When it comes to the health of our hearts, the food we eat matters. According to the National Institutes of Health, the standard “Western diet” that most Americans consume — low in produce, whole grains, fish, plant-based protein and fiber, and high in sodium, added sugar, unhealthy fats and highly processed foods — is linked to increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. It can feel overwhelming to try to pick out foods that are good for our health, while also being affordable, accessible in our busy lives, and — perhaps most importantly — taste good.
“I always want my patients to know that they don’t have to eat food they don’t like, because there are so many options out there that taste great while also being great for our bodies,” said Jean Copeland, RDN, LD, a clinical dietitian nutritionist with the Heart & Vascular Center at Dartmouth Health’s Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. “In fact, making some easy swaps in certain ingredients can take most of the recipes we love from being not the best choice, to something that’s filling, nutritious, and delicious.”
One item Copeland eats regularly that one might not think of as being the most heart-healthy: pancakes. “I make about eight pancakes on the weekend so I can eat them over the course of the week,” she said. “I eat three or four on the weekend, and then one each morning.”
The difference is what goes into the pancakes. Copeland makes hers with a base of chickpea flour in place of regular white flour, and a host of other ingredients known to promote cardiovascular health.
Chickpeas: “The chickpea flour helps us eat more of the legume family,” Copeland said. Studies of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH, diet show that eating a minimum of three cups per week of legumes can help reduce blood pressure due to their potassium and magnesium content.
Flaxseed: Used in place of eggs in this recipe, flaxseed meal adds omega-3 fats, which help to reduce inflammation and provides soluble fiber, which improves digestion. “Seeds like flaxseed and pumpkin seeds are excellent sources of minerals to support healthy blood pressure, including potassium and magnesium,” Copeland said.
Walnuts: These nuts are another great source of omega-3 fats, which help to reduce inflammation, and provides minerals which are often low in most American diets.
Cinnamon: “Spices help to reduce inflammation,” Copeland said. “Consuming one and one-half teaspoons daily of cinnamon has been shown to help manage blood glucose.”
Makes 8 pancakes
½ cup chickpea flour
½ cup flax meal
½ cup walnuts, chopped
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 cup orange juice
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon baking soda
Spray vegetable oil onto skillet and heat. Combine all ingredients except baking soda, until well-blended. Allow the flax meal to thicken the batter by letting the batter stand for a few minutes before adding the baking soda. Add the baking soda and blend well, then scoop or pour batter onto hot skillet and cook until edges dry and bubbles cover pancake. Turn. Serve with unsweetened yogurt, berries and/or unsalted pumpkin seeds.