Healthy meals don’t always taste heart-y

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 6, 2010

I don’t know how many hours I’ve had my nose in a couple of American Heart Association cookbooks during the past week. Since my husband came home from the hospital following a heart attack, I’ve been trying to find low-fat, low-salt recipes for food I hope he will enjoy.

The first thing I noticed was the use of various herbs and spices which I have never used. There is always salt and pepper on our table—or rather there was until last week. One of the tips I found in the cookbooks was to remove the salt shaker from the table. We’ve not quite reached the stage of “out of sight out of mind” when it comes to the salt shaker, but it’s a start. I also read somewhere that after some time avoiding adding that dash or two of salt to your food at the table, you actually don’t miss it. That’s difficult to believe, but time will tell.

Then there’s the real challenge of avoiding fried foods after a lifetime of enjoying them. According to a booklet from the cardiac rehab department of the hospital, the patient should choose grilled, baked or broiled meat over fried. No fried chicken? Even if I remove the skin? No fried catfish? Wow. Well, I told myself we can do it, and so after a couple of hours turning pages in the cookbook and compiling my list, I went to the grocery store. I stayed so long my husband got worried about my long absence.

A lot of the items I on that list were ones I’d never bought before. I searched for spices, both surprised by the high prices and the wide selection. I hunted saltines with unsalted tops. I finally found the low sodium beef and chicken bouillon cubes. I almost missed the approved margarine that seemed hidden on a top shelf. The diced tomatoes packed with no salt were almost lost among other canned tomatoes. Likewise, the no-salt tomato sauce.

I finally had the ingredients I needed for several meals, including Sunday’s—baked catfish. I washed the fresh fillets, patted them dry with a paper towel, and dipped them in non-fat buttermilk. (Can you believe that there is such a thing as non-fat buttermilk?) Next, I rolled them in crushed unsalted crackers, sprinkled on a tiny dash of lemon-pepper with garlic and onions and a drizzle of heart healthy margarine, sprayed them with vegetable oil and slipped them in the oven. After about thirty minutes, the topping browned nicely. “It smells good,” our son-in-law commented.

I waited anxiously for comments as I served my “specialty of the day” to our daughter, her husband, and my patient. “It’s good,” daughter and husband said. “Yes, this is good,” my husband agreed. “But it would really be good if it was fried.”

As you can see, we have a way to go adjusting to our heart-healthy diet.