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Love Your Heart With These Healthy Dishes

No need to sacrifice taste and pleasure, says dietitian Janet Bond Brill

By Emily Gurnon

Registered dietician Janet Bond Brill knows her clients want to eat the same delicious foods that have brought them comfort and pleasure all their lives. But many assume a diet that is good for their heart won’t be satisfying.
Their misconceptions range from “I’ll have to eat lettuce all day” to “I can’t have any treats” to “I'll have to ditch the fat.”
Nonsense, says Brill, a cardiovascular nutritionist and bestselling author, whose latest book is Blood Pressure Down. “You can make beautiful, delicious heart-healthy comfort foods. You don’t have to deprive yourself,” she notes. Making sure people get that message is her passion.
The bad news is that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both men and women. The good news: It’s largely preventable, Brill says, with a Mediterranean-style diet.

(MORE: Fiftysomething Diet: 6 Whole Grains to Try)
Here are some diet “tweaks” she suggests for making foods more healthy, followed by recipe suggestions from her website:
1. Make your main fat olive oil. But not just any olive oil: Make sure it’s the extra-virgin variety, Brill says. It has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. (In more good news, a study published Thursday in Molecular and Cellular Oncology found evidence that extra-virgin olive oil kills human cancer cells.) “(Greek physician) Hippocrates called it ‘liquid gold,’ and he was a smart man even way back when,” Brill says. Keep in mind that olive oil is high in calories, so you’ll want to drizzle it.
2. Feast on omega-3s. Another fat you can indulge in without guilt comes in the form of omega-3 fatty acids, found in plant sources like walnuts and canola oil as well as fish such as salmon, herring, lake trout and tuna. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fish per week. Another good source for omega-3s is flaxseed and flaxseed oil.

(MORE: How 5 Women Discovered They Had Heart Disease)
3. Crowd out the crummy foods. Instead of concentrating on what you can’t eat, think about what you can, Brill says. “If you’re eating a healthy breakfast, you’re not eating bacon and eggs,” she says. “If you’re eating a piece of salmon, you’re not eating a piece of beef.” Filling up on healthy, fiber-rich food at dinner will make you less tempted to hit the cookie jar later.
4. Eat more plants and fewer animals. Make substitutions, such as using almond or soy milk rather than cow’s milk, Brill recommends. Beans make a great, inexpensive alternative to meat.
5. Kick up the fiber. Eat whole grains instead of white or processed. The fiber in whole grains and fresh fruits like blackberries helps prevent heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. It also makes you feel full faster.
6. Don’t spurn the gluten. Some people have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, and eating gluten makes them sick. Unless that applies to you, there is no need to ban gluten from your diet, Brill says. “I think America is barking up the wrong tree there,” she says. “Bread is the staff of life.”

(MORE: 8 Essential Health Checks for Women Over 50)
7. Keep the good sugar. No sugar doesn’t mean no sweets. It is added sugars — such as those in soda — that do us harm, Brill says. Keep eating your apples, grapes and melons. Even dark chocolate can be beneficial in small amounts.
Brill’s heart-healthy recipes, which can also be found on her website, include these:


  • 2 4-oz salmon fillets
  • 2 tablespoons of walnut pesto
  • 2-3 slices of tomato
  • 1 tsp of dried basil (or fresh minced basil)
  • ¼ tsp of black pepper

To make walnut pesto:

  • 2 oz fresh basil leaves (about 1 cup)
  • 1 cup walnut halves
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 3 large garlic cloves

Pre-heat oven to 400º F. Grease a tin pan with olive oil spray. Place all pesto ingredients into a food processor and blend pesto until a spreadable consistency. Place salmon fillets in the pan and cover each fillet with 1 tablespoon of pesto. Top salmon with tomato slices and sprinkle with dried basil and black pepper. Bake salmon until opaque in the center, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Nutrition facts per serving:
Calories: 273, Carbohydrates: 3 g, Dietary Fiber: 1 g, Fat: 15 g, Cholesterol: 81 mg, Protein 30 g, Sodium: 67 mg

1 medium eggplant, sliced lengthwise into ~ ¼-inch slices
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon sugar
4 tablespoons fresh chopped basil
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 medium white onion, chopped
8 oz. part-skim ricotta cheese
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
2 egg whites
4 tablespoons shredded parmesan cheese
¼ teaspoon fresh black pepper

Preheat oven to 425°F. Spray a large cookie sheet with olive oil spray. Place eggplant on baking sheet in a single layer. Spray eggplant lightly with olive oil spray. Bake in oven for 15 minutes per side until lightly browned. Remove eggplant and let cool. Reduce oven heat to 400°F.

For the sauce
In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add 2 cloves of chopped garlic and cook until golden brown, stirring frequently. Add the tomatoes, basil and sugar. Stir frequently as you bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to simmer and continue to cook while you prepare the filling.

For the filling
Spray a large skillet with olive oil spray and place over medium-high heat. Add the zucchini, onion and garlic clove and cook until onion is golden brown in color, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. In a large mixing bowl, combine ricotta, parsley, egg whites and 3 tablespoons of parmesan cheese. Add vegetable mixture and pepper and mix together.

For the rollatini
Spray a baking dish or aluminum tin with olive oil spray. Spread 4 tablespoons sauce evenly over the bottom. Take an eggplant slice, add a dollop of filling in the center and roll, placing seam side down in a single layer of the baking dish. Spoon remaining sauce over eggplant rolls, sprinkle with remaining parmesan cheese, add a touch of fresh basil leaves and bake uncovered for approximately 30 minutes.
Serves 4

Nutrition facts per serving: 
Calories: 280, Fat: 12 g, Cholesterol: 25 mg, Sodium: 490 mg, Fiber: 9 g, Sugars: 17 g, Protein: 17 g.

Yield- 12 muffins (1 muffin = ¼ cup of wet oatmeal mixture)


  • 2.5 cups of rolled oats
  • 1.5 cup of unsweetened almond milk (or soymilk)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup of 100% pure maple syrup
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp of baking powder
  • 1 tsp of cinnamon
  • 1 cup of berries (your choice of cherries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and/or blackberries)
  • Optional: 1/8 cup ground flaxseed and/or chia seeds

In a medium-size Tupperware container, add the rolled oats and unsweetened almond milk and mix together. Place a cover on the Tupperware container and refrigerate for 4 to 8 hours until most of the liquid is absorbed.

Pre-heat oven to 375ºF and grease muffin tin with canola or olive oil. Add the egg, syrup, vanilla, baking powder, and cinnamon to the oatmeal mixture and mix well. Scoop ¼ cup of the oatmeal mixture into each muffin cup. Place a few berries on top of each oatmeal cake and bake the oatmeal cakes for 30 minutes. Remove the muffin tin and let the oatmeal cakes cool for 10 to 15 minutes before removing them from the muffin tin and enjoying a healthy snack!

Nutrition facts per serving:
Calories: 104, Fat: 2g, Cholesterol: 18 mg, Carbohydrates: 20g, Dietary Fiber: 2g, Protein: 3g, Sodium: 29 mg

Yield: 16 servings (2 tablespoons per serving)


  • 1 whole garlic bulb
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 cup of packaged sun dried tomatoes without oil
  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ tsp of cracked black pepper
  • 1 15-oz can of white beans (northern beans, navy beans, or cannellini beans), drained and rinsed
  • Optional: ¼ cup of packed fresh chopped basil


Roasting Garlic:
Pre-heat oven to 350ºF. Remove the papery layers of the garlic bulb and cut 1/8 of the top to reveal the tops of the garlic cloves. Wrap garlic bulb in aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove garlic bulb from oven and let it cool for 5-10 minute and separate the garlic cloves from the skin of the garlic bulb.

Soaking Sundried Tomatoes:
In a small pot, bring 1 cup of water to a boil. Remove from heat and add the sundried tomatoes. Cover the pot and let sundried tomatoes soak for 10 minutes. Drain the sundried tomatoes, but save the water to be added to the food processor.

In a food processor, add the roasted garlic cloves, sundried tomatoes, olive oil, black pepper, and white beans. Process the mixture until there are no large chunks. Add about ¼ cup of the water from the drained sundried tomatoes to the white bean dip and continue to process until you create a white bean dip with a smooth consistency.

White bean dip is ready to be served with vegetables and pita chips or used as a spread on sandwiches.

Nutrition facts per serving:
Calories: 56, Fat: 2 g, Cholesterol: 0 mg, Carbohydrates: 8 g, Dietary Fiber: 2 g, Protein: 3 g, Sodium: 190 mg.

Emily Gurnon is the former Senior Content Editor covering health and caregiving for Next Avenue. She previously spent 20 years as a newspaper reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area and St. Paul. Read More
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