Five years ago I got a call from my dad. He didn’t want to worry me, but he wanted to let me know that he needed to have open heart surgery. After a few months of feeling out of breath on walks he took everyday, he finally told his doctor they needed to do additional tests. He knew something was wrong and he did not know what. It ended up my dad had major artery blockages — and, if he had not pushed for answers, he may not be with us now.
I headed home to help with my dad’s recovery. I was inspired by his spirit and strength in what was hard, seemingly slow process for a very active, often impatient person. I knew it was not easy. I knew I could not make it easier. I also knew that I was just happy to have my dad and be able to give him hugs, share laughs, and talk about sports and books like we always have done.
 
As I reflected on this anniversary of sorts, I realized how much that time period shaped my view on exercise, healthy eating, and pushing for answers when something doesn’t seem quite right.
  • Exercise: This year has been heavy for me workwise and I had let my always active lifestyle slip a bit — I knew I needed to make sure physical activity again became a priority whether it be paddleboarding with friends, an early morning run, or even a simple walk around the office. Not only does a bit of activity make me feel better in the moment, but I know it’s making me feel better and live longer.
  • Healthy eating: I love to cook. I love to cook fresh, local foods from the farmers market. I have made a conscious effort to cook with healthy oils, to eat more vegetables (green smoothes, anyone?), and to limit my consumption of animal products. It’s surprising how making a few small changes make you feel better and be healthier.
  • Pushing for answers: It’s simple to fall into the trap of deferring to experts. I have to be my own best advocate when it comes to my health. I can accomplish this by preparing questions and engaging in the conversation until I feel comfortable with the answers I’m receiving. A little research can go a long way.
 
I hope my reflection may help inspire others to take a look at their lives and determine what they can do to improve their heart health. For me, feeling healthy and strong is correlated with overall happiness. When I think about the lives that can be saved with a few small actions — and the families that will have their relatives to share this happiness with — I cannot help but smile.
 
Given all this, let’s cook up a heart healthy meal to share with friends and family.
 
It’s damp, cold, and dreary here in the Pacific Northwest. That weather could cause one to run to the nearest comfort food. Luckily, there are many ways to modify recipes to be a bit more heart healthy. And, you can find many heart healthy recipes right on the American Heart Association web site. This recipe is a perfect match for the winter weather and desire to be cozy: Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili (http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/Recipes/Sweet-Potato-Black-Bean-Chili_UCM_442528_Recipe.jsp). This is a great recipe to make on a Sunday afternoon, then enjoy during the week, or freeze for reheating whenver you are in the mood for a hearty, vegetarian meal.
 
Here’s what you’ll need:
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium-large sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 4 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chile (see Cooking Tips)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed
  • 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 4 teaspoons lime juice
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
It seems like a lot, but the prep here is so easy that you’ll have this chili on the stove in no time.
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add sweet potato and onion and cook, stirring often, for about 4 minutes. You want the onion to soften, but not brown. As I was cutting up the onion, I recalled a red bell pepper in my refrigerator and decided to chop it up and add it to the pot, too.
Now it’s time to make your kitchen smell great. Add garlic, chili powder, chipotle and salt to the pot. Stir constantly for 30 seconds, then add water and bring the chili to a simmer.
Cover. Reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook until the sweet potato is tender, about 10 – 12 minutes.
Add beans, tomatoes, and lime juice. Increase heat to high and return to a simmer, stirring often.
 
Reduce heat and simmer until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in cilantro.
Serve with additional cilantro (and hot sauce, if desired) or package up to refrigerate or freeze for later.
 
Enjoy!
 
Rebecca Gerben Mehta
 

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