A month for hearts

The Gochiso Gourmet’s For the Heart Oatcake. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

I realize that the most significant day in February, for most Americans at least, came and went about two weeks ago when florists, chocolatiers and greeting card companies count their inflated revenue from Valentine’s Day. But did you know that February is also American Heart Month and has been for the past 60 years? It aims to bring awareness to heart disease, which is the leading cause of death for Americans. In conjunction with American Heart Month, the first Friday of every February is also National Wear Red Day as part of the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women initiative highlighting cardiovascular disease in women. Did you know that cardiovascular disease kills one in three women, which is more than all forms of cancer combined and that almost 45% of women 20 years and older are living with some form of cardiovascular disease? Almost 52% of deaths are due to hypertension and almost 58% of deaths due to stroke occur in women?

Reducing Your Risk
I’m certain that cholesterol is part of everyone’s vocabulary and that most people can even recite their latest LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and possibly even their HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) levels. And you likely know that Cheerios as part of a heart healthy diet can reduce serum cholesterol. Actually, most of the plant-based soluble fibers (like oat fiber in Cheerios) whether pectin in apples and other fruits or psyllium in Bran Buds and Metamucil have the same cholesterol reducing effects. So continue fortifying your diet with substantial sources of soluble fiber. However, since cholesterol is a necessary compound as it produces our sex hormones, bile acids needed for fat digestion and is a major component of our nerve insulation, you can never drop your cholesterol level to zero. But you definitely don’t need to boost cholesterol levels through your diet — you just ideally want LDL cholesterol levels less than 100 mg/dL. But did you know that dietary saturated fat can raise your serum cholesterol more than dietary cholesterol?

So how much dietary saturated fat should we eliminate from our diets? The American Heart Association recommends no more than 5% to 6% of your calories should come from saturated fat. Therefore, with a basic 2,000 daily calorie diet, you shouldn’t exceed 11 to 13 grams per day, which means limiting your fast food intake as well as reading the nutrition labels on foods purchased at the grocery store. Just one Big Mac or Whopper or two slices of medium pepperoni or meat lover’s Pizza Hut pizza gives you 12 grams of saturated fat, your allowance for the entire day. And unlike cholesterol, which is only found in animal products, even a vegan diet, if it contains coconut, palm or palm kernel oil, provides significant amounts of saturated fat (one tablespoon of coconut oil has 13 grams of saturated fat).

So the bottom line is reducing your consumption of saturated fats by consuming leaner cuts of animal proteins, including removing visible fat prior to cooking, fortifying your diet with plant-based soluble fiber like apples, oatmeal and psyllium and if your serum cholesterol is still elevated, there’s no shame in relying on pharmaceuticals. I’ve been taking atorvastatin for almost 20 years.

Don’t Let the Pressure Build
Because we usually don’t experience any symptoms of high blood pressure until they hit dangerous levels, hypertension is often termed the “silent killer.” Once your blood pressure hits the 180/110 range — even without any symptoms — it needs to be treated in a medical facility to reduce the immediate risk of heart attack, stroke or aneurysm from occurring. However, untreated hypertension in the 160/100 range over an extended period of time still can cause organ damage such as heart failure, kidney disease and visual damage and your risk for heart attack and stroke are still greater than the general population without hypertension.

Therefore, to maintain a healthy blood pressure or reduce your risk for hypertension, you want to maintain a healthy weight, stop smoking if you do smoke, limit dietary sodium, caffeine and alcohol intake, get regular exercise and manage stress. And if all else fails, there are many medications that are known to reduce your risk for heart attack, stroke and death from hypertension.

Say I Love You Without Gorging
So instead of gorging on fatty cuts of beef, butter and cheese-laden pasta sauces and desserts that provide a week’s worth of calories on Valentine’s Day, give your special someone a box full of these oatcakes, which tells your other half that your love extends well past Valentine’s Day or any other holiday as they can be enjoyed throughout the year. And it helps keep their hearts beating better than any butter, cheese or saturated fat delicacy can! And at the very least, these oatcakes cost a lot less than a dozen roses.

Because of the connection to American Heart Month, I obviously went for a red hued product and chose dried cranberries as they already were in my regular oatcakes. I thought that the dried dragon fruit would also add a little more sweetness, but if you have trouble finding dried dragon fruit, you can substitute either chopped dried cherries or strawberries. I found the beet powder — which is only used for coloring — at my local Whole Foods, though I’ve seen it in many online spice stores. You can also use red food coloring to attain the red hue in your oatcakes.

For the Heart Oatcakes
11 ounces whole-wheat flour
2 tbsp beet powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2/3 cup warm water
2/3 cup dried cranberries
2 & 2/3 cups rolled oats
2 single serve 4 oz cups of applesauce
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 to 3 egg whites
2/3 cup dried cranberries
1 cup dried dragon fruit, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9×9 pan.

Sift together flour, beet powder and spices.

Put warm water and 2/3 cup dried cranberries in a blender and purée (depending on the strength of your blender, you might want to start with 1/2 cup water until the berries are pretty well chopped, then add the rest). Add cranberry purée to oats.

Beat together applesauce, brown sugar and vanilla. Beat in egg whites. Stir in oats and flour mixtures. Fold in cranberries and dragon fruit. Press mixture evenly into pan. Sprinkle raw oats on top. Bake 30 minutes, or until the cake is cooked in the center. Cool, then cut. Makes about 16 squares.

Each serving is a little over 100 calories, less than 0.5 grams of saturated fat and almost six grams of dietary fiber.

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a recently retired clinical pharmacist and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster. He writes from Kane’ohe, HI and can be reached at gochisogourmet@gmail.com. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei News.

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