Hearth Healthy: The Valentine's Day Present That Keeps on Living
Sorry, Whitman's. Adios, Godiva. Russell Stover has left the building.
Aim higher, Cupid, because the love bug bites the brain.
Love, one might say, results from the brain signaling the heart and other organs. But, since the heart masters all, what more loving gift than subtly, surreptitiously adapting your heartthrob's diet for a (longer) lifetime?
The American Heart Association cites obesity as a major risk factor for developing coronary artery disease. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of American men and women. CalorieLab, a tracking organization, reports that 27 percent of North Carolinians are not merely overweight but obese. In fact, Statemaster.com rates North Carolina the 16th fattest state.
These are heartbreaking statistics.
End of the bad news. Beginning of better.
Cheesecake and chocolate do not spell "love."
However, in a chubby-person-at-risk lexicon, "diet" remains a four-letter word. Try "mum," as in let the cook's lips be sealed.
"I find out what people like to eat and adapt those foods, when possible," says Christa D'Ostroph, registered dietitian with FirstHealth Cardiac Rehabilitation program.
Dial down milk from 2 percent to 1 percent. Do not announce that the molten cheese in a grilled sandwich is fat-free. Or that the frying pan is sprayed with oil, not awash in butter. Or that the Jell-O is without sugar and the Cool Whip lacks fat.
Whisper your order for no-meat pizza with half cheese, double veggies and extra spices. If your honey says, "This tastes different," answer "Yes, and isn't it fabulous?" Slow-churned, half-fat ice cream has the velvety lick of premium -- just hide the carton before scooping. Lose the skillet and oven-fry skinless chicken nuggets. Dip crusty bread in herb-infused heart-healthy olive oil. Institute international Meatless Mondays: bean burritos, Asian stir-fry, Indian curry. Make pomodoro and primavera your pasta passwords.
Google cake recipes made with olive oil instead of butter or hydrogenated shortening.
Basically, little has changed since those dreaded fourth-grade health lessons. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Drink milk. Choose whole grains and limit sweets. What we do have are new tools: Nutrition Facts labels, wider variety of fresh and frozen produce, cookbooks, magazines, Web sites, "lite" restaurant menus, talking heads.
Keep It to Yourself
And sweet deceit. Don't ask, don't tell. Many adaptations taste amazingly like the originals.
Above all, don't ask Marie Osmond. Of course she lost 45 pounds on Nutri-System. She had a contract.
Do ask people who are walking the talk at FirstHealth Cardiac Rehabilitation program.
Ask smiling Jim Dalton of West End, fresh off the cross-trainer.
"I didn't have risk factors but I had a heart attack," he says. "My physician said cholesterol was an issue." This prompted him to "be more aggressive about eating right."
Was it hard to eliminate that yummy slab of cheddar from the ham sandwich?
"Hard is a relative term," Dalton says. "Now I have the motivation."
Mayo's out, Dijon's in. And down the list -- small sacrifices, he says, for losing 10 pounds in seven weeks.
Motivation plus positive attitude equals Fayetteville resident Barbara Blount, another cardiac rehab participant who learned neither diabetes nor heart disease need deprive her of spaghetti.
"I learned I could make a balanced meal of baked chicken, cabbage and a little bit of spaghetti," she says with a grin.
Blount was not overweight and already followed a diabetic diet when she had a heart attack on Dec. 4 -- definitely a turning point.
Because her husband, Freddie, had a similar cardiac event eight years ago, Blount eliminated fried foods and replaced salt with a substitute. She consulted a nutrition professional who suggested gradually reducing portion size rather than going cold turkey on favorites.
Blount stopped baking and began buying adapted desserts. When her family visits, they eat what she eats.
Eventually, Blount says, the cravings diminished.
"But I still miss my mother's sweet potato pie," she says.
Dr. Darrell Simpkins, director of the FirstHealth Cardiac Rehab Program, observes the shift.
"When (a patient) is near death, they decide to change, to do something healthy," he says. "Since food is a personal choice, patients are able to exert some control over recovery."
Simpkins also rejects "diets" except in extreme circumstances.
"Change your eating habits gradually, one thing at a time, fried to broil, all salt to half salt," he says.
"This gives the appetite a chance to adjust."
Still, lovers may shudder at linking Valentine goodies to heart disease.
Obviously they haven't dined on citrus (not coconut-breaded deep-fried ) shrimp; or turkey (instead of veal) cutlets piccata; or salmon Florentine (anti-oxidant rich spinach, omega-3 fatty acids); or whipped (with chicken broth) Yukon gold (natural butter flavor) potatoes; or roasted eggplant with (sprayed-on) olive oil and fresh basil; or chocolate mousse (silken tofu at its best); or tiramisu (angel food cake cubes, reduced-fat ricotta or vanilla yogurt, slivered almonds, dried cherries, light mocha sauce).
And, of course, red wine and a tiny heart-shaped dark chocolate.
This love's labor will not be lost.
Because true love demands keeping your heartthrob's heart throbbing far beyond Valentine's Day.
A Happy, Healthier Valentine Dessert
Classic tiramisu requires sugar-sweetened ladyfingers and high-fat mascarpone cheese. This adaptation contains a fraction of the fat and very little sugar. For two generous servings:
Splenda-sweetened angel food cake from supermarket bakery
6 oz. container Yoplait Light Thick & Creamy French Vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup non-fat ricotta cheese or 3 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese
1/2 cup strong black decaf
3 tablespoons chocolate syrup, regular or sugar-free
Toasted sliced almonds
Dried cherries or cranberries
Slice cake, cut off brown edges, cut into 1/2 inch cubes to make approximately 2 cups.
Combine cheese and yogurt with hand-held mixer until fluffy.
Warm coffee; stir in chocolate syrup.
In stemmed wine, champagne or margarita glasses layer cake, cheese mixture, almonds and cherries; make at least two layers.
Begin layering with cake, end with cheese and top with a few almonds.
Drizzle sauce over each layer. Serve immediately.
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