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Struggling to eat heart-healthy? This advice is easy to swallow!

man eating a healthy meal

If you think eating foods that are good for you can’t taste good, you’ll love these tips from Sauk Prairie Healthcare’s Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist Isaac Hoffmaster. Read his valuable insights on his patients’ most frequent questions about how to be healthy and happy when it comes to eating for better blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels.

Q: What are the best things to eat and drink if I have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or high glucose?

A: There’s a great deal of evidence behind what is referred to as the “Mediterranean style” of eating, as well as the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension—or high blood pressure). Both emphasize foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as tuna, salmon, walnuts, olive oil and canola oil. Omega-3 fatty acids have well documented heart-protective benefits for the cardiovascular system, including lowering triglyceride levels, increasing HDL (good cholesterol) and lowering LDL (bad cholesterol). Eating for good heart health benefits everyone, but especially those who struggle with diabetes/pre-diabetes, who are at higher risk for cardiovascular issues.

What sometimes gets overlooked is eating good sources of dietary fiber, which can improve cholesterol levels. Good sources of fiber include non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, greens), legumes (dried beans) and whole grains. Adequate daily fiber also benefits those with high blood sugar because fiber is not readily turned to glucose, which helps give you a feeling of fullness and satisfaction while preventing spikes in blood sugar.

Here’s more information on the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet.

Q: What are your thoughts on butter and margarine?

A: Fats, like butter, that are solid at room temperature contain saturated fat, which has been linked to higher LDL (bad) cholesterol, increased risk of heart disease, etc. Our goal as men should be to keep our saturated fat to less than 10% of our daily calories, or less than 22 grams of fat per day. A tablespoon of butter contains about 7 grams of saturated fat, while the average margarine has around 2-3 grams. If you’re choosing a margarine, I suggest avoiding any that contain trans fats and choosing an olive oil blend due to the added omega-3 benefit. Ideally, try to limit consumption of both to reduce added calories.

Q: Does my condition mean I can’t ever have a restricted food item?

A: I think it’s a disservice to yourself to say, “I am never going to eat that again,” because the risk of getting off track is very high. A large amount of most foods can be a health detriment in different circumstances. Some find it most effective to go cold turkey and avoid a food altogether, but often, completely cutting foods out of your diet creates a sense of craving that leads to binging and feelings of guilt. Building healthy portions of all types of foods into your eating pattern can be a major benefit to your overall physical and mental health.

Q: What are some tricks to making healthy food taste good?

A: First, avoid setting yourself up for failure by doing the same thing time and again and expecting a different result. To give a personal example, I do not enjoy plain, steamed brussels sprouts and went through the first 25 years of my life believing that was the only way to make them. I’ve since discovered that brussels sprouts can be grilled, pan-fried, roasted, stir-fried, and marinated or seasoned 100 different ways! I encourage you to think of a vegetable you don’t like and a spice that you do, and then experiment with various preparations. Adding flavor with herbs and spices can go a long way toward breaking up the monotony and helping you truly enjoy your food.

Here are other things to try:

  • Put your sauces/dressings/etc. off to the side. When you’re eating, lightly dip your food into the sauce/dressing and touch the dressing to your tongue first to maximize the flavor and minimize added calories. This works especially well with salads.
  • Try replacing salt with other seasonings, such as garlic, pepper or a Mrs. Dash salt substitute. Mrs. Dash makes taco and fajita seasoning, for example.
  • To add appeal to water and decrease calorie consumption from sugar-sweetened drinks, add a no-sugar flavoring like Crystal Light, or flavor your water with fruit or vegetables.

Q: What are your tips for sticking to a healthy diet?

A: It’s very hard to continue something that you don’t enjoy, which is why adding your favorite flavoring is so important. Also, don’t try to change everything at once—make small adjustments that will stick, and then expand on that progress. Be sure to remind yourself of what you are gaining each time you make a healthy choice for yourself.

I’d also recommend writing down your strengths and challenges when it comes to healthy eating. We all have some of both, whether it’s the food environment we live in, the time we dedicate to food and eating, the resources or support we have available, or our own taste preferences. The two biggest challenges my patients mention are time and knowledge—and both can be overcome. It may benefit you to work with a dietitian on your challenges and develop a personalized plan of attack. Everyone is so different, and what works for one may not work for all. It helps to have support you can depend on.

One thing to keep in mind is that to get off track, you first had to be on track. That means you can get on track again! Too often, I see people focus on a “bad” food decision they made when there are many positives.

Q: What are your favorite healthy meal suggestions, especially for the grilling season?

A: I enjoy grilled fish (particularly salmon) seasoned with garlic and black pepper, as well as grilled vegetable kebobs (onions, peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms and zucchini) marinated in olive oil, garlic and black pepper. Spring is the best time of year for grilled asparagus, and I switch to fresh green beans later in the summer.

A quick meal that I’ve found myself eating a fair bit recently is my version of a tuna melt (below). I don’t think I’ve ever made this sandwich the same way twice! It’s easy to change up the flavors or vegetables to keep it interesting.

  • ½ can water pack tuna (look for a low-sodium variety)
  • ¼ cup finely chopped veggies (broccoli slaw is a staple for me)
  • 1/2 tablespoon olive or canola oil (I don’t always use either)
  • Favorite spices (skip the salt)
  • 2 slices of 100% whole-wheat bread
  • Vegetable fixings


  1. Add olive oil to a pan on medium heat, then add veggies and tuna (do not drain); cook until veggies are softened to personal preference. Season with garlic or paprika to add spice.
  2. Add cheese as desired (low-fat mozzarella works well) and allow to melt briefly.
  3. Transfer tuna/veggie/cheese to 100% whole-wheat bread with a spatula; add vegetable fixings (I use tomato and spinach—from my garden, when possible).
  4. Toast the sandwich on both sides and enjoy! (I don’t add any butter oil to the bread, but you certainly could.)

I also find many good healthy recipes on

Isaac Hoffmaster is a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist at Sauk Prairie Healthcare. His goal is to help people through education to become experts in their own eating and nutrition and maximize their health and happiness with the food they eat. To make an appointment with Isaac or his colleague, Julie Esser, please seek a referral from your primary care provider or talk to Isaac at 608-643-7529.