Learning to Eat Heart Healthy Foods, a Covid Journey Challenge

Coming down with Covid pneumonia presented me with a new food challenge of learning to eat heart healthy foods. I was told that I now have an A-Fib heart condition brought on by Covid.

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I’m a food blogger, though, and I create recipes. When my husband’s doctor told him he had a diabetes problem, changing the way we eat became necessary. My husband had never dieted in his life.

Familiar with Diets

But I was familiar with diets. My dad told me once, “Honey, you’ll have to watch your weight for the rest of your life.” And I’ve watched it go up and down.

I’d been on low-fat diets, Weight Watchers, and took diet pills as a teenager. I thought I was too fat and wanted to be skinny. I nearly starved myself.

My mother saw to it, though, that I ate even if it was a plain baked potato with nothing on it. I know, boring.

She came up with a nutritious little snack for me that became my favorite. A little bowl of pear halves topped with a dollup of Miracle Whip and grated cheese on top of that. Still to this day, I enjoy making that little fruit snack.

So I knew about diets and was familiar with healthy eating even if I didn’t always eat nutritious food.

Of course, my husband had the diabetes issue. I didn’t have to change how I eat. But I needed to learn what to cook for my man.

The Diabetic Challenge

My husband was a trucker at the time of the diabetes onslaught, so the diabetic challenge was a tough one. He drove an over-the-road big rig. This created a whole other problem.

Truckers tend to eat unhealthy because they eat at truckstops with fast-food restaurants. Truckers sit for hours at a time without exercise.

Unless they keep a mini fridge and cooking appliances in their trucks, truckers’ foods are limited.

But we found ways to change. We dealt with the new way of eating.

After we conquered the diabetic food dilemma, I found out I had cancer. Then surgery. We were relieved when the surgeon said the surgery was successful and there was no more cancer.

Sugar Feeds Cancer Cells

However, I learned that sugar feeds cancer cells. This time, however, the food issue was mine. If I cared about my health, I did have to change how I eat.

I have always loved sweets and still do. It’s an ongoing battle for me.

If you follow me on my blog, you know I love cooking and baking for family and my grandkids. That includes baking breads and making desserts.

I’m not the only one who loves sweets either. Just like Grummy (what my grandkids call me), my grand-littles like to eat sweet stuff.

Heart-Healthy Diet

When I ended up in the hospital due to Covid pneumonia, I was put on a heart-healthy diet. The cardiologist explained that I had an A-Fib heart condition because of Covid.

The cardiologist believes that after Covid, the A-Fib problem could eventually go away. But there’s no guarantee, so I have to wait and see how it goes. In the meantime, however, I’ve been instructed to stay on a heart-healthy diet.

There is no way of truly knowing my future with A-Fib, but I’m not going to borrow trouble. There’s a verse in the Bible about this. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (NKJV).

Heart Healthy Foods and Eating with a Plan

The Covid journey challenge of learning heart healthy foods is not that difficult. And it includes eating with a plan that includes:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Whole-grain breads
  • Keeping sodium to a minimum
  • Balanced meals four hours apart
  • Counting calories
  • Sugar-free foods
  • Staying away from high glycemic foods
  • Eating a variety of foods
  • Arranging plates of food that appear appetizing

Though certainly not inclusive, this heart healthy foods list gives a general idea of the healthy plan ahead of me. Since I don’t know how long Covid-related issues will affect my body, I’m in for the long haul.

Heart Healthy Food Choices that Add Variety

I will list heart healthy food choices that add variety to my daily meals so that you can also benefit. Perhaps, you’re experiencing your own Covid journey and/or would like more heart healthy food menu ideas.

Covid affects people differently, and weakness seems to be one that everyone experiences. I’ve dealt with changes in my heart, blood sugar, and taste and smell. Though I never completely lost my taste, I went days eating nothing more than a few bites of food.

Appetite Returned

My appetite returned the night I went to the hospital (of all places). Soon I began noticing that I mostly was tasting salty, sweet, and sour, not the actual flavor of the food. Meats and breads tasted like cardboard (not that I’ve ever eaten cardboard).

Since my taste is off, what matters most to me is texture of food, food presentation, and nutrition. If a dish tastes too salty or sweet, I only take a bite or two. Besides all of this, I often don’t want to eat or am bored with the food because I can’t taste.

Sugar Spikes

If I don’t stay away from the foods containing too much salt or sugar, then sugar spikes can happen. Or I gain a pound or two in one day.

When learning a new diet plan, it helps to understand the benefits of foods on the plan. I’m not a nutritionist or dietician. My purpose is not to explain the science of how to eat on a heart healthy food plan.

I do, however, want to suggest heart-healthy foods that add variety in recipes and menu ideas. Doing this helps me to keep my heart healthy journey from becoming boring. And as I continue learning to eat heart healthy foods, I will post them on my blog.

Eating Whole Grains Can Lower Heart Disease

Did you know that eating whole grains can actually lower heart disease? Heart-health food experts say eat three servings of whole grains every day.

But why? What is it about whole grains that is so beneficial to heart health? In a nutshell, bran and fiber slow the breakdown of starch into glucose. This helps to prevent blood sugar spikes. 

Fiber Helps

Fiber also helps in lowering cholesterol, aiding with the digestive tract, and in preventing small blood clots from forming. And blood clots can trigger heart attacks and strokes.

It’s so easy to ignore all of this when you’re not used to eating healthy. Families are often so busy that they don’t feel like taking time to cook at home. Dining out and ordering fast-food take out simply makes life convenient.

Read more about whole grain nutrients from Harvard School of Public Health.

Scroll down this list of optional whole grains to find ones you might like:

Whole Grains

  • Rye Bread
  • Oatmeal
  • Buckwheat
  • Barley
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Wild rice
  • Popcorn
  • Whole-grain cereals
  • Whole-wheat bread
  • Whole-grain bread

The whole grains list includes foods you can have for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. I have learned that it’s best to eat regular meals because it eliminates my cravings to snack. And it helps control the blood sugar spikes.

Let me add here that I’m definitely not a pro at understanding diabetes. I’ve been blessed to be healthy most of my life. These health issues have come up due to Covid, and I’m learning what works best for me.

Read food labels at the grocery store. Choose 100% whole-grain breads or 100% whole-wheat breads. 

Sodium Intake

Sodium intake is a huge part of eating heart healthy. Whether grocery shopping or dining out, it is important to pay close attention to the foods you choose. 

Have you ever noticed feeling bloated or you gain up to five pounds after eating at a restaurant? Sometimes I think I’ve chosen healthy foods like green vegetables, yet I still end up with a sudden weight gain.

So I was intrigued by the following article. Sodium sources: Where does all that sodium come from?

Preservatives

Be careful of the preservatives you consume. They come in packaged and frozen foods you buy at the supermarket. They’re in the food you eat at restaurants.

If you are on a heart healthy diet, the best decision is to eat at home as often as possible.  Fruits, vegetables, and organic fresh meat are the best foods to eat.

Leafy Greens

Vegetables are nutritious including leafy greens. But if you’re on a blood thinner, there are greens like kale and spinach that you must limit.

Leafy greens are high in Vitamin K and can counteract blood-thinning effects of blood thinners. It’s important to check with your doctor about foods you should avoid or limit.

Eating a Lot of Fruits and Vegetables Can Lower Heart Disease

Cardiologist Andrew Freeman, M.D., says it takes a variety of foods to eat all your nutritional needs. Check out The Best Foods to Eat to Beat Heart Disease by Matt McMillen.

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

When I was put on the heart-healthy diet plan in the hospital, I liked that I could eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. After all, vegetables, Southern-style, is one of the foods I like to eat. And typically, I don’t cook with much salt, if at all. I enjoy cooking vegetables with fresh herbs and salt-free seasonings.

Take a quick minute to scroll through these vegetable recipes below. These recipes can be adapted to the heart-healthy diet by simply cutting the sodium.

This Shrimp Cabbage Scampi is delicious. 

You may not find it necessary to adhere to a strict heart-healthy plan. If not, make the dish like it is.

Shrimp Scampi
Shrimp Cabbage Scampi

I’ll be making a few changes to my Shrimp Cabbage Scampi so that I can include it in my heart-healthy menus. For instance, I can only have Swiss cheese for now. I’ll need to eliminate the other cheeses. 

Sweet and Tangy Coleslaw

I love this recipe. The main thing you have to be careful about is the sodium content from the pickle relish and mayonnaise. But that can be adapted in this recipe.

Coleslaw
Sweet and Tangy Coleslaw

Chopped Vegetable Salad

My chopped vegetable salad can totally be prepared with low sodium. Vinegar can be a good low-sodium alternative to season food.

The only change I perhaps would make in this recipe is the type of vinegar used. That’s because the ones in this recipe are not found in my local supermarkets.

vegetable salad
Chopped Vegetable Salad

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Roasted Brussels sprouts is one of the best-tasting vegetables ever. Obviously, the bacon is a big no on the heart health diet plan. I usually look for low-sodium bacon at the grocery store, however.

Brussels sprouts
Stove-Top Roasted Brussels Sprouts

An option would be to substitute turkey bacon in place of bacon. However, I might would cut back on the bacon and slice it in small pieces to keep the flavor. And Brussels sprouts are a good choice of a healthy vegetable on the heart health plan.

Snacks & Desserts

Finding heart healthy snacks and desserts is challenging to me because either they contain either too much salt or sugar. Determining sugar and flour alternatives in making my own treats can also be challenging. However, I continue to experiment until I come up with a snack or dessert that satisfies in taste and texture.

Snacks and desserts on my heart health diet since Covid have been limited. My taste is not back to normal yet. Therefore, my appetite has changed.

List of Snack and Dessert Ideas

A list of snack and dessert ideas have been included below. The ideas listed are mostly quite simple, but heart healthy foods don’t have to be complicated. That’s because at this point of my Covid journey, I’m not interested in eating very much.

Simple cucumber slices on a slice of whole grain bread with mayonnaise is a satisfying snack. I prefer peach or blueberry Greek yogurt as a sweet snack, and I can taste the flavors. And I enjoy a cup of seasonal fruit.

Cucumber sandwich
Cucumber Slices on Whole Grain Slice & Fruit
  • Homemade whole grain muffinsEverything Mini Bundt, a Kitchen Southern Hospitality recipe I created, is one of my favorite treats. It is a whole grain recipe made from white whole grain flour and rolled oats. I love that it has no white sugar but especially like it because it’s chunky.
  • Sliced cucumbers sprinkled with a tasty seasoning and paired with whole grain crackers or cheese
  • Reduced-sodium feta cheese – As I was browsing the Internet for feta cheese snacks, I discovered a delicious-looking snack recipe. It’s called Spinach Feta Cheese Roll, and I think I would have difficulty eating only one piece. While the feta cheese roll lacks being categorized as heart healthy, it can be adapted into a more heart healthy recipe.
  • Consider filo pastry recipes such as Pork & Apple Filo Roll. Senior Dietitian Victoria Taylor says that those with heart disease can enjoy comfort foods like pies with a few changes.
  • Sugar-free puddings can be purchased at the grocery store. When you want something sweet after dinner, these puddings can satisfy that sweet craving. But you can also make your own sugar-free puddings. Since being in the hospital with Covid, I haven’t made my own sugar-free puddings. When I do, I will be sharing the recipes.
  • Nut and seed snacks are good for a quick snack. I’ve kept walnuts on hand since the Covid sickness for an easy quick snack.
  • I have experienced waiting too long to eat and getting the shakes. Celery with peanut butter has been my #1 go-to snack for this solution. Orange juice and walnuts are good for this as well.
  • Greek yogurt – I buy the sugar-free kind. However, not all Greek yogurts I’ve had after getting out of the hospital with Covid have been sugar free. In that case, I only eat half the serving. Occasionally, I add fruit.
  • Occasionally, I enjoy a cup of whole grain cereal (like Raisin Bran) with a milk lower in sugar.
  • Seasonal fruit cups have been one of the most satisfying snacks after getting sick with Covid. Though I never lost my taste, tastes have been different. I can’t taste everything, but I can taste fruit and it is good.
  • Cucumber slices on whole grain bread – I love veggie sandwiches, sometimes with cheese. 

Red Meat

Can red meat be included as one of the heart healthy foods? Lean beef can help people lose weight. And it can support heart health according to an article, “Lean Beef as Part of a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle.

I asked the dietician if I can eat steak on my diet because I love ribeye steak. She suggested cuts like tenderloin and sirloin but recommended only eating a three-ounce steak at a meal.

If you follow my blog, you’ll know that my husband grills ribeyes on a charcoal grill. They are the best. And I can continue enjoying those delicious-grilled ribeye steaks my husband cooks.

The key to keeping the ribeye more lean is to trim off the fat (which we do anyway). And limiting the size of a serving is necessary. The serving is the challenge in regard to enjoying a hot ribeye off the grill.

Usually, I eat half the ribeye and save the rest for another meal. It looks like now I’ll be enjoying it for three or more meals, and that’s okay. Of course, it depends on the size of the ribeye.

The one-inch thick ribeyes we purchase at our favorite meat market sometimes may be sixteen ounces. Huge. That’s a little over five three-ounce servings.

Sirloin is a good choice in a steak. One of the restaurants I go to has a six-ounce sirloin that I order often. That amounts to two servings (though it seems like a small steak).

Foods Bad for Your Heart

Stay away from foods bad for your heart that contain salt, sugar, saturated fat, and refined carbs. They can cause a heart attack or stroke.
Here’s a list of foods that are tempting. But they can be bad for your heart and need to be eaten with caution:
  • Bacon
  • White Bread
  • Desserts
  • White Rice
  • Pasta
  • Pizza
  • Diet Coke

Can I never eat these foods? Best answer is stay away from them. The more you eat them, the harder it is to refrain from eating them.

However, I know from experience that there will be times I will want some of these foods. I love bacon, love ribeye steak, and absolutely could eat bread at every meal. But the key is to eat in moderation.

Learning to eat heart healthy foods may be a challenge. But it’s a good challenge.

 

Proverbs 23:20-21
Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine, Or with gluttonous eaters of meat;
For the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty,
And drowsiness will clothe one with rags.

Source: https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Gluttony

 

6 Comments

  1. Thanks for all the healthy eating tips and info! So sorry to hear that you have developed A-Fib–praying that will go away!

    1. Author

      You’re welcome. And thank you for your concern. I am also hoping and believing that the A-Fib will go away.

  2. This is a very interesting post. I pray that A-Fib goes away for you and isn’t a permanent condition. Sounds like you’re going to have an interesting journey. When you revise that shrimp recipe, will you publish it on your website. Do you know why Swiss cheese is allowed while others are not?

    1. Author

      Thank you. Yes, I will publish the revised shrimp recipe when I make it. I don’t know the reason, haven’t researched, for the Swiss cheese. You have any idea?

      1. I was reading cheese labels at the grocery store. Swiss cheese has the lowest amount of sodium compared to the other cheeses. That’s probably why it’s allowed and others aren’t.

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