Heart Healthy Eating… Harder Than I Anticipated!

I received this great comment last week from one of the participants in my online group program, From Surviving to Thriving: The roadmap to eating well after a heart event. It was such a common concern, and so well stated, that I asked if I could share it here.

I edited it a bit to make sense in this context, and expanded on my answer after giving it more thought.

The “real food” conundrum…

“Hi Cheryl,

…it struck me that at least at this point, my problem is that I miss the taste, texture and enjoyment of eating “real food” (as defined by Alan Jackson in one of his country songs).*

I used to make Island Beef Curry, so I tried it with tofu instead, and was pretty pleased at the result. Then a couple of days ago I went to the freezer to grab one of the leftover containers for dinner. Turns out, I had one remaining container of Island Beef Curry, which I didn’t realize I had until I had heated it up. So I figured I might as well eat it.

OMG, it was so much better than the tofu version! 🙁  It made me realize that choosing healthier is going to be harder than I anticipated!”

My two cents…

“Hi curry fan,

That’s such a valuable insight. Thank you for sharing! A few ideas for you…

I wonder if you might find a happy medium… something with more vegetables, legumes, and/or nuts than the original, but tastier than the first go at the tofu? One option is beef curry with half the beef and maybe some lentils or tofu to replace the protein if needed.

Another option is to boost the taste of the tofu version somehow. Have you heard of umami? That’s the less well known fifth taste (after sweet, salty, bitter, and sour), discovered by a Japanese scientist, and described as “pleasantly savoury.” Umami is present in meat – that’s what makes it so delicious. Sometimes when replacing meat you can get a more satisfying dish if you amp up the umami.

Other foods rich in this taste include cooked or dried mushrooms and tomatoes, aged parmesan cheese, and soy sauce. I wonder if any of those might help the tofu curry? Get a umami-rich food in there to dial up that savoury deliciousness.

(Soy sauce is high in sodium, but a little goes a long way. If you’re concerned about sodium, add up the sodium in the dish and divide by the number of servings. My rule of thumb is to aim for about 500 mg or less at each meal.)

Some people also like more heat to add flavour to a dish like that. Perhaps you try using curry paste versus powder, and/or red pepper flakes?

A little bit more fat might also help make it richer. Perhaps some natural peanut butter or crushed peanuts?

If none of this recipe tinkering works, maybe you stick with the original but a smaller amount, with a salad or more veggies? Or have it less often, and work on expanding your repertoire for other proteins?

A homemade beef dish, with a small (~90g) portion of lean(ish) beef, is fine to have once or twice a week, in the context of lots of veggies, fruit, whole grains, etc. It’s actually even consistent with the Mediterranean dietary pattern. (See here and here.)

There’s no right or wrong way to go here. Everyone’s “sweet spot” is different, and often people find that their tastes adjust. Give yourself the flexibility to experiment! Like the expression says, “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”

Keep me posted! I’m curious to hear where you land on this.”

What works for you?

How about you? Are there any favourite foods you feel you should avoid, if heart health is a concern? I invite you to explore a compromise, rather than labelling them as forbidden.

And as I often remind people, cardiovascular health is about much more than what’s happening in your kitchen. Food plays a role, for sure, but it’s by no means the only factor.

Movement, stress management and relaxation, sleep, and for some, medications, are also important. (Not to mention family history and socio-economic factors, over which we have limited control.)

Our hope is that you enjoy a fulfilling, healthier, longer life, and if that means a little beef in your curry now and again, I’d say that’s okay.

*p.s. I had to look up the Alan Jackson reference:

“I try to do that healthy thing like you want me to do
But that low fat, no fat’s getting hard to chew
Now I love your cooking honey but sometimes I need some real food.”

Hah! I agree with Mr. Jackson! Low-fat, no-fat is not only tough to chew, it’s not necessarily the best approach for heart health anyhow. 😉

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