I love to eat. Who doesn’t? I love everything about it. Walking into a kitchen and having the comforting aroma of homemade spaghetti sauce taking me back to grandma’s house as a child. Sitting down with family and friends and losing track of the time while catching up after a busy day. Lingering around the dining room table with a cup of coffee and winding down. What’s not to love?
Preparing it, that’s what. For as much as I love eating, I loathe the process leading up to it. Deciding what to make. Finding a recipe. Grocery shopping. Especially grocery shopping. At least that’s how I used to feel.
A few months ago, a new grocery store opened in our town. It’s one of those health-focused, locally-sourced places that draws crowds from all over. Naturally, my wife — whose love of grocery shopping and cooking perfectly complements my disdain for it — wanted to check it out. And that’s when it happened.
Right by the front door was a stand of oranges next to a juicer. Place a jar below the spout, push a button, watch the juicer slice and squeeze the oranges, and in a few seconds, I had the freshest, most flavorful orange juice I’ve ever tasted. Free of any additives, preservatives, artificial colors, or sweeteners. It was a revelation. THIS is how all food should be, I thought. The rest of our shopping trip was as if I’d never been in a grocery store before; looking for the freshest produce, discovering new ingredients and planning the evening’s meal.
When we got home my wife explained some of her favorite cooking techniques like using olive oil instead of butter, mixing in a little chopped garlic rather than salt, and adding kale to a salad for some extra color and texture. As it turns out, many of those flavors I loved in my meals were little more than the ingredients themselves. And they’re healthy to boot!
Next month (March) is Nutrition month, and the American Heart Association has a wealth of information to help families make informed decisions when mealtime rolls around. Cutting down on sodium is a big part of using nutrition to improve heart health. The AHA recommends consuming less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day. Unfortunately the average American consumes more than twice that, around 3,400 mg of sodium a day. A lot of that comes from “sneaky salts” added during the food preparation process.
Fortunately, a little diligence helps us avoid them, things like reading nutrition labels while shopping and looking for the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check Mark. (Read more about salt, diet and heart health in these articles.) It’s almost become a game in our family now: Who can find the healthiest and tastiest options. Focusing on our food has helped us find a new activity to enjoy together, the shopping and cooking are almost like the previews leading up to a great movie.
I’ve always loved eating, now I have a greater appreciation for it. All thanks to a glass of orange juice.
Sean Dreher has been the communications director for the Toledo and Northwest Ohio Division of the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association since 2015.