Friday, December 16, 2011

Fish Fillets Italiano: Healthy, Easy, Good

Pretty much everyone knows that the Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are great for heart health.  Although cod isn't quite as high in O-3's as some other fishes (notably wild-caught salmon, trout, herring, albacore tuna, mackerel, and halibut... in about that order) it still offers some O-3's and is a great high-protein meat substitute for the heart healthy eater.

Plus... this recipe is delicious!  And easy!

This is another recipe I found on Allrecipes and actually, the only "alteration" I made to it is to serve it with whole wheat couscous (try Trader Joe's).  Actually next time, to really pump up the cholesterol lowering, I'll try serving it with quinoa.  Anyway, this recipe is so easy it's actually a bit ridiculous, especially for how fancy it looks on a plate.


2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup black olives, pitted and sliced
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley (I never bother with)
1/2 cup dry white wine (fine to use cooking wine near the oils and vinegars at the store)
1 pound cod fillets
Optional:  Spinach, to add a green veggie (just throw it in the pot as everything simmers, before you add the fish)
Optional:  Pepper, or any Italian seasonings you like

(yup, there are only 4)

1.  Begin preparing couscous as indicated on couscous directions.
2.  In a large frying pan (or sauce pan or pot), heat oil over medium heat.  Saute onions and garlic in the olive oil until softened to liking.

Not sure why I photographed this step.
3.  Stir in tomatoes, olives, parsley, and wine.  Simmer 5 minutes.
4.  Place fillets in sauce.  Simmer about 5 more minutes, or until fish turns white.
Plate and serve.  Goes great with salad - or you could also just sneak some spinach in the pot and call it a complete meal.  Enjoy your health!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Winter Lentil Vegetable Soup and Colonial Brown Bread

Mmmm.... when the weather is cold and you want fabulous healthy veggies plus cholesterol-reducing, high-protein lentils in a tasty soup, coupled with a sweeter, moist, no-egg, no-oil-or-butter bread, these recipes will deliver.  These recipes are simple and easy, but you'll want to allow enough time to chop up veggies for the soup and let it simmer.  Bonus:  If you double the soup recipe you can freeze half the soup and one of the loaves of bread, and you'll have fabulous heart-healthy dinners for several nights...  NO cooking!!  

I found the Winter Lentil Vegetable Soup on  (You can click on the name of the soup in the previous sentence and the recipe will appear in another browser).

Here it is, with my tweaks (please heed them!):


1/2 cup red or green lentils (sold in bags near other dried grains and peas)
1 cup chopped onion
1 stalk celery, chopped
1-3 large(ish) carrots, sliced.
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 cups shredded cabbage - or more, if more fits
1 (14.5) oz can whole stewed tomatoes (careful, make sure no spices have been added to this)
1 (14.5) oz can diced tomatoes (do not drain the tomatoes... add the juice to the pot)
4 cups chicken broth
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp brown sugar (or more, to taste)
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp curry powder

  1. Place the lentils into a large stockpot and add water to twice the depth of the lentils.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat and let simmer for about 15 minutes.
  2. In a separate pan, saute the onion, celery, and carrot in a bit of olive oil until slightly tender.  Add garlic near end.
  3. Add the sauteed veggies and everything else on the recipe list to the pot.  Simmer for 90 minutes - 2 hours or until desired tenderness is achieved.  
Why is this so heart healthy?  Aside from having practically no fat and plenty of protein in the lentils, lentils are one of the "magic beans" (as I call them) that are high in cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber.  See my old blog post, "tips and tricks" to learn more.

Please:  If you do make this soup, heed my advice and pair the soup with this Colonial Brown Bread.  The two compliment each other perfectly and together are more than the sum of their individual selves.  

Also, this bread uses no eggs and no butter OR oil.  The secret to its moistness is the buttermilk.  Sounds fatty right?  No!  Buttermilk is a misnomer; historically speaking it's the milk that was left *after* the butter was taken for other use.  Read the nutrition info:  There's hardly any fat in buttermilk.

My only "tweak" to the bread recipe is NOT to overcook it.


Amazing Black Bean Burritos

I cannot say enough about this recipe.  I consider it my very best find since having embarked on my heart-healthy mission two years ago.  It's easy and SO tasty; double the batch for plenty of leftovers.  Bonus:  It's a complete meal, so you don't need to prepare any side dishes.

Adapted from Allrecipes's Delicious Black Bean Burritos
(where it was given 4.5 stars out of 966 reviews, so you know it's good)

2 packages of Cedar's Spinach Wraps (or your favorite wrap/burrito shell)
4 tbsp canola oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 bell pepper (I use yellow because it's healthiest), chopped
2 tsp diced garlic (or 4 cloves)
1 can of chipotle chilis in adobo sauce (or chopped jalapenos work too)
2 15 oz cans black beans (get the GOYA ones - lowest sodium content)
2 15 oz cans of diced tomatoes OR if you like spice, substitute one can for Rotel tomatoes with cilantro and lime - just be careful not to overdo the chipotles/jalapenos
6 oz low-fat cream cheese (neufchatel cheese)
low-fat sour cream to top
salsa to top
fresh cilantro to garnish


Heat oil in skillet.  Add onion and bell pepper.  Saute 5 minutes then add the garlic.  Continue sauteeing until tender (I usually do a good 15 minutes as I prepare the rest of the recipe).

Add 2-3 chipotle peppers from the can, diced (or add jalapeno to taste).  This is just to add a kick.  Do not add the entire can of chipotle peppers - WAY too spicy.

Chipotles in Adobo Sauce - Mexican Aisle
My fave wraps for this recipe.
Add the black beans - do not drain.  Black beans are one of the best things you can eat for heart health because (like most beans) they are high in soluble fiber, which is hard to come by and which is the only type of fiber that actually helps lower cholesterol.  See the "Tips & Tricks" blog entry for a lengthier explanation.  The juice in the can contains additional soluble fiber, so don't ever rinse and drain black beans even if a recipe calls for it.  That stuff is liquid gold!

Add the tomatoes, drained.  Stir.  Simmer for however long you can; it will reduce down and become thicker.

Near the end, add the low-fat cream cheese, cut into chunks.  Stir until it's melted and mixed in.
This meal makes a ton so the sat. fat in the low-fat cream cheese isn't as bad as it looks.

Finished product.
Heat the wraps.  Fill with the black bean mixture.  Fold up.  Top with low-fat sour cream, salsa, and fresh cilantro.


Tips & Tricks

Before I can start posting recipes, I need to clear the air about just *why* those recipes are heart healthy.  I'd also like to note a few tricks for around-the-house munching, since those things are so important to lowering cholesterol but aren't recipes.  Here's my list, and my shout-out to Cholesterol DOWN for having been so influential:
  1. Soluble Fiber.  Soluble fiber is the key to lowering cholesterol, but you have to make efforts to consume it.  Ordinary non-soluble fiber (just "fiber" on nutrition info) has many health benefits but lowering cholesterol is not one of them.  Soluble fiber is found most easily in beans but also in certain veggies (okra, eggplant) as well as apples and pears.  The only types of breakfast cereal allowed to make a soluble fiber claim on their nutrition labels are oatmeal, oat bran, and Kashi cereals.  Kashi cereals actually have significantly more soluble fiber than oatmeal. 
  2. Metamucil (psyllium husk).  This is soluble fiber in a powder form.  It actually doesn't taste bad at all.  My husband had a glass of water with soluble fiber in it every day when we lowered his cholesterol.  Costco has the best price; the generic of Metamucil is "psyllium husk."  Check Amazon as well.  Benefiber Powder also makes a soluble fiber claim and it is truly tasteless - if you despise the taste of psyllium husk (or if you get sick of it), use it instead.  You can also add Benefiber Powder to all your baked goods and cooking.  It literally vanishes.  We do a combination of pysllium husk and Benefiber.  I'm not sure why... maybe Benefiber Powder almost seems too good to be true!
  3. Smart Balance Sticks.  Use these in lieu of butter for all your cooking and baking needs.  I'm a big time purist when it comes to cooking, and I cringed the first time I went to bake cookies with these.  But to my shock and delight I found that they actually make almost all of your baked goods *better*.  This is because they're a blend of butter and oil and they therefore make everything slightly more moist than using butter alone.  I now prefer them, even if I'm baking for a group that doesn't include my husband.
  4. Almonds.  Eat a handful every day.  They have heart benefits; see Cholesterol DOWN.
  5. One Apple Each Day.  This also helped us.  You can substitute pears if you get sick of apples.  For tastier apples try Honey Crisps (August-December), Pink Ladies, Fuji's.
  6. Antioxidant-rich Foods.  These basically benefit everything, including heart health.  So berries are great.  Make a smoothie!
  7. Beans, Beans, Beans.  A lot of my recipes include beans or lentils.  The fact is that chicken is actually not much better for your heart than red meat.  If you look at the nutrition info, you'll see that cholesterol and saturated fat (that's the bad type for heart health) are actually just about the same between ground beef and ground turkey, lunch meat turkey and lunch meat roast beef, etc.  I'm not saying not to eat chicken... or even beef on occasion (though do avoid processed meats like salami or bologna, as those actually do have significantly more saturated fat).  But if you can avoid both by having your protein come from something you should eat to lower your cholesterol, that's big time.  Because they actually lower your cholesterol, beans are a better meat substitute than tofu.  
That's all I'm listing for now.  

Intro to Blog

When my husband and I found out, at 29, that he had high cholesterol, our hearts sank.  He was already a healthy eater, and nowhere near overweight.  We did all the typical things people do to try to lower their cholesterol - we cut out all red meat, increased our fruits and veggies, and avoided foods high in saturated fat (cheese, ice cream, etc.).  It was no fun, believe me.

The following year, more devastating news:  All those changes hadn't done a thing to lower his cholesterol.  At that time his total cholesterol was 240, and his "bad" cholesterol (LDL) was 149.  These values put him on the edge of "high" and "very high" for his age.  His physician didn't want to medicate... he felt my husband was too young to be put on a statin for the rest of his life.  Nor could my husband increase his exercise... he was just starting what will ultimately be 7-8 years in a grueling residency/fellowship program in Boston.  He barely had time to sleep, let alone exercise.

I was at a loss.  I felt absolutely powerless - the only way to further restrict his diet would be resorting to vegetarianism or, more likely, veganism.  Neither of us wanted that; we're both passionate foodies and our only shared hobbies are cooking, eating, and experiencing new restaurants.  So I started reading.  I've read and continue to read many amazing books on how to lower cholesterol, and over time I've compiled tips and tricks for what and how to eat.  Most importantly, I've found and tweaked several delicious but heart-healthy recipes that continue to be staples in our home.  And by heart-healthy, I mean recipes that actually help *lower* cholesterol - not just recipes that avoid fat.  The best part of all was that I've found that by focusing on what he does eat, we don't have to focus so much on what he doesn't eat; we lowered his cholesterol significantly while occasionally indulging in red meat, eggs, ice cream, and all the other no-no's we had to give up. 

It is the goal of this blog to share those recipes and tricks with anyone else out there who suffers from intractable high cholesterol and for whom simple healthy eating just wasn't enough.  I'm thrilled to report that the last time my husband's cholesterol was checked, his total had decreased 31 points to 209, putting him just barely within the "normal" range.  His HDL followed suit.  And the insurance company agreed to lower our life insurance policy rate to the lowest rate available, whereas his old cholesterol numbers had meant paying three times as much.

I'm not a doctor myself, or a nutritionist.  This blog is not intended to be medical advice.  I am, however, someone who successfully lowered her spouse's cholesterol and found great recipes to do so.

Some of the books I've read are:
Cholesterol DOWN:  Ten Simple Steps to Lower Your Cholesterol   
The Everything Low-Cholesterol Cookbook
Eating for Lower Cholesterol; and
How to Prevent a Second Heart Attack (a bit premature, I know)

I highly recommend "Cholesterol DOWN" in particular.  Do yourself a favor and if you or a loved one has intractable high cholesterol, get that book.