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Make healthier decision with your food ingredients
Find diet-friendly dishes for your meals
To make a healthier version of double chocolate cupcakes, Crevolyn Wiley uses egg substitute instead of eggs as well as low-fat buttermilk and dark chocolate.

Showing your ticker some love by making more heart healthy choices doesn’t mean you have to break up with your favorite foods. But it does mean improving your recipes to include better-for-you ingredients.

February is American Heart Health Month, a designation aimed at increasing awareness of heart disease cause and prevention.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death. About one quarter of deaths in America each year are the result of heart disease. Forty-nine percent of Americans have at least one risk factor for heart disease, including high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, smoking, physical inactivity, obesity and poor diet.

“If you are diagnosed with heart disease, you need to take your daily nutrition source choices very seriously,” said Sheenagh King, registered dietitian and Bariatric Program Manager at The Longstreet Clinic Center for Bariatric Surgery.

King said the best way to improve heart health is to make exercise and nutritious foods, such as fruits and vegetables, a part of each day.

Healthy foods also include fat-free or low-fat milk, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, nuts and other fiber-rich foods.

People with heart disease should avoid food high in sodium, sugar and fats such as potato chips and sweets. Replacing salt with herbs and spices can increase a food’s flavor while reducing the amount of sodium in a recipe.

Dr. Lalitha Medepalli, a cardiologist with Northeast Georgia Heart Center in Gainesville, said people with heart disease can still indulge in the occasional unhealthy food so long “it’s as infrequently and in the smallest portions as possible.”

While enjoying a baked treat like a cupcake should be limited to a once-in-a-while extravagance, swapping a few ingredients can make the experience better. With cupcakes, it’s easier not to overindulge because they’re already portioned into a single serving.

“Nothing says love like chocolate,” cookbook author Crevolyn Wiley said, laughing.

The “Cooking with Crevolyn” author said her “light” version of a double chocolate cupcake can be made quickly and easily for a special occasion.

Wiley swaps eggs with egg substitute in the batter and sugary frosting decoration with less sweet options.

Baked treat recipes can also be made healthier by replacing oils with fruit or vegetables purees, or all-purpose flour with whole-grain flour.

Medepalli said people can do a lot to care for their heart health by making changes in one area at a time, like making healthy food choices.

“Slowly but surely they can take control of their health,” Medepalli said. “It is never too late to improve your health and reduce your risk.”