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Lifestyle Tips to Promote Heart Health

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February 17, 2023
Heart Health Month, Nutrition, 2-2023

By Jean M. Chappuis, BC-ADM, MMSc, RD, CDE, MSW
Registered Licensed Dietitian for
Notre Dame Health Care Long Term Care & Rehabilitation Center

February is American Heart Month, a time to consider risk factors, both genetic and environmental, that impact your heart health! I am happy to share some helpful tips to help promote your own heart health as well as one of my favorite recipes. Sound interesting? Read on!

The American Heart Association released in May 2022 a new campaign to assist in Americans to improve their cardiovascular health. It is called Life’s Essential 8. Click here to learn more and access some helpful resources.

Blood pressure, blood glucose and body weight are measures that can interpret your health outcomes. Your outcomes are also determined by your genetics and your life’s experiences and how you manage your environment.

Knowledge is key. Do you have diabetes? Are you aware of your glucose levels? Do you have high blood pressure? Do you know the most recent reading from your last visit with your doctor? Do you know the body weight that is best for you? A “healthy” body weight typically has a body mass index (BMI) at or less than 25, although some ethnicities should set a goal for at or less than 23.5.

To reach your most optimal body weight and nutritional outcomes, consider your food and drink choices as well as your physical activity.

Consider how your genealogy and your immediate family and current living patterns interact with the food and drink choices you make every day. You cannot change your parents, but you can change your environment and life choices.

Patterns create habits and dissecting a pattern and altering it even slightly can create a healthier outcome. For example, parking furthest away at all your destinations can produce a multitude of desirable outcomes; increased calorie expenditure and muscle mass and an opportunity to relax and breath in the fresh air.

Understanding your calorie requirements and having a basic knowledge of the caloric value of most foods and beverages is a helpful start to creating an improved targeted nutrition heart health plan.

Body weight is a moderator of many chronic conditions, and one is cardiovascular disease.

Once body weight is elevated above the BMI level of 25, it is challenging to achieve a healthy weight. However, maintaining a body weight that is as close to the recommended range is one of the most important factors of reaching and maintaining good cardiovascular health.

Weight loss is achievable! Understanding how many calories you consume in 24 hours and increasing your level of activity can assist in meeting the calorie deficit that is needed to achieve weight loss. Most women over 50 years of age do not need in excess of 1200 – 1300 calories a day if sedentary, add 100 – 300 calories per day for activity during employment or lifestyle or added workout routine. When you consume less than your energy requirements you lose weight. Slow is good as it is becoming a permanent pattern. There is an old saying ‘if you must think about the change, it is not yet a pattern, if you no longer reflect on the activity as requiring energy it is now a permanent behavior, a pattern.”

Enjoy fruits and vegetables with deep green, red and other colors, lean and low-fat proteins, recognize that nonhydrogenated natural oils are very high in calories yet carry vitamins, minerals, and taste satisfaction in many meal preparations.

One of my favorite recipes to promote good heart health is “Skillet Chicken with Mushrooms and Caramelized Onions” by Yasmin Fahr which was published in the New York Times. Remember that recipes are a guide and can be adaptable to suit your own tastes and even enhance its nutritional value.

Skinless and boneless chicken thighs are widely available and add flavor to recipes. For a lower carbohydrate meal, skip the pasta, and serve the chicken with its juices over fresh steamed baby spinach leaves, about 1 cup per plate, with a side fresh Caesar Salad, light dressing, shaved parmesan, and a small portion of crusted French baguette (<.5oz).

Skillet Chicken with Mushrooms and Caramelized Onions
By Yasmin Fahr

This comforting one-pot dinner is reminiscent of a rich French onion soup but made in less time and with lighter ingredients. Cooking the onions in a hot, dry pan forces them to release their moisture, so that they shrink and become silky and sweet in 30 minutes. Serve everything directly from the pan, with some crusty bread to soak up all the juices. For something green, stir in some spinach to wilt at the end or serve alongside a simple green salad or roasted broccoli.

Yield: 4 servings

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar

2 teaspoons honey

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

¼ teaspoon red-pepper flakes

Kosher salt and black pepper

1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 3-inch pieces

2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced (about 4 cups)

1 pound cremini mushrooms, stems removed and thinly sliced (about 4 cups)

½ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley or dill leaves and fine stems, roughly chopped

¼ cup grated Parmesan or pecorino

Bread (or cooked pasta), for serving


Step 1
In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 tablespoons oil, 1 tablespoons vinegar, the honey, mustard, red-pepper flakes and 1 teaspoon salt; whisk until smooth. Pat the chicken dry and season with salt and pepper, then add to the mixture, coating it well. Set aside at room temperature, stirring it once while you make the onions.

Step 2
Heat a 12-inch cast-iron or heavy skillet over medium-high until very hot, 1½ to 2 minutes, then add the onions in an even layer. Season with salt, then cook, mostly undisturbed, for 4 minutes more, stirring every minute or so. Add the mushrooms, season with salt, and stir to combine. (It will look crowded, and that’s OK.) Allow to cook mostly undisturbed until the mushrooms shrink and start to brown, about 4 minutes, stirring every minute or so.

Step 3
Stir in the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil and allow the onions to cook until they start to color, stirring and lowering the heat as necessary to avoid burning, about 2 minutes. Push the onions and mushrooms to the edges of the skillet, then add the chicken pieces to the center. Pour any remaining marinade (there will be very little) over the onions and mushrooms. Cook undisturbed for 4 to 5 minutes, then combine the chicken and vegetables and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes more. (Reduce the heat to medium if the onions look like they are burning at any point.)

Step 4
Add the remaining 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar, stirring and scraping up anything on the bottom of the skillet. Season to taste with salt.

Step 5
Remove from the heat and top with the parsley and cheese. Serve with a plate of fresh spinach, a side salad and bread or pasta.

Four Servings – Calories per serving: 346, 1.5 oz pasta(1/4c) OR 1 oz crusty bread