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Three Vital Nutrients for a Healthy Heart

By David Grotto, RD, LDNFebruary 13, 2012
From the WebMD Archives

Happy [early] Valentine’s Day to you! And of course, keeping with the theme, what could be more fitting than to give you than some heart-healthy advice…in a loving way.

As our guest, Travis Stork, MD, shared with us in last week’s post, “statin’ medications are very effective in lowering cholesterol, a major risk factor in heart disease, but they are not without their possible side effects, which include a rise in liver enzymes and myopathies (muscle disorders). Speaking from personal and professional experience, there are some not-too-shabby foods out there that research shows can rival the benefits of statins. So for today’s post, I thought I’d present three key nutrients that do a bang up job of controlling cholesterol and keeping arteries flowing. And as promised, I married them with some top-notch recipes that feature some commonly found foods in each category from some RD foodie pals who know how to make heart health come to life, delciously on your plate.

Soluble Fiber WebMD’s very own director of nutrition, Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, wrote a great piece on the various types of dietary fiber and their functions. One of those groups, called soluble fiber, plays a huge roll in soaking up bad LDL cholesterol. Soluble fibers really are attracted to water and will swell up many times over when exposed to it. The resulting gel that forms blocks cholesterol that’s in bile from being reabsorbed in the digestive tract and instead takes it for a one-way ride down the colon express.

Foods That Deliver. You’ll find soluble fiber in psyllium husks (aka ‘metamucil’) but also in faves like oats and barley, hard fruits such as apples and pears but also in guava, strawberries and oranges; nuts and seeds; and vegetables like beans and lentils, okra, carrots and cucumbers.

Plant Sterols are plants’ spin on cholesterol, but instead of gunking-up the works, their version actually helps whisk harmful cholesterol away in humans! Phytosterols are like the front line of the New York Giants. They block cholesterol molecules right at the door they normally come in and send them packing down your digestive tract instead of taking residence in your arteries.

Foods that deliver. Plant sterols are added to all sorts of foods today like margarine spreads, orange juice and even yogurt. But they occur naturally in common foods such as beans, nuts like pistachio, macadamia and pine nuts; vegetable oils such as corn, wheat germ, sesame and rice bran, figs, and Brussels sprouts.

Polyphenols are actually a group of plant nutrients that function primarily as powerful “antioxidants” whose job is to protect each and every cell of your body, at all cost. Think of them as a team of Chuck Norris-type crime fighters who show no mercy to a bunch of ‘radicals’. Polyphenols are often responsible for giving that ‘bite’ or ‘tang’ to foods and also express themselves visually in the reds, blues, and in the dark-color hues of coffee and chocolate. They protect against oxidative damage which is linked to premature aging, cancer, heart disease, and even obesity. Specifically to fighting heart disease, polyphenols protect the inside lining of the arteries that feed the heart from damaging plaque that can build up, break loose, and choke off blood suppy which can lead to stroke and heart attacks.

Foods That Deliver: They can be found in some really fun and familiar foods such as wine, tea, coffee, grapes, strawberries and blueberries, nuts, onions, tomatoes, beans, and chocolate!

Now let’s make it all happen in really tasty ways! See if you can identify which ingredients in the following recipes contain soluble fiber, plant sterols, and/or polyphenols!

Bean and Nut Dumplings with Spicy Salsa

By Victoria Shanta Retelny, RD, LDN, author of The Essential Guide to Healthy Healing Foods

Servings: 8 (2 dumplings/serving)

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes


2 15-oz. cans black beans or any bean, drained and rinsed

1 tsp. cumin, ground

1/2 cup plain dry breadcrumbs

2 cups tomatoes, finely chopped

1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

1 shallot, minced

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1 tsp. smoked paprika

Pinch of salt

1 TB extra-virgin olive oil

1 small avocado, diced


Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil. Set aside.

Blend black beans, cumin, and walnuts in a food processor until they form a paste-like consistency. Transfer to a mixing bowl and add 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs (save the rest for later in the recipe) and mix.

Combine tomatoes, scallions, cilantro, 1/2 teaspoon paprika, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir 1 cup of tomato mixture into the black bean mixture.

Mix the remaining 1/3 cup breadcrumbs, oil, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon paprika in a medium bowl until breadcrumbs are coated with oil. Divide the bean mixture into small balls (makes about 8 large dumpling balls). Lightly press each bean ball into the breadcrumb mixture and coat. Place on the baking sheet.

Bake the bean dumplings until heated through and the breadcrumbs are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Add avocado to the remaining tomato mixture and stir to make a salsa. Serve the salsa with the dumplings.

Nutrition Information per serving: 257 calories; 6 g total fat; 1 g saturated fat; 0 g trans fat; 0 mg cholesterol;45 mg sodium; 29 g carbohydrates; 10 g Fiber; 2 g sugars; 14 g protein

Roasted Acorn Squash and Grapes with Walnuts

By Mary Kimbrough, RD, LD and Robin Plotkin, RD, LD, members of Welch’s Health & Nutrition Advisory Panel

Servings: 4


1 acorn squash cut in quarters, seeds and stem removed

¼ tsp ground cumin

½ tsp ground cinnamon

ground red pepper, to taste

½ tsp Kosher salt

¼ tsp black pepper

1 cup red seedless grapes

2 tbsp raw chopped walnuts

1 ½ cups 100% Concord Grape Juice


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place squash quarters in a baking dish with the skin side down.

Place spices, grapes and nuts in a bowl or zip lock bag and toss until spices cover the nuts and grapes.

Place grape mixture into the wells of the squash quarter, allowing the additional grape mixture to run over the sides into the bottom of the baking dish.

Pour grape juice slowly over the top of the squash filling the bottom of the baking dish.

Place uncovered baking dish in the hot oven and roast until squash is soft and the grapes are roasted, about 50-60 minutes.

Remove from oven. To serve, spoon warm grape juice over the top of the squash quarter.

Nutrition Information per serving: 130 calories; 2g fat; 0g saturated fat; 2g protein; 28g carbohydrate; 0mg cholesterol; 250mg sodium; 2g fiber


Nutrition Babes Fruit and Nut Granola Bars

By Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RD and Kathleen A. Siegel, RD, CDN, collectively known as “NutritionBabes”

Servings: 16


1 cup old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
2 T ground flax seed
1 cup whole grain puffed wheat cereal (unsweetened)
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup raisins, chopped
1/4 cup creamy almond butter
1/4 cup honey
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 tsp salt
1 T semi-sweet mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat an 8×8 or 9×9 square pan with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.

On a baking sheet (preferably with a rim) combine oats, sunflower seeds, flaxseed and puffed wheat. Bake for about 3 minutes, then add pecans and bake additional 2-3 minutes. Watch closely, the nuts will burn if overcooked! Remove from oven and place in a large bowl. Add raisins, toss, and set aside. In a small saucepan, combine almond butter, honey, vanilla, and salt. Cook over medium low heat while stirring gently until bubbly, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and pour almond butter mixture over oat mixture. Stir well with a large spoon or spatula until thoroughly combined. Transfer to square pan and use very firm pressure to press flat with spatula. Once flat and even, sprinkle 1 T of mini chocolate chips and press into top. Refrigerate until cool and firm, at least several hours to overnight. Cut into 16 bars and store in refrigerator in a baggie or container with lid.

Nutrition Information per serving: 97 calories; 5g fat; 0 cholesterol; 7g sugar; 1.5g fiber; 65mg sodium; 2.3g protein

Enjoy eating your way to heart health! Let me know how you like the recipes and let me check your pulse in the comment section.

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