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Heat Up the Heart-Healthy Harvest

June 28, 2007
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As the warm weather becomes routine, people begin to dust off their outdoor grills to prepare their favorite foods. But grilling today goes way beyond hamburgers and hot dogs. Increasingly health-conscious backyard chefs are firing up some of the latest seasonal foods from New Jersey farms to create tasty, good-for-you dishes on the grill.

In fact, nutrition experts often recommend grilling as a cooking method because, unlike deep frying or pan sautéing, it adds no fat to food, an important benefit for people trying to stick to a healthy diet. Combine this healthy cooking method with some of the Garden State's famous fresh produce, and you've got the recipe for a healthy heart this summer.

"We all know that you can lower the risk of heart disease by eating better," says Dr. Augustine E. Agocha, lead physician at Advanced Heart, Lung and Vascular Care in Bordentown, N.J. "And with the wide variety of fresh, seasonal foods, summer is the perfect time to improve your eating habits by eating less fat, less sodium, fewer calories and more fiber."

Where to start? Agocha recommends adding some of the following locally grown, seasonal "super foods" to boost nutrition:

Tomatoes: During the summer, juicy, fresh-off-the-vine tomatoes are abundant at your local vegetable stand or supermarket, especially from July through September, when they're at their peak of ripeness.

"Tomatoes are low in sodium and they provide fiber, which helps lower cholesterol levels. Also, researchers have discovered that the red color in tomatoes -- called lycopene -- may reduce heart-disease risk," adds Agocha.

The American Heart Association recommends eating tomatoes as part of a heart-healthy diet. So grill up those ruby-red tomatoes and enjoy!

On the Grill: Cut tomatoes in half crosswise, and brush with canola or olive oil, along with your favorite spices. Wrap in foil and grill sliced side up for 6 to 8 minutes.

Corn: Crisp, sweet, direct-from-the-field corn starts appearing at roadside farm stands are early as late June. But backyard chefs can enjoy the milky-white small kernels of Jersey sweet corn all summer long.

"Corn is an excellent source of fiber, providing almost 6 grams of fiber for every half cup. That's more than 20 percent of the fiber the American Heart Association says you need every day to be healthy," says Agocha.

It's simple to prepare and delicious. Just put corn on the cob in a pot of boiling water or grill it for a heart-healthy feast!

On the Grill: Soak ears of corn in water for 30 minutes then grill in the husk for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the silk before grilling.

Fish: Fresh fish, caught or grown in New Jersey's waters, isn't just a "shore" thing. Summer is the perfect time for residents all over the state to make positive changes in their diet, adding many of the tasty varieties of fish available to health-conscious grillers, from mackerel, cod and flounder to monkfish and salmon.

Everyone knows that fish is a great source of protein and an excellent alternative to high-fat meats. But here's something you might not realize: It's also good for your ticker.

"The American Heart Association recommends that we eat fish at least twice a week, preferably fatty fish such as mackerel and salmon, which contain high levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids," explains Agocha.

On the Grill: Wrap salmon with herbs, chopped onion and tomatoes in parchment or aluminum foil, and grill or bake 12 minutes for a satisfying meal. Add a cold green salad and some fruit, and you're set.

Just one warning: When it comes to fish, avoid those with high mercury levels. Check online for current safety concerns about pollutants and fish.


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