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Hungry Heart: Feed your ticker when you satisfy your stomach


February is American Heart Month, a time to focus on adopting healthier habits for the sake of this vital organ. What we eat has a tremendous impact on preventing heart disease. Today, we share with you four recipes that are all heart-healthy and are provided by the American Heart Association.

I splurge from time to time but much of what I consume is done so with my heart in mind. 

When you meet me, you might notice a long scar running down the center of my chest. There’s no hiding the fact that I’ve had heart surgery. I went under the knife during the height of COVID after doctors determined my aortic valve had reached “severe insufficiency” and the aneurysm in my ascending aorta was getting uncomfortably large. I am now the proud owner of a porcine aortic valve and an artificial ascending aorta. 

The day of my surgery was Dec. 4, 2020. My husband did not want me to have the surgery, at least not then. He wanted me to wait until there would be less COVID risk on top of the typical risks associated with open-heart surgery. But I didn’t want to wait. And I’m stubborn. 

I first learned of my deformed aortic valve in my late 20s. Doctors have told me that either I was born that way or the condition was part of a connective tissue disorder. We’ll probably never know for sure, but I’ve been doing my best to take care of my heart for 30 years because the last thing I wanted to do was compound my valve issue with clogged arteries. I ate right most of the time and exercised. 

And it worked. My surgeon told me my arteries were “clean as a whistle” when he got an inside view during my nearly six hours on the surgical table. 

We all generally know what we should do (eat more fruits and vegetables, limit unhealthy fats, reduce sodium consumption, eat fewer processed foods, include plenty of fiber) but that’s always easier said than done. 

I have found the most effective way to eat heart-healthy foods is to plan. If I don’t, I am more likely to dine out or prepare what’s quickest and easiest – not necessarily what’s best for my health. This past Sunday, I diced and roasted a sheet pan full of zucchini, yellow squash, onion, and Brussels sprouts to last me through most of the week. I also bought blueberries and blackberries for snacks. Nuts are always in my pantry.

But as I said, I do splurge. This past Tuesday was colleague Marty Queen’s birthday. I enjoyed a slice of cake in his honor. I mean, life is about balance and celebrating special occasions.

All recipes and photos are courtesy of the American Heart Association.

Angela Kuper Copeland is managing editor of The Paper. She may be reached at 828-445-8595 or via email at