Tips and Recipes for Living a Heart-healthy Lifestyle

February is National Heart Month, reminding you to take good care of your heart because heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the US.  Whether you’re striving to prevent a heart attack, cut your risk of heart disease or shape up your diet after a heart attack or cardiac surgery, the goals are the same.  We’ve gathered helpful tips from our nutrition and affiliated heart experts – as well as some heart-healthy recipes for you to try. Making some important changes now can have a big impact on your health.  It may even save your life!


Choose lots of vegetables, fruit, broiled fish, legumes, seeds and whole grains such as farro to cut calories and hike heart-healthy soluble fiber. Ditch trans (solid) fats and lower saturated fat to 5-7 percent of your diet by relying on polyunsaturated and monosaturated fats found in fish, canola and walnut oil.

“It’s not a low-fat diet. It’s an appropriate-fat diet,” says Sharon Smalling, R.D., clinical dietitian specialist at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. By choosing fruit and nonprocessed foods over chips, crackers and cakes, you’ll also cut bad fats, sugar and calories.


Stock your pantry with canned fruits packed in their own juices, low-sodium canned vegetables, beans and water-packed canned tuna or salmon, plus fast-cooking whole-grain brown rice.


Fill half your plate with vegetables, fruits and salad. One-fourth should contain carbohydrates (pasta, rice, potato and grains) and the other fourth protein (meat, beans and fish).

“This helps you get the ideal amounts of fats (25%-35%), carbohydrates (45%-55%), and the remainder from protein,” says Marcin Bujak, M.D., an interventional cardiologist at Memorial Hermann Medical Group Cardiology-Southwest.



When dining out, skip the bread and box up half of your order for another day. Check out menus on the web and make wise choices before you go out.

“Forewarned is forearmed,’’ says Daniel G. Hermann, M.D., a cardiologist affiliated with Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center.

A Memorial Hermann registered dietitian can work with you. “While I’d love for everyone to eat brown rice over white rice, if I tell someone from Louisiana to switch, I’ve lost them,” says Smalling. “But they can make it a smaller portion of white rice, and add dried beans, peas, fruits and other whole grains.”


“Only one thing is all or nothing – cigarettes,” Dr. Bujak says. Quit smoking, period.


Focus on your health numbers – blood pressure, cholesterol and body fat percentage – not just numbers on a scale. Get moving and wear a pedometer to count steps. Build up to 10,000 daily steps, which equals about three miles.

“An hour of activity daily is ideal, but being active 20-30 minutes a day is huge. You’ll feel so much better, sleep better and be more awake if you exercise regularly,” Dr. Hermann says. Ten-minute jaunts around the house or office after breakfast, lunch and dinner combine to 30 minutes.

“Let your body be your guide,” Dr. Hermann adds. “If you have chest pains, lightheadedness or breathing trouble, those are signs you need to back off.”


“Thanks to medications that now exist for blood pressure and cholesterol, people are living longer and better despite being diagnosed with heart disease,” says Dr. Hermann. “People with diabetes or a strong family history of heart disease need to be on statins for the rest of their lives, regardless of their cholesterol levels.”

Doctors affiliated with Memorial Hermann can provide access to counseling and education regarding a healthy lifestyle. “For those who’ve had heart disease, a coronary stent or other surgery, many Memorial Hermann hospitals have cardiac rehabilitation programs they can join to make sure exercise is appropriate for their heart condition,” says Dr. Bujak.


As part of the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans released earlier this year by the U.S. Agriculture and Health and Human Services Departments, you are encouraged to “consume a healthy eating pattern that accounts for all foods and beverages within an appropriate calorie level.”  A healthy eating pattern LIMITS saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium.

A healthy eating pattern includes:

  • A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
  • A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), nuts, seeds, and soy products
  • Oils

Enjoy using the recipes below that support the new nutrition guidelines. They contain numerous vegetables, lean fish or poultry, light Feta cheese and whole grain pasta.

“The Salmon Croquettes are baked instead of fried and their taste is enhanced through the use of numerous herbs and lemon juice,” says Smalling.  “Roasting brings out the savoriness of beets in the Roasted Beet Salad with Orange Citrus Vinaigrette.  Using flavored vinegar diminishes the desire for the taste of salt and the orange added to the dressing makes this a most refreshing vegetable side dish.”

Who won’t love the Guilt-free Omega Brownie?  It features flaxseed meal and walnuts to add omega 3 and increase fiber. The natural cocoa powder adds antioxidants, known for lowering inflammation, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.


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* Recipes from “Meal Solutions For Busy People – Fast, Fabulous and Practical Menus for Health and Wellness” by Shirley Chambers, M.Ed, RD, LD, CDE, and Sharon Smalling, MPH, RD, LD.

Learn more about our nutrition programs.

Tashika Varma