Old lessons hold true: Food choices, exercise help reduce risk of heart disease

Shane DeMille, a dietitian at University Medical Center, has been a registered dietitian for 15 years. In that time, he hasn’t seen much change in the dietary guidelines for reducing the risk of heart disease.

“We’ve pretty much known what causes heart disease for many years,” DeMille said.

Yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for American men and women, killing more than 600,000 each year.

“Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of everyone,” said Jaci Black, a program officer and certified health educator with the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

And so, during American Heart Month, the American Heart Association is reinforcing the keys to reducing the risk of heart disease:

■ Exercise at least 30 minutes a day.

■ Maintain normal weight.

■ Reduce your salt intake.

■ Increase your potassium intake.

■ Limit alcohol consumption.

■ Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products, while reducing total and saturated-fat intake.

It ain’t rocket science, folks. But we’re still not getting the message — or, we’re not putting it into practice.

“From my experience, I think people are really resistant to change,” DeMille said. “There’s only a small minority that are open to change.”

And, rest assured, the medical community knows which you are. DeMille said cardiac patients who consult with the dietitians at UMC are assessed regarding their readiness to change.

“We kind of work with them according to where they are,” he said. “We’re not going to give a really long lesson to someone who doesn’t give a darn. We’ll give them basic, elementary information.”

See the previous points.

Besides emphasizing those points, DeMille expands upon them.

“One of our biggest messages is to limit packaged foods,” he said. “As far as heart disease, that’s one of the biggest killers, because of excess sodium, excess carbohydrate. That’s really what drives people into the hospital.”

And know that even the baby steps are important.

“We encourage people to make small changes instead of having a total metamorphosis of diet,” DeMille said. “That’s usually not a good thing to tell people, because they usually just get frustrated. With small changes, they’re gratified by the progress that they’ve already made.”

As part of her job, Black travels around to local churches to spread the gospel of healthy eating.

“I tell them to look at changing their behavior regarding foods, to start with small changes first and look at portion sizes, as opposed to serving sizes,” which may be the amount you’re served in a restaurant.

Black advises asking for a takeout container when you order in a restaurant and immediately putting half of your food into it to take home.

At a buffet, she advises checking it all out first, before you put anything on your plate, and then choosing from among the best.

“We talk about using lean pieces of meat,” she said. “I talk to them about using turkey breast, chicken breast, ground turkey breast. Really focus on reading what’s on the label. Read how much saturated and unsaturated fat it is. Not everything that says it is ground turkey is ground turkey breast. Some of that ground turkey has a very large amount of fat.”

And while leaner may be better, you have to watch how you use it, she said.

“If you use the very lean — the 99 percent fat-free — that’s something that really needs to be cooked in a Crockpot forever, because it can be a little tough,” Black said. “Seven percent fat is easy to work with and still moist enough.”

Of course, even the best diet can’t save you if you’re cursed with horrible genes.

“If you have a genetic pre-disposition to coronary disease, realize that you are a little different,” said Dr. Chowdhury Ahsan, medical director of UMC’s Cardiology Center. In that case, he said, you may need medication and may likely have specialized dietary requirements.

But in general, he said, it’s a matter of common sense.

“Avoid fatty foods, reduce your cholesterol intake, emphasize vegetables and lean meats,” Ahsan said. “Give up smoking, change your lifestyle, exercise.”

It ain’t rocket science.

Here are ideas to get you started.


¼ cup sliced almonds

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

2 teaspoons water

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 cups whole-grain oat cereal with yogurt-flavored coating

2 cups whole-grain wheat and bran flakes with raisins

½ cup dried unsweetened cranberries

½ cup dried unsweetened blueberries

Put a piece of aluminum foil about 12 inches square on a platter or baking sheet. Lightly spray with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a small nonstick skillet, dry-roast the almonds over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, or until lightly golden brown, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the brown sugar, water, cinnamon and nutmeg. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the liquid has evaporated and the almonds are coated with the mixture, stirring constantly. Transfer to the foil. Let cool completely, 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, stir together the remaining ingredients.

Add the cooled almonds to the cereal mixture, stirring to combine. Store in an airtight container for up to seven days.

Serves 10.



¼ cup all-fruit strawberry or apricot spread

2 tablespoons minced red bell pepper

1 teaspoon grated peeled ginger root or orange zest

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 or 2 dashes crushed red pepper flakes

1½ ounces fat-free cream cheese, softened

2 tablespoons fat-free sour cream

1/8 teaspoon salt

15 frozen mini phyllo shells, thawed

In a small saucepan, stir together the fruit spread and bell pepper. Cook over medium heat for several seconds so the fruit spread slightly melts, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat. Let cool completely, about 15 minutes. Stir in the ginger root, vinegar and red pepper flakes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the cream cheese, sour cream and salt until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.

To assemble, spoon about ½ teaspoon filling into each shell, gently spreading over the bottom. Top each with about 1 teaspoon fruit spread mixture, gently spreading over the filling. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed, up to 4 hours.

Serves 5.


3 cups fresh corn kernels, divided

¾ cup low-fat milk

1 tablespoon cornstarch

¼ teaspoon salt

Place 2 cups corn, milk, cornstarch and salt in a blender; blend until smooth. Transfer the puree to a medium saucepan, and add the remaining 1 cup corn. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture simmers and thickens and the corn is tender, 5 to 7 minutes.

Serves 4.


½ cup sliced almonds

¼ cup whole-wheat flour

1½ teaspoons paprika

½ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon dry mustard

¼ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1½ teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

4 large egg whites

1 pound chicken tenders

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil. Set a wire rack on the baking sheet and coat it with canola oil cooking spray.

Place almonds, flour, paprika, garlic powder, dry mustard, salt and pepper in a food processor; process until the almonds are finely chopped and the paprika is mixed throughout, about 1 minute. With the motor running, drizzle in oil; process until combined. Transfer the mixture to a shallow dish.

Whisk egg whites in a second shallow dish. Add chicken tenders and turn to coat. Transfer each tender to the almond mixture; turn to coat evenly. (Discard any remaining egg white and almond mixture.) Place the tenders on the prepared rack and coat with cooking spray; turn and spray the other side.

Bake the chicken fingers until golden brown, crispy and no longer pink in the center, 20 to 25 minutes.

Serves 4.


4 boneless eye-of-round steaks (4 ounces each), all visible fat discarded

1½ teaspoons salt-free garlic and herb seasoning blend (divided use)

1 cup fat-free, no-salt-added beef broth

¼ cup whole almonds

1 tablespoon sliced almonds

¼ cup whole-berry cranberry sauce or 1/3 cup fat-free sour cream

1 tablespoon prepared white horseradish

½ teaspoon salt-free garlic and herb seasoning blend

Season both sides of the steaks evenly with 1 teaspoon garlic and herb seasoning blend. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the steaks for 2 minutes on each side, or until browned. Add the broth and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 30 to 40 minutes, or until tender. If needed, add water ¼ cup at a time to keep the steaks from sticking. If desired, reserve ½ to 2/3 cup cooking liquid to spoon over the steaks before serving.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, dry-roast the whole almonds over medium heat for 6 to 8 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Transfer to the work bowl of a food processor and let cool for 5 minutes. In the same skillet, dry-roast the sliced almonds for 3 to 4 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a small plate and set aside.

Process the whole almonds for 1 to 2 minutes, or until finely ground. Transfer to a medium bowl. Stir in the cranberry sauce or sour cream, horseradish, and ½ teaspoon garlic and herb seasoning blend until well combined.

To serve, spoon the reserved pan liquid over each steak. Top each with about 2 tablespoons sauce. Garnish with the almond slices.

Serves 4.


Canola or corn oil for pie pan

2 large egg whites

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/8 teaspoon salt

½ cup sugar

¾ cup walnuts or pecans, finely chopped

1 small package fat-free, sugar-free instant lemon or vanilla pudding mix, prepared with 2 cups cold fat-free milk

12 ounces fresh berries or other fruit, sliced if needed

½ cup fat-free frozen whipped topping, thawed (optional)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Pour a small amount of oil onto a paper towel and lightly wipe the bottom and side of an 8- or 9-inch pie pan.

In a large mixing bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites, vanilla, cream of tartar and salt on medium speed until foamy. With the mixer still running, gradually add the sugar in a slow, steady stream, until stiff peaks form. (The peaks shouldn’t fold over when the beater is lifted.)

Very gently fold in ½ cup of the nuts.

Using a flexible spatula or rubber scraper, spread the meringue over the bottom and up the side of the pie pan and onto the lip of the pan, but not over the edge of the pan. Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with the remaining nuts.

Bake for 50 minutes, or until the meringue is firm and lightly browned. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely, at least 2 hours.

Using the package directions, prepare the pudding. Spread over the cooled crust. Arrange the fruit decoratively over the pudding. Top with the whipped topping.

Serves 8.

— Recipes from the American Heart Association

Contact reporter Heidi Rinella at hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474.