A Holiday Season with Heart


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Did you know that the season of giving is the most likely time of the year to give you a heart attack?!  Research has shown that there is an increase in heart attack deaths beginning around Thanksgiving, climbing through Christmas, peaking New Year’s Day, and falling thereafter. And this isn’t just a slight increase; it’s about a 33% rise in heart attack deaths that occurs between December and January (noteworthy throughout the US, but particularly pronounced in the South).

Researchers propose that there are a number of mechanisms accounting for the increase—among  them, changes in diet, particularly an increase in high-salt and fat meals (which can have acute effects on heart health and heart attack risk, not just long-term). Another mechanism mentioned, emotional stressors—such as family interactions that aren’t all pleasant, financial pressure (expenses for gifts, travel, entertaining, decorating, etc.), and holiday travel.

Here are a few ways to really show your heart some love this season, and prevent what researchers have coined TheMerry Christmas Coronary” and “Happy New Year Heart Attack” Phenomenon:

  • Keep moving. It’s important to keep up an exercise regimen during the holidays.  Exercise can ease the holiday stress, help you sleep better at night and lower blood pressure.  Yes, the holidays are busy, but exercise doesn’t necessarily have to interfere with your to-do list—walk the mall 2 to 3 times before beginning to shop, or park as far as you can from the mall entrance; while family is in town, plan outings that allow everyone to be physically active or up moving around; perhaps recruit a walking buddy that wants to maintain the routine as much as you do. Remember that when it comes to being physically active, every minute counts and they can really add up! (Get in a 5-10 minute walk several times during the day when a few minutes is all you can spare, take the stairs, and march in place during TV Christmas movie commercials.)
  • Get more sleep. Research shows that chronically getting less than 7 hours of sleep at night is associated with an increased appetite as well as excess weight. Over the holidays, try to maintain your normal sleep schedule.  If you typically sleep less than 7 hours, getting more sleep over the holidays will be especially important, considering one is faced with more opportunities to eat, as well as more tempting, high sodium and high fat foods.
  • Include some heart-y dishes in your holiday spread. Consider having (at least) two non-starchy vegetables with little added fat and salt as part of your spread this year—like roasted kale chips, collards (sans the bacon but with smoked paprika, garlic, onions and apple cider vinegar), a green salad with apples and dried cranberries, roasted Brussels sprouts or roasted carrots with extra virgin olive oil and rosemary.  Decide which traditional dishes are favorites or must-haves, and which dishes you and your family could forgo or substitute with lighter options.  (See recipes that follow)

Dr. Rosati’s Butternut Squash Risotto

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 cups arborio rice

1 cup dry white wine

6 cups no salt added or low sodium vegetable stock

1 butternut squash, baked, flesh scooped and chopped

1 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated

¼ cup parsley, chopped (to be added after sauce; see below)

Heat the stock.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add the chopped onion and cook, stirring, until the onion is soft. Add the rice, stir, and cook 3 minutes. Add the wine and cook until the wine is almost gone.  Add the stock just to cover the rice and cook, stirring, until the stock is almost completely absorbed.  Continue adding stock, stirring and cooking in this manner until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes (be sure to taste).

When the rice is finished cooking, stir in the butternut squash and Parmigiano Reggiano and continue to cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Add parsley and serve.

Yield: 8 servings

Each serving contains approximately: Calories 290, Fat calories 74, Fat 8g, Saturated fat 3 g, cholesterol 8 mg, Protein 8 g, Carbohydrate 46 g, Dietary fiber 3 g, Sodium 63 mg.

Roasted Kale Chips

This is a great holiday appetizer!

1 bunch organic kale

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Spices (like smoked paprika, chili powder, red pepper flakes, garlic powder), optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  De-stem and tear the kale into the desired size pieces.  Wash and dry the kale (a Salad Spinner works well for this). In large bowl, toss the kale, olive oil and spices (optional) together. Spread the kale out on a baking sheet and place in the oven for 12-15 minutes, tossing once in the middle of cooking time. Chips should be browned and crisp (be careful not to burn!).

Yield: 4 servings. Each serving contains approximately: Calories 80, Fat 4g, Saturated fat 1g, cholesterol 0mg, Protein 3g, Carbohydrate 10g, Dietary fiber 2g, Sodium 43mg.

Pumpkin Pie


¼ tsp olive oil

2 cups granola (homemade or store-bought, without dried fruit)

5 – 6 Tbsp water.


1 cup silken tofu

1 lb. baked pumpkin flesh (or 1-16oz. can pumpkin puree)

1/3 cup maple syrup

2 Tbsp molasses

2 large eggs

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ tsp ground ginger

½ tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground nutmeg

½ tsp ground cloves

Lightly coat a 9 inch pie plate with oil. Place the granola in a food processor, and using on and off pulses, break up any large lumps in the granola to create a fairly coarse meal. Empty the ground granola onto the pie plate, stir in enough water to moisten the granola, and press it evenly over the bottom.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Add the tofu, pumpkin, syrup and molasses to the food processor and puree together until it achieves a smooth texture and all ingredients are well blended. Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl.

In a small bowl, beat the eggs together. Add to the large mixing bowl, along with the vanilla and spices as well. Mix all ingredients well. Pour into the pie crust and bake for about 50 minutes. Best served chilled; however, at least allow to cool for about 30 minutes or until the center is set before serving.

Yield: 6 servings

Each serving approximately: 245 calories, 9 g fat, 2 g sat fat, 69.3 g cholesterol, 36 g Carbohydrate, 6 g fiber, 6.4 g pro, 100 mg sodium