Heart Healthy Diet Tip #2

Eat Less Sodium

Sodium is an essential nutrient used in our bodies as an electrolyte. Electrolytes are important for muscle contractions, nerve transmissions, fluid balance and blood pressure. However, when too much sodium is consumed blood pressure can increase, causing damage to your heart and arteries.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend sodium to be limited to 2300mg per day for adults and children 2 years and older. For those that have high blood pressure, are African American, or are 51 years or older, sodium should be further reduced to 1500mg per day.

It is estimated that the average American consumes about 3400mg of sodium every day. Most of the sodium consumed comes from processed foods and restaurant meals. If you start looking at the sodium content of restaurants foods and processed convenience items it is easy to see how we consume so much sodium.

For example:
Applebee’s Sizzling Skillet Fajita with Chicken has 4730mg of sodium!!! Even if you eat only half you are still consuming 2365mg which is still more than the recommended amount for the whole day!

And in the frozen food aisle, Bertolli’s Chicken Marsala and Roasted Red Skin Potatoes contain 920mg of sodium per portion. If you add a salad with 2 tablespoons of wishbone italian dressing to your meal you are adding another 340mg of sodium.

A good rule of thumb is to try and keep sodium intake to around 500mg at each meal and 250mg for each snack. That way if you eat 3 meals a day and 2 snacks you will be around 2000mg for the day.

Making your meals yourself and avoiding processed foods is the easiest way to decrease your sodium intake but that is not always possible due to busy schedules and sometimes you only have time for fast foods or frozen meals. Or maybe you had a long day and are tired and just don’t feel like cooking and having to wash all the dishes afterwards.

So here are a few lower sodium convenience food item recommendations for those days:

-Healthy Choice frozen entrees. Healthy Choice has a number of meals that have around 500mg of sodium such as their honey balsamic chicken, grilled chicken marsala with mushrooms, chicken pasta primavera and sweet and spicy orange zest chicken.

-Wendy’s 4 piece chicken nuggets (350mg sodium) and a sour cream and chive baked potato (50mg sodium) give you 400mg of sodium.

-Wendy’s 6 piece chicken nuggets (520mg sodium) and Apple Slices (0mg sodium) give your 520mg of sodium.

If you are going out to eat and nutrition information is available online, go ahead and take a look at it before you leave the house and take into account the sodium content when you are making your decision.
Say you are going to PF Changs and you always have a hard time deciding between the sweet and sour chicken or the kung pao chicken. You take a look at the nutrition info and notice the kung pao chicken has more than twice the amount of sodium as the sweet and sour chicken… problem solved. Sweet and sour chicken it is. While it is still 760mg of sodium you can decide to eat half at the restaurant and save the other half for later and still be able to stay under your sodium goal. And 6 ounces of brown rice has only 5mg of sodium so you can definitely add the rice and make two good meals out of it.

Bottom line…. try and cook at home using fresh ingredients whenever possible and read your food labels so you know exactly how much sodium you are consuming.

References and Further Reading

Accessed 2/12/15

http://www.villabertolli.com/products/bertolli-chicken-marsala-roasted-redskin-potatoes. Accessed 2/12/15.

http://www.wish-bone.com/products/italian-salad-dressing/. Accessed 2/12/15.

http://www.healthychoice.com/products#nutritional=sodium-under-500mg. Accessed 2/12/15.

https://www.pfchangs.com/images/nutritional%20info/pfc_national_nutrition.html. Accessed 2/12/15


Chocolate and Your Heart

Valentine’s day is coming up and I know I will be indulging in a little bit of chocolate so I thought it would be a good time to discuss the heart benefits of chocolate and which kind of chocolate is best.

Why is chocolate heart healthy?

The cocoa bean is rich in flavonoids, particularly flavonols, which are compounds found in plants that help protect the plants and repair damage from the environment. Flavonols work as antioxidants neutralizing free radicals and reducing inflammation in our bodies. Cocoa and chocolate have been found to reduce inflammation and decrease blood pressure, both important for good cardiovascular health.

However, you have to be careful with choosing your chocolate. Commercially prepared chocolate can have lots of sugar, fat and added calories making it not so beneficial to your heart. So choose carefully and consume in moderation.

What kind of chocolate should I buy?

Dark chocolate contains more cocoa and in general provides more flavonols and less sugar than milk chocolate making it a better choice. Choose a plain dark chocolate that is not full of extra things like caramel, marshmallows or other sugary filling. I love Dove dark chocolates 🙂 You can also buy pure unsweetened cocoa powder that is not alkalized to add some chocolate flavor and flavonols to your recipes.

Have a happy valentines day and don’t forget to share a little dark chocolate with your valentine for heart health!

Heart Healthy Diet Tip #1

Eat More Whole Grains!

Whole grains include grains such as wheat, rice, barley, oats, corn and quinoa. Of course for it to be “whole grain” the grain “kernel” must contain 3 essential parts. These parts are the bran, endosperm and germ. When refined, the bran and germ are usually removed, which removes or greatly reduces many key nutrients such as fiber, B vitamins, vitamin e, phytochemicals and minerals. If it doesn’t say “whole grain” on the label, it most likely isn’t.

The Harvard School of Public Health recently analyzed data from two large prospective studies and estimated that every serving of whole grains (28g) consumed per day was associated with a 9% lower mortality rate from cardiovascular disease.

So what can I do to increase my consumption of whole grains?

1. Switch grains that you already consume to whole grains.
Instead of buying white bread, get whole wheat bread for your sandwiches.
Use brown or wild rice instead of white rice.
Use whole wheat pasta for your pasta dishes.

It does taste different and it can be a bit of an adjustment so you might want to try making your changes in strongly flavored dishes first. For example, if you cover your pasta in a flavorful tomato sauce the change might be less noticible than if you are eating it with simpy an oil or butter sauce.

2. Add healthy whole grain snacks
Instead of munching on potato chips try popcorn! Popcorn in itself is whole grain but the problem is when companies add lots of oil, butter flavoring and salt to make it a less than ideal snack so you have to be careful what kind you choose. You can air pop corn yourself but if you are like me and a little on lazy side that air popper with never be used. If you are looking for a more convenient way, a bagged popcorn such as BOOM CHICKA POP is a great choice. Their sea salt version contains only 140 calories and 90mg of sodium for 4 cups.
Other heart healthy whole grain snacks include whole wheat bread or toast with peanut butter and baked whole grain pita chips with hummus.

3. Experiment with whole grains and flavors you never tried
Trying new things can be fun and you may find your new favorite food….
Try making a cranberry and kale quinoa salad or make buckwheat flour pancakes!


References and Resources



Heart Disease

Before I start posting about specifics of a heart healthy diet, I thought today would be a good day to just give you some general back ground information on heart disease. So here we go…..

Heart disease or cardiovascular disease refers to diseases of the heart and blood vessels. This can include many different diseases such as coronary artery disease, heart defects and arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common heart disease in the United States is coronary artery disease. The good thing is there are lots of things we can do to help prevent this disease.

Coronary artery disease (CAD) develops over time due to the buildup of plaque in the blood vessels that carry blood into the heart (coronary arteries). This is very serious and can cause arrythmias, heart attacks or even heart failure.

So how do you know if you are at risk for CAD and can you prevent this from happening?
Know your family history. If heart disease runs in your family make sure your family doctor knows.

Know your numbers. Weight, blood pressure, blood glucose levels and cholesterol can all affect your risk for CAD.

If your risk is high or CAD is suspected your doctor may want to do some further tests such as a stress test or EKG.

Lifestyle modifications can help decrease your risk for CAD, even if you are already at risk. These include:

Stop smoking.

Maintain a healthy weight. You can check to see if your weight is appropriate for your height here: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/BMI/bmicalc.htm

Exercise. The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days per week for a total of 150 minutes or at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least 3 days per week for a total of 75 minutes; or a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. They also recommend moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity at least 2 days per week for additional health benefits.

Eat a heart healthy diet. This includes lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, fish, nuts, low fat dairy products and healthy oils such as olive or canola oil.

Here is a great heart healthy salmon recipe I think I will try later this week:


More to come on a heart healthy diet later this week!

References and Resources

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/basics/definition/con-20034056Accessed February 3, 2015

http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/ – Accessed February 3, 2015

http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/PhysicalActivity/FitnessBasics/American-Heart-Association-Recommendations-for-Physical-Activity-in-Adults_UCM_307976_Article.jsp – Accessed February 3, 2015

Super Bowl Sunday

So today my sister reminded me that Super Bowl Sunday is coming up this weekend so i thought I would dedicate my post today to that. First I want to share with you some general tips to help make your Super Bowl at least somewhat healthier, because every little bit counts, and then I will share with you some specific recipes I found that are healthier versions of common Super Bowl foods.

General advice for a healthier Super Bowl Sunday:

1. Don’t go starving. You will eat everything. Try and eat something light like a small salad topped with a few slices of grilled chicken or hard boiled eggs  an hour or so beforehand.

2. Make sure there is a veggie tray with low fat dip and if you must sit by food, sit by that. Do not sit next to the potato chips (unless of course you don’t like potato chips and will not be tempted by them but I don’t know many people like that).

3. If you are making chicken wings bake them instead of frying or better yet make your own chicken tenders with boneless skinless chicken breasts. See below for a few recipes.

4. Reduce calories in your recipes by substituting lower fat items such as nonfat yogurt, reduced fat cheese, leaner meats and skinless chicken breast.

5. Use veggies or whole grain crackers or tortilla chips for dips.

Caryn Approved Recipes for the Super Bowl

Slow Cooker Chicken Chili


Lots of beans and veggies in this chili… All that fiber will surely fill you up!

Oven Fried Chicken Tenders with 5 Spice BBQ Sauce http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/recipefinder/oven-fried-chicken-tenders-five-spice-bbq-0907

The sodium content is a little on high side but it is for a main dish portion so if you have a snack size portion and watch the amount of sauce you use, you should be ok.

Crispy Chicken Fingers http://www.fitnessmagazine.com/recipes/lunch/lighten-up-healthy-chicken-fingers-recipe/

Avocado Feta Dip


Super easy dip recipe for those who don’t have time or like to cook! A much better alternative to picking up a saturated fat and sodium laden cheese dip at the grocery store on your way to a party. And avocados are a great source of healthy fats. The only adjustment I would make to the recipe would be to use a reduced fat feta cheese. And watch your portion size because although avocados are filled with healthy fat and lots of vitamins and minerals they are also calorie dense due to the fat content.

Let me know if there are any other sorts of healthier Super Bowl recipes you would like to see!

Easy Stuffed Mushrooms

This is one of my favorite quick and easy recipes. I like to pair it with some steamed asparagus and a whole grain such as brown rice or quinoa.


2 portobello mushroom caps
2/3 c reduced fat feta cheese (I used Athenos reduced fat tomato and basil feta cheese)
1/2 teaspoon dried or fresh chopped basil
6 grape tomatoes, sliced
Drizzle of balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove stems from mushrooms and rinse clean. Place upside down on a cooking sheet. Distribute cheese, basil, and sliced tomatoes evenly between each mushroom cap. Drizzle balsamic vinegar over feta mixture to taste. Bake in oven at 350 degrees for approximately 15 minutes or until mushroom caps are soft.