Most people have heard of the main foods groups that make up a healthy diet: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy. They are represented on the five sections of the MyPlate icon to help us plan balanced meals, and they made up the levels of the Food Guide Pyramid that preceded it. There are also some food components we need to eat less of in order to have a healthy diet. These include added sugars, saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium, alcohol and caffeine.
Since February is American Heart Month, it’s the perfect time to talk about how we can make better choices when using our “discretionary calories” for improved heart healthy eating.
What Are Discretionary Calories?
If you’ve ever planned a budget you know some things on it are essential (buying food), while others are optional (eating out). The same is true for the calories we consume, or more specifically, where our calories come from. The calories found in foods that deliver essential nutrients are more important than the calories found in foods that provide few or no nutrients. Once we eat the foods (and calories) that deliver all of the nutrients we need each day, any calories left in our budget are considered “discretionary” calories. They can be used for a little more of the foods in the main food groups, a form of a food that is higher in fat or added sugars or the addition of some ingredients during preparation that are higher fat or sugar. They can even be used occasionally to eat or drink things like cake or regular soda that are mostly fat and sugar. (The American Heart Association provides more information about discretionary calories here.)
Managing the Solid Fats and Added Sugars in Your Heart Healthy Diet
Solid fats are found in foods such as well-marbled cuts of meat and higher fat ground meats, bacon and other processed meats, many cheeses, and baked goods made with butter, stick margarine, cream and/or shortening. We can reduce the amount of solid fat in our diets by not eating the foods containing them as often and taking a smaller serving when we do. We can also select leaner cuts of meat, reduced fat cheeses and lower fat snacks and desserts to avoid some solid fats and prepare our meals using less of them. You can find plenty of other tips and techniques on how to do that in Simple Cooking with Heart® from the American Heart Association.
Added sugars are found in most prepared foods and beverages that taste sweet, including the baked goods mentioned above that are also high in solid fats and in products like spaghetti sauce and salad dressing. They can also be an ingredient in foods that do not taste sweet, like spaghetti sauce and salad dressing. Taking inventory of how many sweetened foods and drinks you consume every day is a good way to see how common they are in your diet and decide which ones you can eliminate, reduce or replace with something else.
Recipes That Deliver on Sweet Taste
Recommendations from the American Heart Association for the amount of added sugar we should not exceed each day are 9 teaspoons for men and 6 teaspoons for women. Their helpful infographic, Life is Sweet, illustrates many ways you can reach those goals, such as by using a no-calorie sweetener like SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener instead of sugar in your hot and cold drinks. And finding recipes that use less sugar is as easy as opening this link at Splenda.com. Here you will find SPLENDA® recipes categorized so you can quickly find something to prepare for any course on your menu and recipes for different health needs like Diabetes Friendly* and Heart Healthy**.
I’ve selected a few of my favorite recipes to help you get started. I’m sure some may be surprised to hear that each can be part of a heart healthy lifestyle when you serve them.
Lemon Glazed Jumbo Shrimp Salad
Aromatic salad greens and succulent shrimp drizzled with a zesty-sweet dressing make a refreshing salad.
Servings Per Recipe: 4; Serving Size: 2 jumbo shrimp, ¾ cup salad
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 8 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 cup cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, Granulated
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 jalapeno pepper - trimmed, seeded and thinly sliced
- 2 cups baby arugula leaves
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced red bell pepper
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced mango
- 1 pinch black pepper to taste
- Heat oil in a medium-sized skillet over high heat; add shrimp and cook for 1 minute. Stir in lemon juice and cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until shrimp are cooked through. Using tongs, transfer shrimp to a plate. Add vinegar, SPLENDA® Sweetener, crushed red pepper, and jalapeno. Bring to a boil and cook for 4-5 minutes or until reduced by half, then remove from heat and set aside.
- Place arugula, red pepper, and mango in a large bowl. Toss gently with some of the dressing and season to taste.
- Divide arugula mixture among 4 serving plates; top each salad with two shrimp and drizzle evenly with the warm vinegar mixture. Season with black pepper to taste.
Apple Bread Pudding
Whole grain bread, apples and cinnamon make a sweet dessert. This recipe was created with the American Heart Association as part of the Simple Cooking with Heart® Program to help families learn how to make great nutritious meals at home.
Servings Per Recipe: 6; Serving Size: 3”x4” piece
- Cooking spray
- 1 whole egg and 1 egg white
- 1 cup skim milk
- 2 tablespoons SPLENDA® Brown Sugar Blend
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon cloves or allspice
- 6 slices light style whole-grain or multi grain bread cut in to cubes
- 3 medium apples, cored and cut in to 1/2 inch cubes
Optional: 1/4 cup of any one of the following: raisins, dried cranberries, fresh or dried blueberries, chopped walnuts, pecans, or almonds.#
- Preheat oven to 350° F.
- Spray 9x9 inch baking dish with cooking spray.
- In large bowl, whisk together egg, egg white, milk, SPLENDA® Sweetener , vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves.
- Add bread and apple cubes. Add additional fruit or nuts if desired. Mix well.
- Pour mixture into prepared baking dish and bake in preheated oven for 40-45 minutes.
- Serve warm and enjoy with a glass of skim or low-fat milk!
# Note: Optional ingredients are not included in the nutrition analysis.
Citrus Mint Tea
A refreshing drink to keep on hand for the family and a favorite of thirsty guests.
Servings Per Recipe: 10; Serving Size:8-fl. oz.
- 2 cups boiling water
- 5 regular-size tea bags
- 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
- 1 cup SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, Granulated
- 6 cups water
- 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 cup fresh orange juice
- Garnish: lemon slices, orange slices, fresh mint sprigs
- Pour boiling water over tea bags and mint leaves; cover and steep 5 minutes.
- Remove tea bags and mint, squeezing gently.
- Stir in SPLENDA® Sweetener and remaining ingredients.
- Serve over ice. Garnish with lemon slices, orange slices and fresh mint sprigs.
* SPLENDA® ”diabetes friendly” recipes contain < 35% of total calories from fat, < 10% of total calories form saturated fat, and no more than 45 grams of carbohydrate per serving.
** SPLENDA® ”heart healthy” recipes contain < 6.5 grams of total fat, < 10% of total calories form saturated fat, <= 240 mg of sodium and at least 10% of the Daily Value of one of these nutrients (vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, protein or dietary fiber). While many factors affect heart disease, diets low in saturated fat may reduce the risk of this disease.
I have been compensated for my time by Heartland Food Products Group, the maker of SPLENDA® Sweetener Products. All statements and opinions are my own. I have pledged to Blog with Integrity, asserting that the trust of my readers and the blogging community is vitally important to me.
To learn more recipe tips for cooking and baking with SPLENDA® Sweeteners, visit the Cooking & Baking section of this blog.
Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN, “The Everyday RD,” is an author and nutrition consultant who has headed the nutrition services department in a large teaching hospital and maintained a private practice where she provided diet therapy to individuals and families. With more than 30 years of experience, Robyn is motivated by the opportunity to help people make the best eating decisions for their everyday diet. She believes that choosing what to eat should not be a daily battle and aims to separate the facts from the fiction so you can enjoy eating well.