Eating a heart-healthy diet doesn’t have to be boring and bland | Food & Cooking

February is Heart Month with the focus on preventing heart disease. Living a healthy lifestyle is an important way for us to prevent heart disease. An important part of that lifestyle is in choosing nutritious meals and snacks.

Preparing a special Valentine’s dinner

Eating a heart-healthy diet doesn’t have to be boring and bland. We have so many healthy foods to choose from that are flavorful and colorful as well. It is recommended that we eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. We should choose foods low in fat, trans-fats, cholesterol and sugar. Also choose lean protein, (including legumes and nuts) high-fiber foods, low-fat and fat-free dairy, and limit your sodium intake. If you would like a selection of heart-healthy recipes to try, you can visit the “Million Hearts” government website. Also, how about trying any of the following recipes?

Toasted Chicken and Barley Pilaf

Whole grains are rich in dietary fiber, protein, vitamins and other nutrients, and it is recommended we have three servings a day of them. It is easy to introduce whole grains to skillet meals. This pilaf made with barley is a nutritious way to add its healthy cholesterol-lowering fiber to your diet. Adding to the nutritional content and the flavor of the pilaf is the vegetable assortment. Toasting the barley in a skillet adds flavor and texture to the barley.

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4 skinless, boneless chicken thighs (1 pound), cut into 1-inch chunks

3 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 package, (8 oz.) sliced mushrooms

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Heat deep non-stick 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add barley and cook until toasted and fragrant, 4 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer barley to large bowl. In same skillet, heat 2 teaspoon oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add chicken and cook just until it loses its pink color on the outside, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer chicken to bowl with barley. In same skillet, in remaining 1 teaspoon oil, cook carrots, celery, onion and garlic over medium heat until tender-crisp, 7 to 8 minutes. Stir in mushrooms and cook until most of the liquid evaporates and vegetables are tender and lightly browned, about 10 minutes longer. Return chicken and barley to skillet along with broth, thyme, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Heat to boiling over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer until barley is tender and chicken is no longer pink in the center, 30 to 35 minutes. Serve garnished with parsley. Source: Adapted from “400 Healthy Recipes, Easy, Delicious, Low-Calorie,” Good Housekeeping.

Lentil-Stuffed Peppers

Stuffing peppers is a great way to enjoy this nutrient-rich vegetable and this version packs an additional nutritional punch with the use of a cooked lentil filling in place of the usual ground beef filling. Lentils are a good protein source plus being rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. You can use any color bell peppers you choose, and you may want to use a color assortment.

1 cup vegetable stock or broth

3 cups vegetable stock or broth

Fresh-cracked pepper to taste

Finely dice the onions and celery. Peel and finely dice the carrots. Reserve the top parts of the oregano sprigs and chop the remaining leaves. Heat the oil to medium temperature in a large saucepot. Add the onions, carrots and celery, sauté for 5 minutes, then add the 1 cup vegetable stock and the lentils. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until the lentils are fully cooked. Cut off the tops of the peppers, leaving the stems attached, and remove the seeds. Place the peppers in a shallow pot with the 3 cups of the vegetable stock. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes, then remove from heat. In a bowl, mix together the lentil mixture, chopped oregano, feta and black pepper; spoon the mixture into the peppers. Serve the peppers with the stem tops ajar. Garnish with the reserved oregano tops. Source: “The Everything Mediterranean Cookbook,” Dawn Altomari-Rthjen, and Jennifer M.Bendelius.

Longevity Smoothie Bowl 

Smoothie bowls are one of the current popular trends and you may have seen the food trucks that are selling them. This smoothie bowl includes a variety of fruit and vegetables and gives you all your morning protein packed into one bowl.

1 large frozen banana, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 cup blackberries or blueberries

½ cup baby spinach leaves

1 tablespoon almond butter

1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

Granola *(recipe follows)

Fresh sliced fruit, such as bananas, strawberries, or blackberries

Blend smoothie ingredients until smooth, adding more milk if necessary — the consistency should be a bit thicker than a drinkable smoothie since you will eat this with a spoon. Pour into a bowl and add the toppings. *Be sure to use a large frozen banana or the smoothie won’t be thick enough. Source: “The Blue Zones Kitchen, 100 Recipes to Live to 100,” Dan Buettner.

Granola Every Day 

3 cups old-fashioned oats

1½ – 2 cups raw nuts, such as walnuts, almonds, pecans

3 tablespoons coconut oil

½ cup honey or maple syrup

½ cup dried fruit (optional)

Chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray or line with parchment paper. In a mixing bowl combine oats, nuts, honey, oil and cinnamon. Spread onto baking sheet and bake until golden brown, stirring once in a while. Bake for about 30 minutes. *If using already roasted nuts, bake for about 10 minutes less. Remove from oven and transfer to a cooling rack and let cool. Add dried fruit and chocolate chips, if using. If desired add coconut chips, minced candied ginger, or cardamom for variety. Source: “The Blue Zones Kitchen, 100 Recipes to Live to 100,” Dan Buettner.

Bernie Mason writes the Local Flavor column for Lee Montana Newspapers. She was a Yellowstone County extension agent for 24 years. Mason grew up in Sidney in a family of German and Danish ancestry.

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