• Sally Miller, B. S., N. E.

Eating for your Heart's Health

Heart healthy stuffed collard greens

Hearts are everywhere this month of February. They are an outward symbol of what makes life possible.

The American Heart Association has chosen the month of February to raise awareness about heart health; urging those around you to prevent heart disease.

Go Red for Women is the American Heart Association’s national movement designed to increase women’s heart health and stroke awareness. “Nearly 80 percent of cardiac events can be prevented. Cardiovascular diseases continue to be ‘woman’s greatest health threat”, according to the AHA.

As a commitment to my own healthy heart awareness, I joined the Mall Walkers club at the Charleston Town Center Mall. Moving my body is also important. Every third Tuesday of the month the Mall Walkers meet at 8:30 a.m. in the Center Court to log in our miles and to hear a speaker. This program is organized and presented by the Town Center Mall staff and Charleston Area Medical Center.

The Go Red for Women group was represented by two members who shared their stories and provided literature for our education at our last meeting. I applaud the efforts of these organizations who work to keep the Charleston community healthy.

I began my education as a food educator based mostly on anecdotal evidence (including my own experience with cancer). I furthered my education by reading fact based scientific studies and observing individual’s biodiversity and reaction to change. I advocate for healthy lifestyle choices as part of my work as a food educator.

Food choices are a major part of keeping my body healthy. Sometimes the choices are unclear and confusing. Eating fat has been a controversial topic among health educators when it comes to heart disease. I have learned that all scientific studies are not created equal. Looking at funding and conflicts of interest can change your opinion about the outcome of the study.

Some current ideas about food and heart health are presented in the following books.

Dr. Mark Hyman is the director of Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. In his book “Eat Fat, Get Thin” he discusses the conflicting information we have come to believe about including fat in our diets.

“For decades we have been told that the fat we eat turns to fat in the body, contributing to weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, and generally poor health. And yet, even with all our low-fat and nonfat products, we are heavier and sicker than ever.

“We know that if a study is funded by a food company, it is eight times more likely to turn up positive findings for that food company’s product. If the National Dairy Council funds studies on milk, milk is more likely to be found beneficial. If Coca-Cola funds studies on soft drinks, they are likely to be found not linked to obesity and disease. It is very hard to find clean, clear, objective research in those cases, since the study was either designed to show a specific outcome or the data selection and emphasis was “spun” to get the desired impact.”

“Eat to Beat Disease” is a recent book I have been reading by Dr. William W. Li, a world-renowned physician, scientist, speaker and author. Li advises “forget everything you think you know about your body and food, and discover the new science of how your body heals itself.

“Your body was designed to fight disease, and we have radically underestimated how foods can be used to amplify this hidden power.”

Li, the former leading scientist at the Angiogenesis Foundation, has done groundbreaking work that has impacted more than 70 diseases. He has turned his expertise and attention to fighting disease by supporting the body’s defense systems with powerful foods.

He has discovered the body’s health defense systems are angiogenesis, regeneration of stem cells, a healthy microbiome and DNA protection and immunity. According to Dr. Li, these systems are the keys to fighting disease.

Both of the above books have a wealth of knowledge about food approaches for preventing and healing heart disease.

I am offering a very simple approach to heart health with my recipe today. These stuffed collard greens are filled with carotenoids.

Carotenoids are found in brightly hued yellow, red, orange, and green plants. They may promote a healthy heart through their antioxidant power.

Examples of carotenoids and their sources are:

  • Beta-carotene (found in dark leafy vegetables, pumpkin and carrots)

  • Lutein (found in leafy greens like turnips, kale, spinach and collards)

  • Lycopene (found in cooked tomato products like tomato sauce)

According to the Cleveland Clinic “Healthy Heart” recipe book, the studies that link dark leafy greens and other fruits and vegetables to a reduced risk of heart disease support the intake of carotenoids in heart protection. Remember, we are talking about a variety of carotenoid-foods, not supplements.

When choosing heart healthy foods, choose the majority of your food from the bright colored fruits and vegetables in the produce area, adding some healthy fats, and fiber rich foods. Avoid processed foods in the center aisles that have been stripped of their fiber and nutrition.

Wearing red in the month of February will make a statement that you are fighting for your heart.

Put on your red, bring your own red bag to the grocery store and shop for your heart health promoting collard greens, butternut squash, cranberries, tomatoes, almonds and pecans.

Make this delicious recipe to promote heart awareness and share with others to prove that you “love their hearts”!

Collard roll in process


Healthy Heart Collard Rolls with Cranberry Tomato Sauce

Recipe adapted from darngoodveggies.com

Serves 8

Almond Ricotta:

2 cups slivered almonds (soaked in water overnight)

1-2 cups of water

1-2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon salt

Cranberry Tomato Sauce:

2 teaspoons avocado oil

½ onion (chopped)

1 clove garlic (minced)

1/3 cup tomato paste

1 15 oz. can tomato sauce

½ cup frozen cranberries

¼ cup dried cranberries

2 teaspoons Italian seasoning

½ teaspoon salt

Collard Rolls:

2 teaspoons avocado oil

1 leek (chopped into half moons)

2 stalks celery

12 ounces chopped butternut squash

2 cloves garlic (minced)

½ cup chopped pecans

½ teaspoon salt

8 collard greens, washed and dried


Almond Ricotta

Drain and rinse the soaked almonds. Add them to a food processor along with the remaining ingredients. Process until light and fluffy, adding a minimal amount of water and then increasing to consistency of ricotta cheese. Set aside.

Cranberry Tomato Sauce

In a saucepan, add in the avocado oil and warm over medium heat. Add in the onion and saute until softened, about 7-10 minutes. Add in the garlic and saute for another 30 seconds. Add in the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off and let sit until ready to use.

Collard Rolls

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Over medium heat, warm the avocado oil in the skillet. Add in the leek, celery, and salt. Saute until the vegetables have softened, about 7-10 minutes. Add in the butternut squash, and cook until just softened, about 10 minutes. Add in the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Stir in pecans and remove from heat.

Coat the bottom of a 9x9 skillet with tomato sauce.

Take one collard green and place it stem side up. Put a spoonful of tomato sauce onto the leaf and spread it lengthwise. Add in a spoonful of the filling and a few dollops of ricotta. Fold the short edges of the collard green in (the top and bottom stem ends) and roll the collard like a burrito. Place toothpicks in the rolls to hold them together while baking.

Place in the pan and repeat with the remaining greens. Top the rolls with the remaining tomato sauce and bake for 30-40 minutes or until the collard rolls have softened and the filling is warmed through.

Remove toothpicks before servings.

Serve with additional ricotta.

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