Sweetheart, Your Heart Is So Very Dear to Me

February 11, 2011 in Blog Recipes, Diabetic Menu Item, Health, Mediterranean, Weight Management, Whole Grains by Joyce Bunderson

If you read this blog often, you know that the cold mountain-west winters challenge my native southern Californian endurance; therefore, if I needed one more reason to be fond of Valentine’s Day, this saying does it: ‘Love turns winter into spring’. My heart-warming affection for Valentine’s Day mingles with my fondness for the American Heart Association. This organization can help me keep my Valentine’s Days bright by showing how to keep my Sweetheart’s heart – and those of our children and grandchildren – strong through many winters.

The American Heart Association (AHA) has a wonderful website called My Life Check; I really admire the way they took a fairly complex issue and simplified it – they call it Life’s Simple 7. If you go to the link, you will notice seven tabs (Heart Health Factors) across the page. If you need some motivation to check it out, see the statistics about deaths from heart disease at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the U.S., by a fairly substantial margin. If you add stroke to other heart disease, and even diabetes, which is another life-style related disease with the same factors, it would be leading by a rather large percentage. For women, heart attacks kill 6 times as many as breast cancer – see some interesting statistics at the Women’s Heart Foundation website.

It seems to me that an important first step is to recognize that you can actually improve the health and fitness of your heart and blood vessels. The American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 can be a great aid in that wise pursuit to keep your own and your sweetheart’s ticker tickin’.

You can get a quick assessment at this link.

When the AHA set the seven criteria that deal with ideal cardiovascular health, they followed about 18,000 adults, and found that those who adhered to at least five of the criteria had a 55% lower risk of death over five years than those who met none. Dr. Ralph Sacco, the president of the AHA said that, “less than 1% meet all seven of our criteria.” Can you move toward meeting more that you do today?

1.     Get Active – By exercising as little as 30 minutes each day you can reduce your risk of heart disease. Exercise helps lower blood pressure, increase HDL ‘good’ cholesterol in your blood, control blood sugar by improving how our body uses insulin, reduce feelings of stress, controls body weight and makes you feel good about yourself. If you need to just get started, consider some of the ideas shared in Mary Ireland’s post ‘This is NEAT!

2.     Control Cholesterol – have your cholesterol number checked. The goal is to keep the total number below 200 mg/dL. Eat foods low in simple sugars, saturated and trans fats, maintain a healthy weight, and stay physically active. Simple sugars drive your HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) down and your triglycerides up – a double whammy against heart health. Being overweight and eating too much is often associated with increased cholesterol levels, so cholesterol is definitely tied to the big picture of lifestyle related health.

3.     Eat Better – eat nutrient dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, healthy oils, fish and non-fat dairy products; sparingly consume fattier cuts of meat, cheese, juice, sweetened drinks, processed foods, salty foods, pastries, cakes, frozen desserts, fast foods, and restaurant foods. See our post Singing ‘Get Off Your SoFAS’ for more complete information on food choices.

Research that analyzed data from more than 300,000 people from eight European countries was published last month in the European Heart Journal. This research showed that people who consume more fruits and vegetables have lower risk of dying from ischemic heart disease; more research is needed to ‘prove’ it, but this study is a huge hint.

4.     Manage Blood Pressure – High blood pressure (hypertension), the silent killer, has no symptoms. Know your numbers and strive to get the numbers below 120/80. Many people can manage blood pressure without medication; the following are the factors that will help you manage your blood pressure: eating a heart-healthy diet, which may include reducing salt intake; enjoying regular physical activity; maintaining a healthy weight; managing stress; limiting alcohol; avoiding tobacco smoke.

A research study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has shown that consuming highly salty foods may begin to impair the function of blood vessels within 30 minutes. The lead researcher, K. M. Dickenson and her colleagues said that there is “compelling evidence” to show a link between salt intake, increased blood pressure, and risk of cardiovascular disease.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because you are young that you are safe from having a stroke. On February 10, 2011, Marilyn Marchione of the Associated Press reported on a large nationwide study presented at the American Stroke Association’s conference. She wrote: “The number of strokes among young and middle-aged Americans is rising dramatically even as it drops among older people, a sign that the obesity epidemic may be starting to shift the age burden of the disease.”

5.     Lose Weight – If you need to lose weight to maintain a healthy weight, get started. There are some terrific Body Mass Index (BMI) calculators on the following sites: for women and for men. Is your BMI below 25? The calculators will even tell you how you compare with the nation for your gender, age, height and weight. Knowing that about two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, you can place your percentile number and get a feeling of where you are. Another good method, more vivid than a measurement, is to stand in front of the mirror without clothing.

In the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, a study was published on February 8, 2011, that shows that when even morbidly obese people lose weight, their heart is actually ‘remodeled’ – it physically changes for the better. Lose weight it’s worth the effort!

6.     Reduce Blood Sugar – Begin by knowing your numbers. Is your fasting blood sugar below 100 mg/dL of blood? If your blood sugar is out of control it escalates the risk of heart disease. See Diabetes – Why Should We Care? What can you do to keep your sweet-seeking taste buds happy?

7.     Smoking – This has long been the most important preventable cause of premature death in the United States. By now everyone knows what a huge risk smoking poses for heart disease. I wish that people who have failed in an effort to quit in the past would understand that now there are much improved medications and methods to support quitting.  An interesting statistic that I’ve recently stumbled upon is that women who smoke risk having a heart attack 19 years earlier than do non-smoking women. I’m sure there are comparable data for men, since quitting makes such a big difference in healthy living. I’ve known so many successful quitters during the past couple of years; it really makes this public health advocate’s heart rejoice.

I hope that you won’t need the following information, but it’s certainly good to know about the symptoms of a heart attack. Because the symptoms can be subtle or acute and vary so much from individual to individual and between women and men, it would be good to review the symptoms. Andrea Markowitz wrote a nice piece on How to tell if you’re having a heart attack– I suggest that you take a moment to review the symptoms.

Is Valentine’s Day enough to motivate you to pay some attention to your heart and the hearts of your sweethearts (the love of your life, children, family, friends)? Being the number one cause of death in America, it’s certainly worth a little of your time and effort.

P.S. No need to feel deprived on Valentine’s Day. Consider making a Sugar-Free Flavor Explosion on Valentine’s Day; you can give your loved ones health and a treat at the same time. The Almond Apple Cake with Raspberry Sauce provides whole grains and fruit with no added sugar – a perfectly delicious heart healthy option. Or try the no added sugar, no food coloring raspberry sauce on a poached pear, Delightful Flourless Orange Cake or let your imagination go wild. Dr. Grandma’s Delight really helps you to be able to have some sweet snacks and treats that contribute to your good health.

Making a Heart Healthy Dinner on a Winter Day

Curly Mustard Greens and Onions

Excellent flavor, superior nutrition, inexpensive dish, with little effort – check, check, check and check!


2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 ½ to 2 cups onion, chopped

½ teaspoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon dried basil

½ teaspoon ground allspice

2 teaspoons garlic, minced

1 large bunch curly mustard greens (about 5 – 6 cups chopped)


In a large covered skillet, heat the oil and onions. When the onion is clear and beginning to brown, add the oregano, basil, allspice and garlic. Sauté for a minute or two; then add the greens.  Cover and steam until the greens are wilted and tender, about 12 minutes.

Wash a winter squash and stick with a knife for steam vents - bake.

Put the onions in a skillet with the oil.

Brown the onions to go with the greens.

Add the herbs and spices.

Chop the mustard greens.

Pile the greens into the skillet with the onions and spices.

Remove the golden brown and soft squash from the oven.

Cut the squash to cool enough to handle.

Remove the seeds and stringy stuff.

The greens are done when wilted and tender.

Serve the mostly plant-based real food meal. Yummy!!