Recipes to Keep Your Heart Healthy

February 15, 2017
Area(s) of Interest: Public Health 

By Elizabeth Epstein, UC San Diego medical student and California Medical Association member.

February is “Hearth Month” — a great reminder that heart disease is preventable by virtue of our lifestyle. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in America, and although genetic factors do come into play, research proves time and time again that healthy diet and exercise choices are by far the biggest factors in determining cardiovascular health.
And yet, the research also shows that not enough Americans are making the lifestyle choices required to achieve the ideal cardiovascular health metrics: not smoking, being physically active, having normal blood pressure, having normal blood glucose, having normal total cholesterol, having normal weight and eating a healthy diet.
We’re simply not doing enough when it comes to healthy lifestyle choices, but it’s not a cause for disappointment — it’s a cause for excitement: there is ample room for improvement.
I think the reason for the gap between what we can achieve with lifestyle choices and what we actually do each day is in part because of the generalizations people make about what it means to be “healthy.”
There exists a polarization between healthy and unhealthy, and unhealthy tends to represent all that is delicious and comfortable and indulgent, while healthy represents all that is bland and time-consuming.

But those assumptions couldn’t be more wrong. Living a healthy lifestyle boils down to simply choosing to eat a healthy dietary pattern and exercise an average of 30 minutes per day — and maintaining that choice in the long-term by being mindful, listening to your body, and enjoying and taking pride in that lifestyle.


After working with Dr. Christopher Suhar, an integrative cardiologist and medical director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at Scripps Health in La Jolla, I took a special interest in dietary choices. In his clinic, I saw how healthy eating dramatically impacted patients’ cardiovascular health. At the same time, I saw how difficult it was for patients to affect those changes — how reluctant they were to give up foods they knew tasted good and to instead put in the effort to change their ways. Dietary change seemed like an unpleasant prescription.


So I set out to create a cookbook — A Beautiful Heart — filled with simple, delicious recipes that promote a healthy dietary pattern. I wanted the recipes to be easy and affordable, made with everyday ingredients — and able to fit into anyone’s life, while at the same time delicious and creative, promoting the enjoyment of life and food.

I wanted to prove that “healthy” food can be just as tasty and achievable as “unhealthy” food, and I wanted to prove how good it physically feels to eat healthy, wholesome food and how good it mentally feels to know that you are actively promoting your own long-term health and survival.

Along the way, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to collaborate with Dr. Suhar, UCSD nutrition experts Dr. Cheryl Rock and Christine Zoumas, and Jude Bredin, a chef based in Dublin, Ireland. Guided by their expertise, the most recent scientific literature, and the USDA and American Heart Association dietary recommendations, I have been creating the perfect collection of recipes for the book.

I hope to publish the cookbook soon, but in the meantime, I’ve included a few recipes for you to enjoy. Also, you can visit the cookbook website, Facebook and Instagram for more recipes and healthy lifestyle inspiration, or to contribute your favorite healthy recipe.

Happy cooking!

Crunchy Molasses-Seed Granola

  • 2 cups oats
  • 1 cup almonds
  • 1/2 cup quinoa
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup sticky stuff (1/8 cup molasses + 1/8 cup maple syrup recommended, but all molasses or all maple syrup also works. Honey is a little too sweet for my taste, but play around with what you like!)\
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • salt

Put all ingredients into a large mixing bowl and stir with a wooden spoon until the sticky stuff coats the mixture. It will seem impossible that such a small amount of molasses and maple syrup will coat all that granola, but trust me — after enough mixing, it does! Bake at 350°F for 15 minutes, stir and then bake for 15 more minutes until granola browns. Don’t forget to stir. Otherwise, the granola will burn!

Stick-to-Your-Ribs Split Pea Soup

  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups dried green split peas, rinsed
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 2 celery ribs with leaves, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram (oregano works too!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

This is a “dump ’n’ go” recipe (my favorite kind!). So dump all ingredients into a pot, bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Ooey-Gooey Oatmeal-Chocolate-Chip-Peanut-Butter Bars

  • 3/4 cup (1/2 can) chickpeas, drained and rinsed well
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/3 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/3 cup dark chocolate chips (plus a few to put on top)

Blend chickpeas, egg, peanut butter, vanilla, salt, baking soda and baking powder in a blender or food processor until creamy and a little sticky. Spoon into a medium bowl and mix in oats, brown sugar and dark chocolate chips with your trusty wooden spoon. Spoon batter into a parchment paper-lined (or greased) loaf pan. Place a few chocolate chips on top just for kicks — it makes the final product look even more idyllic. Bake at 350°F for 25 minutes. Enjoy!

Epstein is a medical student at UC San Diego School of Medicine. When she isn’t concocting healthy recipes, she enjoys running with friends along the San Diego coast. After publishing her cookbook and completing medical school, she hopes to complete residency in internal medicine and a fellowship in integrative cardiology.


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