Eat Smart for a Better Heart

posted by Darlene DeWitt, MS, RD, LD on Friday, February 7, 2020

February is heart health month and a great time to think about a heart-healthy eating plan. 

Following a Mediterranean Diet or DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet are great options to use, and you can find recipes and cookbooks that are specific to these diets to give you lots of great ideas that you can use every day. A few key points to a heart-healthy eating plan include:

Increase fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are packed full of vitamins and minerals we need; they also have antioxidants that protect your health, and natural fibers to lower cholesterol. Eat a rainbow to get lots of different colors every day.

  • Add peppers, onions, and mushrooms to your scrambled eggs.
  • Top your whole-grain cereal with fruit.
  • Add spinach to your fruit smoothie.
  • Have fruit for dessert.

Cut your sodium. Too much sodium can increase our blood pressure, which can damage our heart. Most of our sodium comes from processed foods and eating out, not the salt shaker.

  • Limit processed meats like sausage, brats, bacon, and lunchmeat. When you do have those meats, look for reduced sodium and lower fat versions.
  • Choose canned vegetables that say “No Salt Added” or “Reduced Sodium”.
  • Limit intake of processed foods like frozen entrees and pizza.
  • Try to cook more at home so that you aren’t going out to eat as much.

Choose Whole Grain. Increasing your fiber helps to lower your blood cholesterol. A variety of fiber foods is best to get a mix of soluble and insoluble fiber in your diet.

  • Try 100% whole wheat bread for your toast or sandwiches.
  • Try brown rice instead of white or whole wheat pasta instead of white pasta.
  • Look for the whole grains seal on foods and the first ingredient on the label should say whole grain.

Add unsaturated fats to your diet. Unsaturated fats are heart-healthy, while saturated fats and trans fats can increase your risk of heart disease. These fats come from animal products like meats and full-fat dairy (whole milk and butter), and trans fats are commonly found in processed foods, baked goods, and fast food items.

  • Instead of using butter, try canola or olive oil.
  • Add avocado, flaxseed or walnuts to your recipes for Omega-3 heart-healthy fats.
  • Use vinaigrette dressing on your salad instead of Ranch or Blue Cheese.

Seared Salmon over Whole Wheat Pasta with Kale, Garlic, and Pine Nuts

seared salmon

Ingredients (4 servings)                                                        

1 lb salmon with the skin, cut into 4 portions

kosher salt

fresh cracked pepper

Old Bay seasoning

2 T extra virgin olive oil, divided

3/4 lb whole wheat spaghetti

4 c kale, ribs discarded and leaves chopped

1 large clove garlic

1/4 c dry white wine

1/2 c reserved pasta water

1/4 freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1/4 c pine nuts


  1. Preheat oven to 425F.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  3. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet on high heat. Season the flesh side of the salmon with salt, pepper, and Old Bay. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the hot skillet, heat briefly, then add the fish skin side up. Season the skin with salt, pepper, and Old Bay. When the fish gives from the pan with a gentle nudge, flip so it is skin side down, and put the entire pan in the oven while the pasta cooks.
  4. Put the pine nuts on a small bake sheet and toast in the oven ~5 minutes. Remove and set aside.
  5. Cook pasta according to directions. Reserve ¼ cup of cooking liquid. Drain.
  6. While the pasta is cooking, put a large nonstick to heat on high. Add the kale and the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, season with salt, and saute the kale 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add the wine and cook until liquid is almost gone. Add the drained pasta and 1/4 c reserved pasta water. Toss and cook to finish the pasta, adding more pasta water if necessary. Toss in the parmesan cheese.
  7. To serve, place a cup of pasta on each of 4 plates. Top each with a piece of salmon, more grated parmesan, and toasted pine nuts.

Nutrition Facts: Calories: 600, Total fat: 18 g, Saturated fat: 1.7 g, Cholesterol 80 g, Sodium: 375 mg, Potassium: 375 mg, Total Carb: 50 g, Fiber: 11 g, protein: 30 g

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About The Author

Darlene DeWitt, MS, RD, LD

Darlene DeWitt is one of Spencer Hospital’s Registered Dietitians. Darlene currently provides outpatient services in the areas of Diabetes management, heart disease, weight loss, GI issues and other various health concerns.  She received her Master of Science degree in nutrition from C ... read more