Women's Heart Advisor April 2010 Issue

What’s for Dinner? Your Heart Is Asking for Vegetables

Antioxidants and nutrients in veggies help maintain cardiovascular health.

You may not remember eating strained peas, but it was probably one of the first foods your mother gave you. Most babies grow up eating vegetables at lunch and dinner, yet as adults, they shun the entire food group—potatoes excepted. When does our mindset change?

"Veggies are just as important for adults as they are

for children," says Cleveland Clinic dietitian Melissa Ohlson, MS, RD, LD.

Good…and good for you

Dietary guidelines recommend women and older adults consume at least three servings of vegetables a day, with one-third being dark green or orange. Yet studies reveal only 32 percent of women meet this requirement.

Vegetables are chock full of antioxidants and nutrients that protect the heart and blood vessels. They are high in fiber, which helps control blood pressure, and low in sodium and calories. Their fiber and water content assist with weight management by filling you up without filling you out.

Eggplant, anyone?

Despite the benefits of eating vegetables, adults have many excuses for avoiding them, primarily taste, cost and preparation time.

Eating the same veggies all the time can get monotonous. If you are bored with boiled broccoli and steamed carrots, why not experiment with new recipes? For ideas, go to www.ClevelandClinic.org/heart/prevention/ or www.whfoods.com, or purchase the Cleveland Clinic Healthy Heart Cookbook.

"Make it a project to try a new veggie every two weeks," Ohlson suggests.

Rethink preparation, since boiling vegetables or overcooking them turns them into tasteless mush. Brush your veggies with olive oil and roast or grill them. Before serving, add dried herbs, spices or lemon juice.

During the growing season, buy your vegetables at a farmer’s market, where they are likely to be at their peak flavor and nutritional value.

If you are short on time, stock up on fresh frozen vegetables in steam packets. "Avoid vegetables frozen in butter sauce, and add your own sauce or herbs after steaming," Ohlson recommends.

Caveat for Coumadin users

If you take Coumadin for a heart condition, you may have been told to watch your intake of dark, leafy greens and other foods high in vitamin K, since vitamin K can decrease the effectiveness of Coumadin. This does not mean you should avoid greens entirely.

You will do best if your diet includes a steady supply of vitamin K that does not exceed the recommended daily requirement.

"Eat these foods in moderation—never a huge amount at one time. It’s okay to toss a handful of spinach into pasta sauce, but not to eat a large spinach salad," says Ohlson.

Liven up your meals

Use vegetables in new ways. At breakfast, throw a handful of wilted spinach or chopped, sundried tomatoes to your eggs.

Your lunch should include a fist-sized serving size of veggies. Have lentil soup, vegetable soup, a tossed salad or a grilled veggie sandwich. Make your turkey sandwich with more lettuce and tomato than meat.

At dinner, half your plate should be veggies, one-quarter protein and one-quarter complex carbohydrate.

Taming the inner carnivore

It’s not necessary to become a vegetarian overnight. If you eat no vegetables, add some to your diet. Grow the amount gradually, and you’ll acquire a taste for veggies.

"All vegetables are good for you, each in a different way. Eat a rainbow of colors, and you’ll get everything your body needs," says Ohlson.