Although it’s often true that homemade meals are healthier than restaurant foods, there are still many factors, from ingredients to cooking methods, that can make your heart unhappy. Here are some tips for cooking meals that your heart will love.
Put down the salt shaker. By reducing the amount of sodium in your dish, you’ll decrease your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease, making for a very happy heart! Believe it or not, you can actually cut the amount of salt most recipes call for in half. Remember that you can always add more salt later, but you cannot take salt out once it’s in your dish. Rather than using salt as your main form of flavor, try experimenting with some of these ideas to boost flavor in your dish:
- Oils: Fat is one of the best flavor enhancers to add to a dish. By using plant-based oils, you’ll get a healthy dose of omega 3’s and monounsaturated fats as well as a rich layer of flavor to your dish. Use a high-quality extra virgin olive oil for a delicious and robust flavor profile.
- Herbs and spices: Not only do herbs and spices add flavor to your dish, but they also come with a variety of antioxidants and phytochemicals to support your health. Toast spices towards the beginning of your dish to bring out more flavor. Herbs should be added towards the end of your dish and are great for adding a layer of freshness.
- Acids: Using acids, such as vinegars and citrus juices, adds brightness to your dish and accentuates flavors by drawing away the bitterness in the dish. Keep bottles of lemon and lime juice in your fridge for an effortless way to add acid to your next dish.
- Heat: Regardless of if you’re a fanatic for heat or can barely handle “mild sauce,” sometimes a bit of heat can do wonders for a dish. Whether you’re adding red pepper flakes to pasta sauce, chili powder to homemade chili, or fresh peppers to a salsa, heat can really pep up a dish.
Be picky with protein: Protein is a must for every meal and snack, but the type of protein you choose could have a large impact on your heart. Choose proteins low in saturated fat and high in heart healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
- Lean red meat. The more marbling it has, the more damage it’ll do to your arteries. Stick to lean cuts of red meat and use the magic of marinades, seasonings, and tenderizers to improve the taste and texture of the meat. Try cutting back on processed meats like sausage, bacon, and salami as those are generally high in saturated fat as well as sodium.
- Meat—your new favorite condiment. That’s right, we’re talking about treating meat as a condiment rather than your main course. When making dishes like soups, salads, stir fries or pasta, try starting the dish with just a few ounces of meat to provide flavor. Build off meat by adding vegetables, beans, and whole grains for the bulk of the ingredients. Your taste buds will still get to enjoy the taste of meat while your heart enjoys all the benefits of plant-based foods.
- Try plant-based proteins. Foods like soybeans, lentils, nuts, tofu, and beans are all great choices! Plant-based proteins are low in saturated fat and provide a dose of fiber, making them extra heart healthy!
Heart healthy cooking methods: Frying foods, though admittedly tasty, add extra fat and calories to your dish, including small amounts of trans fats that are extra harmful to your heart. Try a few of these cooking methods for some of your favorite meals:
- Stir-fry: This technique involves high heat, a large pan, and a small amount of oil. Vegetables will be crisp, meat will be tender and seared, and the best part is that these dishes generally take just 5-10 minutes to cook! Oils like toasted sesame oil will add a nice nutty flavor, or you can use reduced sodium soy sauce for a dose of umami.
- Roast or grill: Roasting and grilling your meat both allow the fat to better drip off the meat, making it a healthier choice than frying.
- Poach: Poaching proteins in simmering liquid helps retain moisture and doesn’t require you to use any fat!
- Steam: Steam vegetables in a basket over simmering water, or else in a microwavable dish with a small amount of liquid at the bottom. Steamed vegetables have better texture, flavor and retention of nutrients compared to boiled vegetables.