Diane May Nutrition Blog

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The Best Foods For Heart Health

February 6th, 2020

Tomorrow you may see many people wearing red.  That is because February is National Heart Health Month.  Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. According to the CDC, about 647,000 Americans die from heart disease every year. That equates to 1 in every 4 deaths. Good heart  health starts with what foods we put in our body.  A study published in JAMA three days ago suggested that those who consumed a high intake of processed meat, unprocessed red meat, or poultry, but not fish, was significantly associated with a small increased risk of incident CVD, whereas higher intake of processed meat or unprocessed red meat, but not poultry or fish, was significantly associated with a small increased risk of all-cause mortality. What does this mean? We need to further investigate the implications of the animal proteins we consume and most likely consume more fish and less processed meat, meat and poultry. There are other foods we should always rotate in our diet for good heart health. A heart healthy diet will always include lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fish.  It is important to limit saturated fat, eliminate trans fat and reduce sodium and refined sugars. so what are some of the top foods to include in your diet?

  • Oats: a great source of soluble fiber as well as Omega-3 fatty acid, ALA. Other great sources of soluble fiber include berries, beans, apples and citrus. Oats naturally pull cholesterol out of the body. Great for breakfast or a snack. Just avoid the added sweeteners and sugars and opt to add cinnamon and berries for natural sweetness.
  • Salmon: A lean and healthy protein with the added benefit of the Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. The American Heart Association recommends at least 2 servings a week of fatty fish. Other fatty fishes include, tuna, arctic char, sardines, cod, herring, mackerel and anchovies. A serving is 3 ounces.
  • Dark leafy Greens: Dark leafy greens such as kale, collards and spinach are a source of Vitamin K, which promotes blood clotting. Make sure you always talk to your doctor or RD if you are on blood thinners before increasing dark leafy greens. Dark leafy’s are also a natural source of nitrates, which can lower blood pressure (beet juice can do this as well). 
  • Flax: Flax (it is important that it is ground), is a source of soluble and insoluble fiber as well as Omega-3’s. Add to your morning yogurt or smoothie for added nutrition.
  • Almonds: Studies have found that the consumption of almonds can reduce the risk of heart disease. High in healthy fat, and Vitamin E as well as protein. They do have calories so be mindful. 11 almonds are 100 calories. Look for dry roasted and unsalted.
  • Brown rice: High in selenium, B complex vitamins, fiber and magnesium. It has been shown that a layer of tissue surrounding the grains of brown rice may work against angiotensin II, which is an endocrine protein that negatively impacts blood pressure and atherosclerosis.
  • Beans: A good source of fiber, protein and potassium. A diet that include beans and legumes has been shown to lower the risk for CHD (coronary heart disease). You can soak dry beans to reconstitute.  It is fine to use them out of the can but make sure to rinse them thoroughly multiple times to rinse off the sodium. It is a great idea to incorporate beans a few times a week as your protein instead of animal protein.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Packed with antioxidants, this monounsaturated fat can reduce inflammation and oxidation. A stable in the Mediterranean diet, olive oil has been shown to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Blueberries: Loaded with anthocyanins, studies have shown that 1/2 cup serving a day can reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease as well as reduce blood pressure. 

These are just a handful of the foods we should have in our diet. A heart healthy diet should include a wide variety of fruits and vegetables-eat the rainbow. The more colors we consume, the better. We should strive to consume at least 5 servings a day of vegetables and fruits. One serving of vegetables is 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw. A serving of fruit is a 1/2 cup cut or 1 small hand fruit (such as an apple). We should incorporate monounsaturated fats, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains and fish. Eating less processed foods and more whole, plant based foods is a great start. Your heart will thank you! I liked this recipe so much, doing it again!

Arctic Char on a Bed of Kale

Arctic char, related to salmon and trout, is sustainably farmed, making it a “best choice” for the environment. It has a mild flavor and cooks up quickly. We like the taste and texture of lacinato (aka dinosaur) kale in this dish. Serve with mashed potatoes. Source: EatingWell Magazine, September/October 2009

Total:  30 minutes 

Servings: 4


Ingredient Checklist

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1-1 1/2 pounds kale, tough stems removed, coarsely chopped (14-16 cups)
  • 1 pound skinned arctic char or salmon fillet, cut into 4 portions
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ cup reduced-fat sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill, or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 4 lemon wedges for garnish


Instructions Checklist

  • Step 1

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook shallot, stirring, until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Add broth, water and half the kale; cook, stirring, until slightly wilted, about 1 minute. Add the remaining kale and cook until tender, about 8 minutes.

  • Step 2

Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper and place on the kale. Cover and cook until the fish is just cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes.

  • Step 3

Meanwhile, combine sour cream, horseradish and dill in a bowl. Serve the fish and kale with the sauce and lemon wedges.

Nutrition Facts

Per Serving:

334 calories; 16 g total fat; 3.4 g saturated fat; 90 mg cholesterol; 428 mg sodium. 1186 mg potassium; 12.4 g carbohydrates; 4.3 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 36.5 g protein; 11557 IU vitamin a iu; 138 mg vitamin c; 185 mcg folate; 254 mg calcium; 4 mg iron; 90 mg magnesium; 1 mg thiamin;


2 Vegetable, 4 Lean Meat, 1 Fat

The Best and the Worst Diets and Trends for 2020

January 5th, 2020

Every year media and news outlets put out lists of what the best and worst diets and food trends of the year will be. This year has been no different. Everyone has made their health and wellness resolutions and look to these guides for inspiration and guidance. The top three overall diet plans listed in U.S. News are the Mediterranean Diet, DASH and The Flexitarian plan. These are my favorite plans and I will discuss all three. They can actually be combined/refined to create a plan that works for you.

  • The Mediterranean Diet: A plan focused on plants, whole grains, healthy fats such as olive oil, beans, legumes and fish. Moderate amounts of chicken , low fat dairy and eggs. Limiting red meat, sweets and processed foods. Stresses the importance of daily physical activity. It even allows for some red wine. This is a manageable  program that can improve heart health, liver function and help to manage weight and increase longevity.
  • DASH: An acronym that stands for: Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension was promoted by the U.S. based National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to lower blood pressure but was found to have the side benefit of aiding in weight loss. It is similar to the Mediterranean Diet in that it focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy and lean proteins. It stresses reducing processed foods, moderate amounts of sodium and increasing potassium, magnesium, calcium and fiber.
  • Flexitarian Diet: This diet encourages a primarily plant based diet including vegetables, fruits, legumes and beans with the ability to occasionally consume animal proteins. It may seem optimal to be vegan or vegetarian, but this plan allows flexibility  which makes it easier to succeed. This plan also limits processed  foods and refined sweets.

The lowest ranking diets of 2020 were the Keto Diet and the Dukan Diet.

  • Keto Diet: A Ketogenic Diet was initially created to stabilize pediatric seizure disorders.  It is a plan in which 70-75% of your calories  come from healthy fats and limiting carbs. Although the Ketogenic Diet has shown benefit with initial weight loss and blood glucose control, there are some serious concerns. This plan has been shown to increase risk of kidney stones, osteoporosis as well as risk of gout. There is great potential for nutrient deficiencies and feelings of overall unwell health “keto flu”. 
  • Dukan Diet: This plan, started in France,  is similar to the Atkins plan, which is a high protein, fat/low carb program, however it is more restrictive. NO carbs other than small amounts of oat bran are allowed and some low carb vegetables are not allowed initially such as spinach. This plan also limits fats such as steak and eggs. Due to these restrictions, it would be difficult to meat adequate nutrient needs and is very hard to follow long term.

Discussing food trends is also very popular in the New Year. A few of the predictions for 2020 are:

  • Sweet potato: The headlines are sweet potato is the new cauliflower. Over the last year we saw every permutation of cauliflower. Made into “steaks”, riced, mashed and even made into pizza and wraps. This year companies such as Banza and Caulipower are using sweet potato in new and innovative ways as a replacement for refined carbs such as sauce for Mac and Cheese to toast slices. No matter how you find it, sweet potatoes are a great addition to your diet for added fiber, beta carotene and other beneficial nutrients. 
  • Plant based meats: Everyone from Burger King to Dunkin Donuts has already jumped on the trend of plant based meats. You can’t escape this trend, and it isn’t a great one. They may be  better for the environment, but not your body. These plant based burgers/patties are considered “ultra processed”, which is not a good thing. Loaded with fillers, coconut oil and sodium, as well as other things, I would avoid.  If you want to avoid meat, consider traditional plant based burgers from companies such as Praegers, Boca or Morningstar and don’t go for the fake meat.
  • Mocktails: People are moving away from alcohol and to non alcoholic beverages. There will be an influx of non alcoholic beverages coming our way in 2020. From non alcoholic beers to gin. They may be tasty and interesting, but keep in mind they will still have non nutritive calories that we will have to be mindful of.
  • Oat milk: The age of only almond or soy milk as alternatives to dairy is coming to an end. Pay attention the the added sugars found in oat milk-just like other plant alternatives, always buy unsweetened products and use judiciously.
  • CBD infused products: We are still learning about the benefits and potential risks associated with CBD, but that will not stop food and beverage companies from pumping out as many CBD products as they can this year. Whether in your morning beverage drink or in a snack cookie, you will be finding this ingredient. CBD is most effective suspended in a fat/oil base. Always look for full/broad spectrum products. 
  • Plant butters: As we become more aware of the dangers of saturated and trans fats, food companies are looking for better alternatives to butter and margarine.  In comes plant based butters. These products will still have saturated fats, but the total amount will be lower. Look for blends of avocado oil, safflower oil and other alternatives. 
  • Probiotic and prebiotic enhanced foods: From smoothies to granola bars, pre and probiotics will be added as consumers look for more enhancement to their foods. It is important to know that these products will still come with added sugar and potentially sodium. Always look for products with less than 5 grams of sugar.
  • Fruit based flours: We are already starting to utilize alternative flours that are nut and legume based, but this year may show and influx of fruit based flours such as apple and banana flour. These flours are gluten free and have added fiber. These flours will also have the added benefit of nutrients not found in grain or other alternative flours.

Whatever the trends of the year are, it is always important to have a healthy, balanced diet that works for your lifestyle. Talk to your doctor or RD about plans that can work for you and maybe try incorporating something new in 2020. Every day is a new day to start fresh and get healthy!


Chili-Topped Sweet Potatoes

Transform ordinary baked potatoes into a full dinner with these chili-topped spuds. In this healthy recipe, we use sweet potatoes for an added nutrient kick. Sprinkle on extra toppings as you see fit–sliced scallions, chopped fresh cilantro, diced avocado and sliced jalapeños are all tasty choices. Source: EatingWell Magazine, January/February 2017

Recipe Summary

Active: 30 mins

Total: 30 mins

Servings: 4


  • 1 pound lean ground chicken or turkey (optional)-can replace with beans or soy
  • ¾ cup finely chopped white onion
  • ½ cup finely chopped red bell pepper
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano 
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • ¼ cup water
  • 4 medium sweet potatoes
  • ½ cup shredded cheese, such as Cheddar or pepper Jack-low fat


  • Step 1

Cook beef, onion, bell pepper and garlic in a large skillet over medium-high heat, crumbling the beef with a spatula, until the meat is browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in chili powder, cumin, oregano and coriander; cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add tomatoes (with their juice) and water and simmer for 5 minutes.

  • Step 2

Meanwhile, prick sweet potatoes with a fork in several places. Microwave on High until tender all the way through, 12 to 15 minutes.

  • Step 3

Serve the sweet potatoes topped with the chili and cheese.

Nutrition Facts

Per Serving:

417 calories; 17.6 g total fat; 7.4 g saturated fat; 88 mg cholesterol; 443 mg sodium. 1286 mg potassium; 35.2 g carbohydrates; 8.4 g fiber; 12 g sugar; 30.7 g protein; 24269 IU vitamin a iu; 62 mg vitamin c; 42 mcg folate; 233 mg calcium; 5 mg iron; 81 mg magnesium; 1 mg thiamin;


1 1/2 Starch, 1 1/2 Vegetable, 3 Lean Meat, 1/2 Low-Fat Meat