5 Breakfasts to Power Your Heart

by April Dupee

The month of February is all about the heart. Not only is it that time of year when stores are stocked with greeting cards, balloons, and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates to celebrate Valentine’s Day, but also it marks American Heart Month to raise awareness about heart disease and prevention. With 1 in 3 deaths in the U.S. attributable to cardiovascular disease, American Heart Month serves as an important reminder to take care of our hearts and encourage our communities to support heart health initiatives.

In honor of American Heart Month and school back in full swing, I have rounded up my favorite, simple, make-ahead breakfast recipes full of heart healthy nutrients. Whether or not you have cardiovascular disease, a heart healthy diet is one we can all benefit from. Loading up your plate with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean poultry and fish will give you all the fiber and important nutrients you need to protect your heart. In addition, cutting back on sugar, sodium, saturated fats, and trans fats will reduce cardiovascular disease risk factors such as increased cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and weight.

Because these recipes can be made in advance, there is no need to compromise health for time when you are heading out the door in the morning. Give your breakfast a heart-healthy makeover that will power you through the day.

Breakfast Oatmeal Cupcakes To-Go

Baked oatmeal to-go, anyone? While many baked goods are filled with added sugar, refined flour, and saturated fats, these oatmeal cupcakes are loaded with fiber-rich oats to help keep cholesterol low. Make these even more delicious and nutritious with add-ins such as berries, flax seeds, and cinnamon. The best feature of this recipe is that it freezes well. Before you head out the door, pop one in the microwave and you will be ready to go!

Recipe and photo: Chocolate Covered Katie

Breakfast Oatmeal Cupcakes To-Go. Recipe and photo by Chocolate Covered Katie.

Chia Pudding

Don’t let their small size fool you—the chia seeds in this recipe are packed with nutrients including fiber, protein, and omega-3s. One ounce of chia seeds (about 2 tablespoons) has 10 grams of fiber, 5 grams of protein, and about 6,000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids! Low in sugar and saturated fats, this recipe is definitely a heart healthy alternative to your typical pudding.

Make this recipe the night before and get creative with flavor combinations and toppings. Some of my favorite add-ins and toppings include: Vanilla extract, cacao powder, cinnamon, bananas, berries, nut butters, coconut, and granola.

Recipe and photo: Nutrition Stripped

Chia Pudding. Recipe and photo by Nutrition Stripped.

Egg Muffins

Get your veggies in with this savory recipe! Vegetables are an important part of a heart-healthy diet by offering beneficial nutrients and fiber that keep calorie counts low and contribute to overall cardiovascular health. While the eggs in this recipe do contain cholesterol, current dietary guidelines indicate that dietary cholesterol does not affect blood cholesterol levels as much as we once thought. Rather, saturated fats are the main culprit. Nonetheless, these single serving cups will keep your portion sizes in check and your morning moving quickly as you head out the door.

Recipe and photo: hurrythefoodup

Egg Muffins. Recipe and photo by hurrythefoodup.

Overnight Oats

Wake up to a creamy bowl of oats that takes no more than 5 minutes to prep! No cooking required. If you like chia pudding but are looking for something a little heartier, overnight oats are a great option. The oats and chia seeds provide tons of fiber, which is thought to boost heart health by lowering cholesterol and helping with weight loss. In addition, the bananas used to sweeten and add a creamy texture keep this breakfast low in sugar and saturated fats.

Recipe and photo by OhSheGlows.

Overnight Oats. Recipe and photo by OhSheGlows.

2-Ingredient Pancakes

This recipe is as simple as it gets! Maybe not the traditional pancake you are used to, but with just bananas and eggs these pancakes are too easy not to try. With no sugar, oils, or processed flour that you often find in pancakes, this recipe is a quick heart healthy alternative. Plus, you can boost the nutrition with endless extras and toppings. I love to mix in nuts, berries, and cinnamon and top with nut butters. Make a batch and store the extras in the fridge or freezer when you need a quick breakfast.

Recipe and photo by The Kitchn.

2-Ingredient Pancakes. Recipe and photo by The Kitchn.

While we begin to gift our loved ones with flowers and chocolates this Valentine’s Day, let’s remember the greatest gift of all that we can give them—a long, healthy, and happy life. Use American Heart Month as motivation to take care of your heart and encourage your friends and family to do the same. With these simple and versatile recipes, you can start your day with a variety of heart-healthy fruits, veggies and whole grains. Make these recipes a part of your routine and trust that you are taking care of your heart as much as much as it takes care of you!

April Dupee is a first year in the NICBC program and future DPD student. With breakfast as her favorite meal of the day, she loves experimenting with healthy and delicious new recipes.

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Balance, Variety, and Moderation: What Do They Really Mean?

by Katelyn Castro

Balance, variety, and moderation have been referenced in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans for decades. Yet overtime, the ambiguity of these terms has clouded their importance and left their meaning open for interpretation—often misinterpretation.

“Everything in moderation.”

“It’s all about balance.”

“I eat a variety of foods… well, a variety of ice-cream flavors!”

These words are often used to justify our food choices or to make us feel better when our diet is not 100% nutritious. Not anymore! Instead of using these words to rationalize our eating habits (which is completely unnecessary and counterproductive), let’s talk about how these nutrition concepts can be interpreted with a more intuitive approach to healthy eating.

Variety

Fruits and vegetables are usually the food groups that we focus on when we talk about variety in our diet. However, variety is encouraged within all the major food groups and among the food groups.

Besides making meals more colorful, eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, dairy, proteins, and grains provides a wider range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, prebiotics, and probiotics—keeping our heart, mind, skin, eyes, and gut functioning optimally. Varying protein with a combination of eggs, dairy, legumes, grains, and nuts is especially important for vegetarians to receive adequate amounts of all essential amino acids.

In addition to the benefits of variety at the biochemical level, a varied diet can also make eating more satisfying and flexible. While it can be easy to rely on your food staples for meals, introducing new ingredients can bring attention back to the flavor and enjoyment of eating, preventing you from eating on autopilot. Swap out an apple for a grapefruit or peach; have turkey or fish in place of chicken; substitute barley or quinoa for pasta. Choosing local and seasonal foods will also keep your diet varied diet throughout the year. Giving yourself permission to eat a variety of foods within all food groups can be freeing, helping to overcome rigid eating habits and food rules and appreciate the range of foods that satisfy your hunger and cravings.

Photo credit: https://stocksnap.io

Moderation

Sweets, fatty meats, fried food, fast food, soda… these are all foods recommended to “eat in moderation,” or limit, in some cases. Whether it is unwanted weight gain or increased risk of type 2 diabetes, the negative health effects of eating excess added sugars and solid fats have been identified in the literature. However, cutting out sugary and fatty foods completely can be just as damaging for our emotional health, leaving us disconnected from friends and family and preoccupied with thoughts about food. Food is a huge part of our culture; it’s social, celebratory, and meant to be enjoyed in good company. That’s why moderation—not restriction or overindulgence—is the secret to healthy, happy eating habits.

But, what does moderation really mean? Technically, the most recent dietary guidelines recommend limiting added sugars to less than 10% of total calories per day, saturated fat to less than 10% of total calories per day, and trans fat to as little as possible. Realistically, this may translate into having more added sugars one day (i.e. when you’re eating cake at a family birthday party), and having more saturated fat another day (i.e. when you eat pizza with friends on a weekend).

Moderation is about being open to day-to-day variations in your diet depending on your appetite, cravings, and activity level. Sometimes a big bowl of ice-cream is just want you need to satisfy your sweet tooth, other times a small square of chocolate may be enough to keep sweet cravings at bay. Savoring the flavor of sugary and fatty foods and becoming aware of how your body responds can help you determine what “eating in moderation” means for you.

Photo credit: https://stocksnap.io

Balance

Out of all three of these terms, balance probably has the most interpretations. A balanced diet is often defined as a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fat within the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges set by the Institute of Medicine. A balanced meal, on the other hand, refers to a balance of food groups consistent with MyPlate or Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate: fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, one fourth with lean protein, and one fourth with whole grains. Together, creating a balance of food groups and macronutrients can make meals and snacks more filling (from protein and fiber) and provide more sustained energy (from carbohydrates in whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables).

Beyond balance within our food choices, energy balance looks more broadly at the balance between energy intake (calories from food) and energy expenditure (calories used for exercise and metabolic processes). Energy balance is associated with weight maintenance, while energy imbalance can contribute to weight loss or weight gain. However, this concept is often oversimplified because energy expenditure cannot be precisely calculated since many factors like the stress, hormones, genetics, and gut microbiota (bacteria in our digestive tract) can alter our metabolism. For example, chronic stress can lead to high levels of cortisol, which signal the body to store fat, contributing to weight gain. In contrast, a diverse composition of gut microbiota may enhance metabolism and promote weight loss, according to preliminary research.

Considering the multiple factors influencing our metabolism, listening to our bodies’ hunger and fullness cues can often guide food intake better than relying on calculated formulas and food trackers. Creating balance, variety, and moderation in our diets can help us meet our nutritional needs and achieve energy balance, while preserving the joy and connection that food brings to our lives.

Photo credit: https://stocksnap.io

Katelyn Castro is a second-year student in the DI/MS Nutrition program at the Friedman School. She’s a foodie, runner, and part-time yogi on a mission to make healthy eating easy, sustainable, and enjoyable. You can find her thoughts on all things relating to food and nutrition at nutritionservedsimply.com