not taking advantage of the wonderfully fresh foods offered at wholesale shopping stores such as Sam’s Club and Costco. This is where I often find the best prices on items like cut broccoli, bananas, spinach, mushrooms, chicken and butternut squash. It’s far too common that you see shopping carts stocked full of frozen pizzas, fruit roll-ups, giant muffins, hot pockets and pop tarts. Sometimes buying produce in bulk can be overwhelming; but if you plan ahead and utilize your produce in multiple ways, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your family can go through it.

Focus on “wet snacks”. This is a recommendation that I give to both children and adults. Think of snacks as a mini-meal that will provide your body with energy and nutrients. “Wet snacks” are foods with a natural moisture content to them such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, peanut butter, cheese sticks and yogurt. Choose “dry snacks” less often since these items typically are refined carbohydrate items like crackers, pretzels, chips and granola bars.

It’s plain and simple—drink water. Make this beverage your first choice and try to get at least six-eight 8-oz glasses per day. While diet soda also contains no calories, it is still composed of unnatural products such as chemicals, coloring and artificial sweeteners.Water_iStock_000021518121Large

Clean eating is a simple lifestyle approach to eating well. It’s a basic method of “choose this more often and consume this less often.” Sometimes, nutrition by the numbers isn’t always the best approach. The moment one has to count calories or carbs, they may feel trapped by the word “diet.” Yes, in order for some people to get on track with healthier eating, a more accountable method such as counting calories is needed. However, it may be better for lifelong success to focus on dietary patterns, whole foods, fresh ingredients, fat quality instead of quantity, cooking food rather than re-heating frozen foods and consuming fewer processed foods.

Drive-Thru Dinners- What’s the Best Option?

We are Americans. We love baseball, 4th of July, Black Friday deals, reality TV shows and eating out. In fact, we love eating out so much, 48% of the money we spend on food is spent on food consumed away from the home. Family meal times have been transformed from the dining table to inside the minivan.



Eating out every once in a while is perfectly normal. However, when this practice becomes habitual, it can have serious health consequences. In general, meals consumed away from the home are lower in many nutrients including dietary fiber, potassium and calcium to name a few. These valuable nutrients are often replaced by meals loaded with saturated fat, sodium and added sugars. Luckily for us, fast food restaurants are slowly meeting the demands of consumers by increasing the variety of healthier menu options and creating dishes with fresh ingredients. If you are looking for healthier menu items, try following these simple guidelines.

  • Winning the war on saturated fat and sodium. It’s very difficult to find menu items that are both low in saturated fat and sodium, but you can at least find options that are lower in fat content. The easiest way to accomplish this is by not ordering anything fried. Here are some quick, easy swaps to decrease the amount of fat in your next drive-thru purchase:
Healthier Items Less Healthier Items
Grilled Chicken Sandwich Crispy Deluxe Chicken Sandwich
Soft Shell Chicken Tacos (fresca style) Hard Shell Beef Tacos
Roast Beef Sandwich BBQ Rib-eye Sandwich
Eggs/Ham on English Muffin Eggs/Bacon on Biscuit/Croissant
Single Hamburger 6 Piece Chicken Nuggets
Turkey Sub with all the Veggie Fixings Meatball Sub
Greek Salad with Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad with Crispy Chicken


  • Steer clear from chicken nuggets. For real, turn around and run away as fast as you can. A 6 piece chicken nugget meal contains 281 calories and 18 grams of fat. While 281 calories seems pretty reasonable, it’s the amount of fat that makes this selection a bad choice. After crunching the numbers, we learn that 58% of this 6 piece meal is made from fat. Doesn’t that sound strange to you? After all, chicken is considered one of the leanest and most common sources of protein in our diets. The reason for this disproportion of fat and protein falls back on the way chicken nuggets are made.
  • Try to forgo the cheese. Adding cheese to a sandwich or on a salad increases the amount of saturated fat, sodium and calories in your meal. Just one slice of American cheese adds over 100 calories and almost 9 grams of fat to a sandwich. If you absolutely cannot go without adding cheese, then try to stick to lighter varieties such as natural Swiss or Mozzarella.
  • Go with calorie-free beverages.  Sticking with water or a diet-beverage can help save you hundreds of calories and limit your intake of added sugars. Tea naturally sounds healthier than soda, but unfortunately, sweet tea packs in a whopping amount of its own calories and added sugars. Try to avoid sports drinks too. These extra calories and electrolytes are completely unnecessary outside of a sport or competition.

Building Better Salads- Part 2

Salad Dressings.

Salad Dressing IllustrationIs it just me or does everyone have at least 6 almost-empty bottles of salad dressing in their fridge? I’m sure this is a trait I picked up from my mother and it drives my husband insane. If you’re like most people, a salad just isn’t complete until it has the perfect dressing to tie all those nutritious ingredients together. While there appears to be hundreds of varieties of dressings available at the grocery store, choosing the right salad dressing not only creates the perfect salad ,but it can be beneficial to your health. Too often, our healthy salad creations are sabotaged by choosing the wrong salad dressing. Here are a few simple tips to help guide your next salad shopping adventure.

Don’t always go with the fat-free variety. There are several reasons why fat-free salad dressings are not the best selection. First of all, they don’t taste good…at all. I know this because during my early college years, I had convinced myself everything I ate had to be fat-free. Fat, along with sugar and sodium help flavor the foods found on the shelves at the grocery store. If you remove one of those elements, you’re going to have to add more of the other two in order to make up for lost flavor. We also need a healthy source of fat in order to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins that are found in the colorful vegetables that make up our salads.

Do monitor portion sizes. A serving of salad dressing is 2 Tbsp which is about the size of a golf ball. If you don’t’ trust yourself in only pouring 2 Tbsp on your salad, serve your salad dressing on the side and dip the tip of your fork into the dressing before each bite. This is a great technique to help control your portion size of salad dressing and it can also help slow down your speed of eating.

Don’t dress your salad too early. You only need to make this mistake once before learning this lesson. It was one of the first holidays I was spending with my boyfriend/now husband’s family. I decided to prepare a delicious spinach salad with a homemade salad dressing for everyone. Unfortunately, I put the salad dressing on the salad an hour before it was served and left everyone with a soggy, sad representation of my culinary skills.

Do try to choose a vinaigrette dressing more often.

  • Vinaigrettes spread easier than other dressings. This can help you keep your portion size of salad dressing under control.
  • The consumption of vinegar before a meal may have beneficial effects on postprandial blood sugar spikes which can be beneficial for individuals with diabetes. http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/27/1/281.long
  • Try making your own vinaigrettes at home by using heart-healthy olive oil as your base. A simple balsamic vinaigrette only needs:
    • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
    • 2 tsp dark brown sugar (optional)
    • 1 tbsp chopped garlic
    • ½ tsp salt
    • ½ tsp ground pepper
    • ¾ cup olive oil
  • Do be adventurous. I was always scared of choosing vinaigrette in the past simply because of the word “vinegar”. By trying new foods, I have discovered that some of my favorite dressings are different blends of vinaigrette’s like citrus-lime or roasted red pepper. salad-dressing-aisle