February is Heart Disease Awareness Month and I plan on sharing some heart-healthy recipes this month with all of you, including these pretty Georgian Spinach Walnut Balls. However, before I do, I’d like to talk a bit about heart health.
I feel the special need to help get the word out about Heart Disease Awareness Month, especially to women. You see, heart disease is the #1 killer of women. Why? Women tend not to complain and often don’t recognize the symptoms when they are experiencing a heart attack. Women also tend not to get their physical check-ups as often as they should. Basically, women are caregivers and caretakers, and most times their focus is on their family, not themselves. I could see this happening to many women I know, including myself. Does this sound like you?
So, I would like all of us (me included) to take some time to check in with our own health. When’s the last time you had a check-up (reminder to self – time to get my checkup)? Do you know what your cholesterol level is? Do you know what your blood pressure is? These are some of the questions that you need to know the answers to in order to determine your risk for heart disease.
Heart disease is preventable so you can reduce your chances of getting heart disease by doing the following (source: National Institute of Health):
- Know your blood pressure and keep it under control
- Exercise regularly
- Don’t smoke
- Get tested for diabetes and if you have it, keep it under control
- Know your cholesterol and triglyceride levels and keep them under control
- Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables
- Maintain a healthy weight
So, what’s a heart healthy diet look like? (source: Mayo Clinic)
- Limit unhealthy fats and cholesterol (e.g., solid fats like butter, shortening, animal fat); instead choose monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, nuts and seeds. Use all fats in moderation, however, since they are all high in calories.
- Choose low fat protein sources (e.g., legumes, lean meat, poultry and fish, low-fat dairy products and egg whites).
- Eat more vegetables and fruits.
- Choose products made with whole grains instead of refined wheat flour.
- Reduce the sodium in your food.
- Control portion sizes.
Now, let’s talk about nuts. Walnuts are one of the most heart healthy nuts around. Other heart-healthy nuts include almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios and pecans. One serving nuts is about one ounce. That’s approximately 14 walnut halves, 24 almonds, 47 pistachios, 20 pecan halves or hazelnuts.
What makes nuts heart healthy? (source: Mayo Clinic)
- Unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) help lower bad cholesterol levels
- Omega-3 fatty acids prevent dangerous heart rhythms that can lead to heart attacks
- Fiber lowers cholesterol levels
- Vitamin E may help stop the development of plaques in arteries
- Plant sterols can help lower cholesterol
- L-arginine may help improve the health of artery walls by making them more flexible and less prone to blood clots that can block blood flow.
Keep in mind that although nuts contain healthy fats, it is still a lot of calories, so portion control is key. Nuts should provide a healthy substitute for the unhealthy saturated fats in your diet. Just eating nuts and not cutting back on saturated fats (e.g., dairy, meat products) isn’t heart healthy.
Now onto these eye popping Spinach Walnut Balls. Recently, my husband and I were treated to a traditional Georgian feast as I wrote about in a recent post. I became obsessed with the Spinach Walnut Balls that we had that special evening. Although I cannot replicate the exact Spinach Walnut Balls we had that evening, these are mighty good. This traditional Georgian dish is also served as a dip.
- 2 bunches fresh spinach, about 1 pound, stems trimmed, rinsed well
- ⅓ cup walnuts, finely chopped
- ½ small onion, finely minced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, minced
- ⅛ teaspoon fenugreek powder
- ½ teaspoon coriander powder
- dash of cayenne powder
- 2 teaspoons tarragon vinegar
- 1 tablespoon water
- salt to taste
- pomegranate seeds, for garnish
- fresh chopped cilantro or parsley, for garnish
- Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add spinach leaves and cook until just tender, about 1 minute. Let cool, then squeeze dry. Place in a food processor and process until finely chopped, but not overly pureed.
- Combine walnuts, onion, garlic, cilantro, fenugreek powder, coriander powder, cayenne, tarragon vinegar and water in a medium bowl. Add chopped spinach and mix well. Season to taste with a little salt.
- Cover and refrigerate for 6-8 hours to let flavors melt together.
- Use a spoon to scoop out little balls of spinach walnut dip. Form round balls, make an indentation in the center.
- Place a few pomegranate seeds in the indentation and sprinkle with fresh chopped cilantro or parsley
Heart Disease References:
Warning Signs of a Heart Attack, American Heart Association
Heart Disease Prevention, National Institute of Health
Heart-healthy diet: 8 steps to prevent heart disease, Mayo Clinic
Nuts and your health: Eating nuts for heart health, Mayo Clinic
It’s full of fat and Helps You Lose Weight, Medicine.net
Omega-3 in fish: How eating fish helps your heart, Mayo Clinic
Heart Disease Heredity Factors, Center for Disease Control and Prevention
The Benefits of Walking, American Heart Association
Yoga and Heart Health, American Heart Association
Georgian Food and Pkhali Recipes:
An Overview of Georgian Cuisine, Uncornered Market
Spinach pkhali (dip), Los Angeles Times, adapted from a recipe in “Please to the Table” by Anya von Bremzen
Spinach Pkhali, ifood.tv
Georgian Pkhali, Tastebook
Eggplant Pkhali, Ashbury’s Aubergines Eggplant Recipes
This recipe has been linked up to Beyond the Peel’s Whole Food Wednesdays event.