Enjoy heart-healthy cuisine with your valentine

Monday, January 18, 2016

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February is here. It’s a month highlighted by Valentine’s Day, an annual celebration of romantic love, friendship and admiration. It’s also a month dedicated to showering your heart with love.


“February is an excellent time for reminding our patients of the importance of their role in ensuring the overall health and wellness of their hearts,” said Dr. David Mathias, a cardiologist with Aurora BayCare Cardiology. “Love your heart with the same intensity as you love and admire your special valentine this month.”


Sobering facts

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Add to that the fact that about 610,000 Americans die from heart disease each year – about 1 in every 4 deaths – and it’s clear to see why heart experts like Mathias continue to emphasize the importance of heart health awareness in February and beyond.


“There are lots of simple things we can do to strengthen our heart health, even though getting out and running and biking and engaging in other spring and summer physical activities may be out of the question given the winter weather,” Mathias said. “We can watch what we eat, remain active even indoors, and we can curb our alcohol intake. All easy things to do that have a direct impact on our heart health risk."


Many factors contribute to one’s risk of heart disease. Some are hereditary; some are the long-term effect of lifestyle choices. “All can be managed with dedication and diligence,” Mathias said.


Risk factors for adverse heart health include:

  • High blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol and smoking: About half of Americans (49%) have at least one of these three risk factors.
  • Diabetes: High blood glucose levels overtime can damage nerves and blood vessels, leading to heart disease and stroke, the leading causes of death among people with diabetes.
  • Obesity: Hypertension, diabetes and atherosclerosis are health issues affecting many obese patients. Such conditions put obese patients at high risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Poor diet: Too much unhealthy food – fats, cholesterol, salt and sodium, excess calories – can increase your risk for heart disease.
  • Physical inactivity: Studies show that doing more than 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate physical activity or an hour of vigorous physical activity every week will reduce your risk of coronary heart disease by about 30%. 
  • Excessive alcohol use: Regular or high alcohol use can damage your heart and lead to diseases of the heart muscle, called cardiomyopathy.

“As you share your love with your significant other, someone you admire, or even your children this Valentine’s Day, remember to put some effort this month and beyond into spreading that love to your heart,” Mathias said.


Try out this heart-healthy cuisine recommended by the American Heart Association:


Eggplant, Cheese & Tomato Bake


  • 1 large sliced eggplant (about 17-20 slices)
  • 1 medium thinly sliced onion (about 2 cups), cut into bite-size strips
  • 2 zucchini (about 2 cups), cut into bite-size pieces
  • Non-stick cooking spray
  • 2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil or canola oil
  • 3 cups mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 clove minced garlic OR
  • 3 tsp. fresh, minced garlic
  • 2 Tbsp. water
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 29 oz. canned, no salt added, diced tomatoes
  • 8 oz. canned, no salt added tomato sauce
  • 3 Tbsp. fresh, chopped basil OR
  • 1 Tbsp. dried basil
  • 3/4 cup part-skim, low-fat ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup low-moisture, part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup whole-wheat bread crumbs OR
  • 1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)


  1. Preheat oven to 375° F
  2. Arrange eggplant, onions and zucchini on a baking sheet, sprayed with cooking spray. Lightly spray top of vegetables with cooking spray as well. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 10 minutes covered and 10 minutes uncovered.
  3. In a small saucepan, heat extra virgin olive oil over medium heat, sauté mushrooms and garlic with water and pepper, until mushrooms begin to soften, about 6 minutes. Add diced tomatoes, tomato sauce and basil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Spread 1/2 tomato-mushroom mixture on bottom of a 9x13 baking dish coated with cooking spray. Then layer half of the eggplant, zucchini and onion. Layer all of ricotta, and sprinkle a layer of half the mozzarella
  5. Repeat layers with another 1/2 of tomato-mushroom mixture and the remaining eggplant, zucchini and onion. Add the remaining tomato mixture, evenly sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and top with breadcrumbs.
  6. Bake for 30-45 minutes or until most of the liquid has disappeared and cheese begins to brown. Let cool for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

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BayCare Clinic,, is the largest physician-owned specialty-care clinic in northeastern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It is based in Green Bay, Wisconsin. BayCare Clinic offers expertise in more than 20 specialties, with more than 100 physicians serving in 16 area communities. BayCare Clinic is a joint partner in Aurora BayCare Medical Center, a 167-bed, full-service hospital. Follow BayCare Clinic on Facebook and Twitter.