Making positive changes — one BEAT at a time

Diamonds, flowers, chocolates or a hug for your favorite person. Yes, Valentine’s Day is coming up — a day set aside to tell those dear to you how much they mean to you.

The week of Valentine’s Day is also recognized as National Cardiac Rehabilitation Week. This year’s theme is “Making Positive Changes, One BEAT at a Time.” Cardiac Rehabilitation Week, initiated by the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation (AACVPR), coincides with both Valentine’s Day and American Heart Month in an effort to draw greater attention to heart health. The goal for the recognition of this week is to highlight the role of prevention and education in the treatment of heart disease.

Cardiac rehabilitation programs generally provide services to improve the health and performance for people who have been diagnosed with heart disease or dysfunction. They also encourage lifestyle changes for individuals with known cardiovascular diseases. But as they say, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” applies to heart disease as well. There are lots of things that we can do to help reduce the risk of heart disease, but there is no one thing we can do to guarantee that we won’t be afflicted with heart disease. Certainly our family history has a lot to say about it and there isn’t much we can do about that. But if you do have a strong family history of heart disease, then there is even more reason to take steps to reduce your personal risk. There are many things we can do with regards to the foods we eat to help provide a heart healthy diet.

Generally speaking, the recommendations for a heart healthy diet would include: eating a well-balanced diet with foods from all the food groups, limiting saturated and trans fats, as well as salt, sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages. Most of us can probably think of an improvement or two that we could make with our eating habits. The theme for this year keys in on this point in that positive changes, even if they seem like small changes are how lifestyle changes are made. Adopting a new healthy habit or two that can be sustained is much more likely to become a lifestyle habit than a big change that you can only sustain for a short time.

I was reminded of this when I was talking with someone who mentioned that many years ago they had experimented with substituting unsweetened applesauce for oil when they made a baked item such as a cake mix or brownies and that they were still doing this. I recall my daughter doing 4-H projects with this many years ago and we also experimented with how acceptable the resulting baked product was compared to the original version. As I recall the texture was slightly different (a little bit heavier) but taste-wise it was very comparable. For the next year or so, I often would substitute applesauce to cut back on the fat content of a product. I think it might be time for me to revisit that habit, although I do much less baking now that my kids are no longer living at home.

If you want to try this, you can use applesauce or any type of fruit puree in place of the oil in a recipe. You can substitute it cup for cup, so if your recipe calls for 1/2 cup of oil, you would use 1/2 cup of applesauce. You would want to use unsweetened applesauce, otherwise your product may end up being too sweet with the added sugar from the sauce. In addition, the sweetened version would contribute a few more carbohydrates and calories to the finished product. Other fruit purees, such as prune or pear will work too, but the milder flavor of applesauce won’t interfere with the original flavor of your recipe. If you are planning to give this a try, be sure to do a test run before a big event, such as a birthday party, so that you can judge for yourself if the product is an acceptable substitute.

Replacing cooking oil with a fruit puree in a baked good is one way to cut back on some fat in the recipe. However, baked desserts and treats, whether they’re made with oil or fruit puree still contain a lot of empty calories. The next positive step or change might be substituting fruit for dessert! One of my favorite fruits is soon to be coming to our way. The Fruit Club is taking orders for and delivering fresh strawberries from the fields in Florida this month. One of my favorite desserts uses those sun-ripened strawberries dipped in a little dark chocolate. Or an even simpler and easier to eat version, would have those strawberries sliced in a bowl with a little dark chocolate grated over the top. That combination of a naturally sweet fruit with a little chocolate as a garnish is a favorite of mine.

Whatever tweaks you might make to your eating habits, whether you’re eating at home or eating out — you can enjoy flavorful foods AND eat heart healthy. A healthy diet does not mean tasteless foods. What better time than February, Valentine’s Day and American Heart Month to remind us to take care of our heart.

Cheryl Rude is a registered dietitian at Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center.