February is American Heart Month and, since I’ve decided not to complain about the weather (even though, I really want to), I thought it might be a good time to brush up on a few heart-healthy tips. I love my heart! That might sound a bit strange; but, when I consider how nonchalant I’ve been about taking care of it, I’m amazed that it is still in pretty good shape.
I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t always lived a healthy lifestyle. I started smoking when I was 14 years old and didn’t have the good sense to quit until I was in my twenties. In my defense (and the defense of all those who began smoking in mid-20th century), we weren’t aware of all the damage smoking could do to our bodies, back then.
I grew up in a meat-and-potatoes type of family; our meals were all red meat and starch. We ate vegetables, too; but, not as many as we should have. And, second helpings were more likely to be mashed potatoes and gravy than broccoli or green beans.
Low fat foods? What was that?! We used lard and butter for almost all of our baking and cooking. Mayonnaise or butter was spread liberally over many of our sandwiches. Fried eggs, served with sides of bacon and/or sausage, buttered toast and fried potatoes, were a traditional Sunday morning breakfast.
Of course, we all got more exercise in the “good old days.” My brothers and I walked nearly six blocks to school, home for lunch, back to school, and home in the afternoon (through rain, snow, heat, and wind storms). There were no buses and no one ever considered driving us; although, for many years, my grandmother walked with us.
After school, we ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (on white bread), did our homework and chores, and went outside to play. If there had been electronic games and devices, I seriously doubt our parents would have allowed us to play them for any length of time. We didn’t get a telephone until I was thirteen years old; even my phone time was limited to ten minutes. We were allowed to watch television on Saturday mornings and an hour on Sunday evening.
Trying to smoke a cigarette while suffering from pneumonia gave me my first wake-up call. The second came decades later, when a mild heart episode sent me to the emergency room. I knew I had to change my diet. I had been active and athletic all my life. As I matured (read “got older”), arthritis slowed my steps and curtailed my activities. Unfortunately, I still ate like I was chopping firewood and chasing small children around.
So, I cut back on starchy foods, substituted olive oil for less healthy fats, baked instead of fried, and ate more chicken and vegetables. I lost some weight (it’s an ongoing battle) and found joint-friendly ways to exercise. Since then, I have had nothing but positive check-ups when I see my doctor. I’m sure the changes I made helped, but I believe I have to thank a childhood filled with oatmeal and exercise for my low cholesterol and (now) very healthy heart.
One of my favorite, good-forme and-my-heart recipes is Baked Salmon Patties. Grandma made them with crackers and fried them. I make them with rolled oats and bake them with a spritz of olive oil.
2 c. canned salmon, drained. Reserve some liquid.
½ c. quick cooking oats, uncooked
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly spray cookie sheet with olive oil. Mix all ingredients together. If needed, add back some of the liquid from the canned salmon so that mixture shapes easily into patty shape. Arrange on baking sheet and lightly spray top of patties with a little more olive oil. Bake about 15 minutes or until bottom is golden brown; flip and cook on other side until golden brown and slightly crisp. Serve with ½ cut lemon to squeeze over it at the table.
I like to serve them with tomatoes; fresh are best, but canned will do. It goes well with corn or with my Made Over Macaroni and Cheese.
½ lb. macaroni, cooked according to package directions and drained.
Stir in 1 T. salted butter to prevent sticking.
In a microwave-safe dish, combine:
½ c. low fat cottage cheese, well drained
½ c. shredded Monterey Jack cheese
¼ c. shredded Colby or sharp Cheddar cheese
¼. c. buttermilk
Pinch of black pepper
Microwave for 2-3 minutes on HIGH until cheese is melted. Stir until blended. If mixture is too thin, stir in 2 T. corn starch mixed with enough cold water to make a paste and microwave another minute. Spray casserole dish with butter-flavored baking spray and add macaroni. Pour cheese mixture over macaroni and stir lightly. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until set. NOTE: I forgo the bread crumb topping in the interest of sparing a few calories. Feel free to add a few buttered crumbs, if you want them.
When it comes to taking care of yourself and your heart, all things in moderation is the key. I know myself well enough to know I won’t stick to any eating plan (I don’t like to think of it as a diet) if I can’t enjoy my favorite foods. I try to practice portion control: no more than 3 ounces of meat or protein, ½ c. starchy side dish (like mac ‘n cheese or potatoes), unlimited low calorie vegetables. Most evenings, I have fruit for dessert; but, I can’t skip chocolate altogether, so I keep it reasonable and for special occasions.
I checked the American Heart Association’s website to see what else I could do to take care of my one and only heart and found I’m doing many things right. I keep my blood pressure and blood sugar in check and my cholesterol is great. I’m still working on weight control; but, I ‘m making progress.
The only thing I need to work on is exercise. I’ve found some exercises I can do without putting undue stress on my knees. According the AHA, I only need to increase my heart rate to 50 to 85 percent of maximum (which is 220 minus your age) at least three times per week. I can do that.
For more tips and to learn the warning signs go to the American Heart Association’s website at www.heart.org. Women have different symptoms than men and heart disease is the leading cause of death in women over forty. So, it’s important to know all of them.
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