Fruits are ideal as main ingredients for heart-healthy desserts because they are naturally sweet and make it easier to eliminate or cut back on additional sweeteners. Here are a couple of ideas from EatingWell to get you going:
This quick and easy baked apple dessert serves two and calls for one teaspoon of honey, which could just as easily be left out. Also, consider preparing several servings in advance without the yogurt and freezing. Thaw and add yogurt when you’re ready to serve:
- 2 apples,cored
- 4 teaspoons dried fruit, chopped, such as cranberries, raisins or dates
- 4 teaspoons toasted nuts, chopped, such as pecans, walnuts or almonds
- 1 teaspoon honey
- Pinch of cinnamon
- 1/2 cup apple cider
- 1/4 cup plain yogurt
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Combine fruit, nuts, honey and cinnamon; spoon into the apples. Place the apples in a small baking dish and pour apple cider around them. Cover with foil. Bake until tender, about 45 minutes. Serve topped with yogurt.
Nutrition per serving: 165 calories; 4 g fat (0 g sat, 2 g mono); 0 mg cholesterol; 35 g carbohydrates; 1 g protein; 4 g fiber; 2 mg sodium; 215 mg potassium
Now, for the chocolate fix, this recipe calls for three simple ingredients and requires no baking. As shown here, it serves four but could be increased easily to serve many more.
- 4 teaspoons cocoa powder
- 4 teaspoons toasted unsweetened coconut
- 2 small bananas, sliced on the bias
- Place cocoa and coconut on separate plates. Roll each banana slice in the cocoa, shake off the excess, then dip in the coconut.
Nutrition per serving: 80 calories; 1 g fat (1 g sat, 0 g mono); 0 mg cholesterol; 19 g carbohydrates; 1 g added sugars; 1 g protein; 2 g fiber; 5 mg sodium; 274 mg potassium.
Visit EatWell’s website has additional heart-heathy dessert recipes.
Grouping sugars found naturally in fruits and vegetables together with sugars added to processed and prepared foods is the wrong strategy when it comes to reducing sugar intake for improved heart-health. A recent story by Science Daily discusses a study by the University of Illinois about the health benefits of soluble fiber found in apples, nuts and oats, and the production of an anti-inflammatory protein called interleukin-4. Heart disease causes inflammation in the cells, and reducing inflammation helps boost the immune system.
AHA’s recommended dietary added sugar
For a 2,000 calorie-a-day diet, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating four-and-a-half servings of fruits and vegetables. Of course, this includes the naturally occurring sugar found in fruits and vegetables. The AHA also suggests limiting daily “dietary added sugar” to 100 calories for women and 150 calories for men.
Comparing apples to granola bars
For a better understanding of the relationship between naturally occurring sugar and dietary added sugars, compare two popular snacks high in sugar: an apple and a Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bar. An average apple contains approximately 13 grams of sugar, 65 calories, 3 grams of fiber and no fat calories. A single-serving granola bar has 12 grams of sugar, 180 calories, 2 grams of fiber and 60 fat calories.
Manufacturers aren’t required to distinguish between added dietary sugar and naturally occurring sugar on the nutrition facts panel, so we need read the list of ingredients to determine if the sugar found in the granola bar is added or occurs naturally. Nature Valley Cinnamon Crunchy Granola Bars list whole grain oats, sugar, canola oil, yellow corn flour, brown sugar syrup, soy flour, salt, cinnamon, soy lecithin and baking soda. Since naturally occurring sugar found in the oats and yellow corn flour is minimal, we can conclude that the snack contains almost 12 grams of added sugar from ingredients listed: sugar and brown sugar syrup.
Naturally occurring sugar vs. dietary added sugar
Although an apple and a granola bar have almost equal amounts of sugar, the granola bar contains “added dietary sugar,” not to mention added fat calories. Whereas an apple has no added sugar and helps fulfill the AHA’s daily recommendation for fruits and vegetables. And according to the Illinois University study, apples may even help control inflammation associated with heart disease.
Although it might seem trite, a food pyramid is still a good tool for learning how to eat healthier. Categories of foods are arranged in sections within a pyramid as an easy-to-remember visual guide of the types and quantities of foods to be eaten. Categories near the pyramid’s base take up more space and represent foods that should be eaten in greater quantities and more frequently. Categories near the top of the pyramid are for foods that should be consumed in smaller quantities and less frequently.
Reducing saturated fats and cholesterol is important to improving heart-health, but it’s not a stand-alone solution. A balanced diet that includes categories of foods from a food pyramid, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, is necessary to achieve optimum heart-health.
The Mayo Clinic provides a Healthy Weight Pyramid tool on their Web site. The site also provides food pyramids for healthy diets that fit a variety of lifestyles:
- Latin American
If you compare the categories from the pyramids on the Mayo Clinic’s site, you’ll see that every pyramid includes a small amount of fat daily as part of a healthy diet — as long as it’s the right type and eaten in moderation.
Basic principles apply
With a variety of food pyramids to choose from, why not choose the one that most closely matches your preferences and lifestyle? The basic principles of a healthy diet are the same on all pyramids displayed on the Mayo Clinic’s Web site:
- Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Reduce intake of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol.
- Limit sweets and salt.
- Drink alcoholic beverages in moderation, if at all.
- Control portion sizes and the total number of calories you consume.
- Include physical activity in your daily routine.
“Fresh” should be your first choice when purchasing produce, whether from your grocer’s produce section or the farmers market. Fresh produce is usually higher in nutritional value than frozen or canned — especially if purchased from a local farmers market. However, it’s not always practical or even possible to purchase produce fresh. There are instances when purchasing canned or frozen may make more sense:
- Price – Canned vegetables may be less expensive than fresh options.
- Out-of-season – Perhaps the produce you need or want to purchase isn’t in season. Frozen or canned fruits and vegetables can provide the perfect solution.
- Convenience – You may not have time to chop, prepare or cook fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Waste – Fresh produce has a short shelf life in comparison to canned or frozen fruits and vegetables.
Eating daily recommended portions is key
It’s perfectly okay to substitute frozen or canned vegetables for fresh. When it comes to fruits and vegetables and your health, the key is making sure you eat enough every day. The American Dietetic Assocation recommends eating 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables daily.
Avoid added sugar and salt
Canned and frozen vegetables may have added sugars and salt. To minimize sugar, The American Dietetic Association suggests looking for unsweetened fruit packed in its own juice or fruit juice. Also, choosing vegetables with “no salt added” or “reduced sodium” stated on the label is best.
A nice visual demonstration for substituting canned and frozen for fresh can be seen in this short video from the American Dietetic Assocation.
The American Dietetic Association recommends that women eat two cups of fruit and two and a half cups of vegetables each day. Not only is eating the daily recommended quantity of fruits and vegetables important for a heart-healthy diet, it also adds a lot of bulk, which helps you feel full after eating.
My recent visit to the Dallas Farmers Market was just what I needed to jump-start my effort to eat enough fruits and vegetables daily. Because the market’s produce was so beautifully displayed, I wanted to purchase everything I saw. Not until I was home and unpacked my bag did I realize I’d purchased far more than I could reasonably consume before it would all began to spoil.
Why measure portions?
I decided to measure and track my vegetable and fruit portions for a few days to ensure I was eating the recommended quantities, even though I believed I already was. I was surprised to discover that I was actually only eating about three cups of fruits and vegetables instead of the recommended four and a half cups.
As it turned out, I didn’t have more produce than I could eat — blueberries for breakfast, a sliced tomato and avacado for lunch, squash for dinner and a banana for a snack was easily five cups. I was able to polish off everything I’d purchased from the market in about five days.
I visited the Dallas Farmers Market yesterday, hoping to find the inspiration I needed to add more fruits and vegetables to my diet. Since this would be my first real visit to the Market, I wanted learn what the market had to offer. I was able to purchase seven beefsteak tomatoes for only $2 — a much better price than I’d find at the grocery store. But more importantly, the selection was incredible and the vegetables were so beautiful that even a die-hard meat-and-potatoes lover would find them hard to resist.
Click photo to enlarge
Click to enlarge.
Navigating the market:
The Dallas Market is located near the heart of downtown Dallas and consists of four large sheds and a floral vendor. Produce is sold in sheds 1, 3 and 4. Shed 3 is reserved for eateries and all other items, such as locally-raised beef, chicken and lamb; herbs and spices; and locally-roasted coffee. Vendors adjacent to the market and across the street sell plants and lawn and garden items and provide a comfort cushion from downtown’s looming skyscrapers a short distance away.
Three types of produce vendors:
- Local Farmers – Local farmers selling their own produce are identified with “Verified LOCAL Farmer” signs. To qualify for this designation, farmers must sell produce grown within a 150-mile radius of Dallas. The best time to purchase produce from local farmers is early Saturday morning. Unfortunately, there were no local farmers when I visited Sunday.
- Produce Dealers – Produce dealers are merchants that buy and resell produce purchased from growers or wholesale produce warehouses. During the height of local produce season, produce dealers may also sell produce grown by local farmers.
- Wholesalers – Wholesale vendors offer produce in bulk quantities at wholesale prices.