February is recognized as American Heart Month - a time to reflect on the various things we can do to improve our heart health. There are a host of things we can do nutrition-wise to improve the health of our heart. Genetics plays a big role in heart disease, but that's a risk factor that we don't have much control over. However, we can make adjustments to the amount and type of fats we eat, cut back on our sodium intake and include more foods that contain anti-oxidants that can help lower our risk of heart disease.
Sometimes we hear so much about things we "shouldn't" do that it's hard to figure out what we "should" do. One of the things that you may have heard that we should do for our heart is to eat more fish. When we live in Minnesota (the Land of 10,000 Lakes) and we hear that we should eat more fish, the types of fish that probably come to our mind first are the fish we have available locally - walleye, northern, perch and sunfish. These are good and tasty fish - there is no doubt about that! And they are lean and low in sodium (depending on how we opt to prepare them).
But the type of fish that is being referred to as far as heart health goes, and is encouraged to be consumed two to three times per week, is the variety of fishes that are good sources of Omega 3 fatty acids. These types of fish include: mackerel, Pacific herring, salmon, lake whitefish, lake trout and tuna.
There are plant sources of Omega 3 fatty acids as well; they would include flaxseed, chia seeds, canola oil and walnuts. Whichever source you choose, plant or animal, the benefits of Omega 3s are many, including: lowering risk of sudden cardiac death, reducing risk of blood clots, smoothing out irregular heartbeats, reducing inflammation in the blood vessels, lowering triglycerides, lowering blood pressure and increasing the HDL "healthy" cholesterol.
The problem when we look at that assortment of foods listed above though, is that many of us don't routinely include those kinds of food in our regular meal planning. For example, when I think of eating salmon, I remember when my grandpa used to go salmon fishing in Alaska once a year and he would bring some home and we'd all have a "treat" of salmon for a special meal. Or maybe we order a piece of grilled salmon when we go out to a restaurant that specializes in fish and seafood on a special occasion. But if you watch the ads and check out the meat counter, you might find that salmon isn't as expensive as you thought. And the recipes for preparing salmon at home don't have to be that complicated either.
Certainly there can be "fancy" recipes to fix salmon, but it can be as easy as fixing a steak too. Following is a simple recipe that you might enjoy to help get you started on serving salmon or one of the other "fatty" fishes for your family. Who knows, it may become a family "favorite."
Maple Glazed Salmon
1# fresh salmon (cut into four fillets or steaks)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1-2 cloves of fresh garlic, minced or crushed
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/8 tsp. black pepper
Mix the maple syrup, soy sauce, garlic and pepper in a small bowl. Arrange the salmon fillets in a shallow, glass baking dish. Pour the liquid mixture over the fish and cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or more to marinate. Turn once. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove the plastic wrap and place the baking dish in the preheated oven. Bake uncovered for 20 minutes, or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Makes four servings.
Cheryl Rude is a registered dietitian at Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center. In addition to her column, you can also find nutrition tips and ideas on the blog she writes at www.averastorycenter.org.