What’s Cooking During American Heart Month? 

February is American Heart Month. President Obama stated in his proclamation, “Every person can take steps to reduce the risk factors associated with heart disease in themselves and in those they care about –whether as parents, caretakers, or friends—by encouraging healthy eating, physical activity, and by discouraging the use of tobacco.”

go freshOne of the ways to keep your heart healthy is to eat well. Howard County Library System has an extensive collection of cookbooks to help you get started. Go Fresh: A Heart-Healthy Cookbook with Shopping and Storage Tips is one of the cookbooks in a series by the American Heart Association. What I liked best about this cookbook is that most of the ingredients cited I have on hand in my kitchen or I know I can find easily in the grocery store. This cookbook includes in an appendix a list of the approximate equivalents in weight and volume for the most common vegetables and fruits. Also included in the appendices, are vegetable cooking times and a food storage guide. I learned it is best to store fresh herbs, such as parsley, dill, and cilantro, in the refrigerator in a juice glass half-filled with water and, covered loosely with plastic. Now let’s get to the recipes, which by the way, include desserts! My boys liked the Peppered Sirloin with Steakhouse Onions (p.167) and I liked the Ancho Chicken and Black Bean Salad with Cilantro-Lime Dressing (p.96). We are going to try the Buffalo Chicken with Slaw (p.147) next. I think I can even convince them to try one of the vegetarian entrées, especially if we can have Soft-Serve Blueberry-Cinnamon Ice Cream (p. 297) for dessert! Visit the library to find more cookbooks from the American Heart Association, including titles on slow cooking, reducing sodium, and reducing bad fats.

secrets of healthy cookingI also recommend Barbara Seelig-Brown’s Secrets of Healthy Cooking: A Guide to Simplifying the Art of Heart Healthy and Diabetic Cooking published by the American Diabetes Association. This cookbook is great for the new cook because it includes sections on building a pantry for healthy cooking, an essential equipment list, a kitchen glossary, how to read a recipe, and the must-know basic wine pairing. I found the fish know-how section very helpful. I am not a fan of seafood, so I liked the tip “…if you don’t like fish, then disguising it with strong flavors is for you.” There are colorful pictures throughout the book that illustrate step-by-step how to, for example, cook in parchment, steam shrimp, peal and chop garlic, cut a mango, cook with wine, make pizza/calzone dough, or a phyllo pie crust. My favorite recipes were the salad pizza (p. 28) and the crunchy quinoa stuffed zucchini (p. 99). The next time my kids are all home I might just feel brave enough to try the lemon garlic shrimp on a cucumber flower (p. 82). What I liked about this cookbook is that it is perfect for both the beginner cook and the experienced cook.

Healthy eating and cooking can make a difference in improving your cardiovascular health. Some of the foods that are heart-healthy include fish high in omega-3s, such as salmon and tuna, healthy nuts such as almonds or walnuts, berries, such as blueberries and strawberries, dark beans, such as kidney or black beans, and red, yellow, and orange veggies. You can find more information on heart healthy foods at  Johns Hopkins Medicine. This month when you’re shopping for your valentine, remember that your loved ones need you to take care of the most important heart of all, your own. After looking at these cookbooks in your local library, you might just be inspired to cook a healthy-heart meal instead of making that reservation.

Nancy Targett is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Miller Branch. She lives in Columbia and is the proud mom of three boys and a girl and a Siamese cat.

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6 Health Tips for a Thinner Thanksgiving

thanksgiving diet tips

[© Dmitriy Shironosov | Dreamstime.com]

And Any Upcoming Holiday Meal!

Everyone loves the holidays – a time for family and friends gathering and sharing meals and memories. Between turkey and stuffing and pies, this is also a time that is easy to fall off the healthy eating wagon and gain unwanted pounds. However, Thanksgiving does not always have to sabotage your waistline.

Below are some tips to enjoy your Thanksgiving while staying healthy:

  • Don’t overeat: It is easy on Thanksgiving with so many options and food in front of us to overeat. Skip the seconds by waiting at least twenty minutes after your meal to let your body realize if it is full or not. Have the turkey be the only thing that is stuffed this year!
  • Exercise: Put in a little extra exercise around the holidays before treating yourself to your Thanksgiving feast. Increasing the length of your workout and exercising to burn off the calories before you consume them is a good trick. In addition to exercising before your Thanksgiving meal, take a walk after dinner and plan a workout date for the following day.
  • Stay hydrated: Drinking water throughout the day will keep you hydrated and keep hunger pains, that may actually be thirst, to a minimum. Also, go easy on alcohol where calories can sneak up on you.
  • Eat breakfast: Many follow the myth of skipping breakfast to save their appetite for the Thanksgiving feast – but this could actually be detrimental. Not eating until later in the day can easily lead to binging.
  • Eat fewer appetizers: By staying away from appetizers that you can have any day of the year, you save your appetite for the main course.
  • Try healthier recipes: If you are cooking or bringing a dish to Thanksgiving, lighten up your dishes by using less sugar and fat. Typically, no one will notice the difference if you scale back and use lower calorie ingredients.

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5 Thanksgiving Food Swaps You Should Consider

Thanksgiving dinner has to be the most favored hedonistic joys of the holidays. It kicks off the season of excused gluttony with family and friends. Thanksgiving dinner is second only to the Halloween candy binge and is truly the beginning of bad food decisions for the winter months. Oh, the sheer excitement of pigging out with those you love only to collapse in a heap on the couch to watch football. Oh yes, I LOVE Thanksgiving, but the results of the aforementioned food binge don’t help me meet my health goals. Believe me, losing weight, staying healthy, and making food decisions around the holidays is tough, but it’s necessary. Here are some swaps to consider.

  1. Cauliflower mash is awesome. I was skeptical myself at first, but this is one really tasty way to make your Thanksgiving dinner less fattening and more interesting. Check out this recipe for garlic cauliflower mash, 600 plus reviewers can’t be wrong, right? Also, try Brassicas for more healthy vegetable based dishes.
  2. Sweet potatoes slathered in butter and toasted marshmallows are sweetly decadent. Unfortunately, for most people, and particularly diabetics, the extra sugars (and fat) in this traditional dish would require a serious bolus shot of insulin and a several days of cross fit sessions to counteract the damage. Instead, opt for a savory herb casserole packed with flavor not with empty calories. Vegetable Literacy may have the right recipe for you. Please, stay strong, you don’t need those toasted marshmallows, you just want them.
  3. Stuffing is, in my book, a hearty, gratifying, carb-city of deliciousness. Unfortunately, this dish is a real pain for many of my family members. Celiac is no joke and stuffing is a nightmare of sorts for those living with the disease. Celiac Creations for Multiple Allergies is a 2015 title that may help find the right substitute to satisfy that stuffing craving.
  4. Lay off the booze or seriously reduce your intake. I get it, everyone wants to have a drink once in a while, but sometimes it seems like people use the holidays as an excuse to… well, binge. Listen, I know you’ve either been to a holiday party (or heard about) where someone went overboard with the punch and, well, got a little too “punchy.” Trust me, that’s never pretty. Binge drinking hurts your body in numerous ways. Instead, opt for a small glass of sparkling juice or mix sparkling water with fresh fruit if you need a little bubbly. Cool Waters has some great low and no-cal drinks you can try. If you do choose to drink, limit your intake, and always have a plan for getting around town or getting back home. A glass of wine or a couple beers may not hurt you, but you could hurt someone else.
  5. Go for a walk or play a game of touch football in the yard. O.K. I know this isn’t a “food swap,” but it’s definitely a way to switch things up. Instead of sinking into that couch post-turkey feast to watch the Panthers & Cowboys, go outside and take a walk around your neighborhood. Besides, the Bears-Packers game will be much more interesting (what with the recent jinx conspiracy based on Ditka doing that fast food commercial wearing Packers’ gear). Basically, if you don’t do any Thanksgiving food swaps, but do go for a walk or do some exercise after your meal, you’ll reduce your blood sugars and, at least, feel like you’re burning a few of those extra calories.

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Healthy Cookout Survival Guide

It’s summertime which means cookout season is in full swing! Whether you are hosting or attending a cookout, it is always difficult to stick to your diet or a healthy eating plan with all the delicious temptations surrounding you. Just keep in mind there are a variety of alternatives to add a healthier menu to your cookout which go beyond the traditional hot dogs and hamburgers!

Healthy tips for your next cookout:


  • Ditch the Chips – Substitute potato chips and French onion dip for raw veggies accompanied by hummus, salsa or guacamole. These snacks are not only better for you, they taste great and keep you full! Still crave that crunch? Try kale chips or a pickle! [© Jenifoto406 | Dreamstime.com]
  • Grill Outside the Box – Trade your regular ground beef burger for a lean meat such as chicken, sirloin, fish, pork or skinless turkey breast. Other popular, tasty options are salmon (or any fish!), black bean, portobello or veggie burgers. Don’t limit yourself to meat. Pineapple, peaches and vegetables are great grillers, too! Or fill a skewer with mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, squash and tomatoes. [© stockcreations | Dreamstime.com]
  • Talking Turkey (Dogs) – Switch your regular frank for a turkey dog to get that great hot dog flavor at a fraction of the calories and fat. If you are on a reduced sodium diet, read the label. [© Trudywilkerson | Dreamstime.com]
  • Calorie Counting – Using 100 percent whole grain sandwich thins is an easy way to cut down the calories. Go even lighter by ditching the bun altogether or prepare meat that doesn't require a bun. You can also say no to mayo in your salads by using a lighter alternative such as Greek yogurt or vinegar. [© Cardiae | Dreamstime.com]
  • Be Fruitful – Dessert doesn’t have to be a sugary sweet. Replace cookies and cakes with a naturally sweet fruit or fruit salad. [© Photodeti | Dreamstime.com]
  • Sweet Drinks – Trade your sugary beverages for water and add flavor by infusing with lemons, fresh strawberries or other fruit, mint, ginger or cucumbers! Low sugar lemonade or teas are also great options. [© Evgenyb | Dreamstime.com]

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Inch Deep, Mile Wide: The Juice-Win Spin

Okay, so last month, I confessed my juice reboot failure, but it wasn’t for pity or even to vent my frustration (well, maybe a little venting). It was to share how I’ve learned from my mistakes and turned those lemons into lemonade (or a healthful lemon juice blend).

First off, let me say how much easier it is to incorporate juices into your diet when the weather is warmer–it’s often refreshing to grab a juice or smoothie instead of a big meal on these warmer days. Secondly, when the hubby and I were going for the full, 3-day reboot, we were a little overwhelmed (and hungry). We are currently trying to incorporate just one juice or smoothie into our day. We may try a reboot again just for the “clean slate” effect, but one a day seems much more do-able for us. I should note that though we may choose a juice or smoothie for breakfast or lunch, we are not doing this as part of some fad weight-loss/meal replacement plan. We simply want to incorporate more fruits and veggies into our diet, and a juice or smoothie makes that easier to do.

Speaking of easy, here’s the biggest win we’ve taken from our juice fail: keep it simple. For the juice reboot, we purchased a nice juicer, since we figured the soluble fiber from the juice might be a little easier on my sad digestive tract than the insoluble fiber you get from smoothies made in blenders (and we didn’t want to have to purchase a crazy-expensive Cadillac of a blender). We are still using the juicer, especially for harder fruits and vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots, apples, and pears. But making juicing and smoothies more part of our natural routine has meant looking for quicker and easier ways to do it. We were pleased to discover that our very ordinary blender could handle the job (within reason).

We also took advice from our friend Cristina, who has some family trying out juicing and smoothies. She said that they started with other people’s recipes, but eventually started changing them up a bit and trying things that worked better for them. For example, when the hubby and I started making smoothies instead of just juicing, we used the very popular 10-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse as a blueprint. We were a little bummed that some recipes called for sugar substitutes, since we don’t really like things overly sweet and were more interested in just adding some healthier foods to our diet instead of just losing weight. We started tweaking the recipes a bit and came up with a very basic formula for the world’s laziest smoothie, as demonstrated in the video below.

Finally, as I mentioned last month, the original juice reboot called for us to go vegan a few days leading up to the juicing and a few days after. We were going to use it as a jumping off point for the VB6 diet, and did to a certain point. Now that we are having juice or smoothies once a day, we find it is a lot easier to stick to only vegan (or at least vegetarian) fare before 6 p.m. most days. Do we falter some days? Absolutely. But our new simplified and laid-back approach to juicing and smoothies takes a lot of the pressure off and helps us to keep the momentum needed to maintain the healthier eating habits we are trying to acquire.

  • It's amazing how good a well-seasoned avocado can taste!
  • Salad and vegetable broth--sigh--very vegan and satisfying, if not altogether mouth-watering.
  • Steamed broccoli, brown rice, and tofu, made delicious with a little help from their good friends Sriracha and soy sauce.
  • Avocado also makes a great vegan topping for a whole-grain bagel.
  • The little blender that could!
  • Hey, does my blueberry smoothie resemble planet Earth? Maybe just a little?
  • Yummy vegan chili (with a dollop of cheating sour cream).
  • Vegan tacos? Yep, and tasty.


Joanne Sobieck-Lingg is glad to blog about her many, disparate interests (though expert in none, except maybe parenthetical asides). In past lives, she was a writer, proofreader, editor, project manager, teacher, and even co-coordinator of a certain health blog. She has been happily ensconced among the fiction and teen books at the Central Branch of HCLS since 2003.

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Diabetes: Meals by the Plate

diabetes meals by the plate useThe overwhelming majority of type II diabetes is preventable. If we pay attention to our nutrition and exercise we can control our path toward or away from type II diabetes. If your family has a history of diabetes, obesity, or other endocrine disorders, you may be more likely to develop diabetes. Once thought to be genetic, science has revealed it’s our environment (and family’s lifestyle behaviors) that can lead to type II diabetes. What’s more, type II diabetes can be reversed nearly 9 times out of 10 with proper nutritional guidance and an adequate exercise program. While many walk the line of pre-diabetes, the likelihood of getting full-blown diabetes increases significantly if you do nothing to change your ways. I argue that many of us, particularly those who are overweight or obese, are at risk of developing diabetes. Dr. Mark Hyman has explained time and again that when it comes to your body, its sugar levels, and its inflammatory responses, you’re either diabetic or you’re not- much like you’re either pregnant or you’re not. If your blood sugars are out of the normal range, even by just a little, on a regular basis, you’ve crossed the line. Pre-diabetic seems to be a gentle way of saying, “you’re a diabetic, but we don’t have to give you medication- yet.” Thankfully, you have the power to change it; with the help of your doctor, and perhaps, an awesome endocrinologist, you can turn that diabetes train around and live a long, healthy life.

Diabetic Living and Better Homes and Gardens published Diabetes: Meals by the Plate in 2014. I find that this is a simple cookbook with a no-nonsense approach to balancing your nutirion, particularly if you’re struggling with managing your diabetic diet. The book is based on the template of 1/2 a plate of nonstarchy veggies, 1/4 plate of protein, 1/4 plate of starch or grain, and dairy or fruit on the side at each meal. Simple. Direct. Manageable.

My favorite recipes:
The Trattoria-Style Chicken encrusted with parmesan is particularly easy recipe to follow. It’s paired with a lovely spinach salad and spaghetti. See? You can have some carbs. Just not ALL THE CARBS.  (p. 16)
The Indian-Style Beef & Rice recipe is definitely a comfort food type of meal. The peach-grape salsa that accompanies the Indian-spiced beef brings just enough citrus to the flavor party. Even better? The Basmati rice with mint and lemon peel to boot. The skillet-roasted cauliflower and squash that’ll fill 1/2 your plate will fill you up and satisfy for sure. (p. 72)
And for the vegetarian option, I’m a fan of the broccoli cheese tortellini soup. How can something so decadent be less than 400 a serving? Anyhow, you get to whip out your Dutch oven for this recipe and the kohlrabi chopped salad is pretty inspired. (Considering I only ever eat kohlrabi in stews.) (p. 202)

I hope you’ll find the time to take care of diabetic diet, your blood sugars, and yourself. Enjoy and delight in a delightful cookbook that everyone can enjoy!

JP is the HCLS Editor & Blog Coordinator for Well & Wise. She is also a Children’s Instructor & Research Specialist at the Savage Branch & STEM Education Center. She is a storyteller, wannabe triathlete, KPOP-addict, baker of cupcakes, cancer survivor, and liver transplant recipient.

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