Converting Favorite Recipes for Heart Healthy Diets, from Sodexo USA

Autumn is upon us and colder days call for hearty soups and meals. Sumptuous foods don’t have to be bad for your though, it just takes some re-imagining. However, it can seem intimidating, or a daunting task, to adjust your recipes when shifting to a heart healthy diet. Hopefully, after reading this, you will have learned some easy tricks to reduce or eliminate things like fats and salt from your favorite recipes. And discover a favorite recipe converted to be heart healthy for you!

One of the first things to understand is that cooking is both an art AND a science. The science of cooking explains how things work the way they do, and the art of cooking is being able to manipulate or finesse recipes to meet the needs of your particular palette. When it comes to the science of flavor, there are four categories of ingredients that come into play:

  • Fats
  • Salt
  • Alcohol
  • Acidity

These four types of ingredients are known as “flavor enhancers” – they help to turn bland foods that taste flat into foods with rich flavors. We’ll focus on three of these ingredients in this article.


The first one we will focus on is fats. In some cases, it is difficult to entirely eliminate fats from recipes. Our best plan of action is to reduce the amount of fats we use in recipes and replace them with heart healthy alternatives. In most savory applications, such as sautéing, you can replace butter with smaller amounts of heart healthy fats like olive or sesame oil. In some sweet applications, such as baking a cake, if a recipe calls for oil, you can substitute in an equal amount of applesauce to maintain moisture in the batter and eliminate fat content.


The second, and perhaps most important, ingredient to focus on in heart health is salt. Salt is one of the easiest ways to “add flavor” to recipes, but is an ingredient that causes issues in many diets. If you want to eliminate added salt entirely from your diet, the easiest way to do so is to utilize acidity as a new flavor enhancer. Now, substituting the acid for salt is a scientific answer, but how you choose to use acidity is an art, as using too much can easily overwhelm the dishes you prepare. As with many ingredients, your best bet will be to use a little, then taste the food and add more if necessary. Here are some general guidelines for utilizing acidity, but of course these are just guidelines, and you can play around with the ingredients to determine what works for you.

  • Lemon Juice: this is one of the most widely used, and readily available, acidic items in the standard kitchen. Think of the lemon wedge served with seafood when you go out to eat. Just a little splash will help brighten flavors. Lemon juice is most helpful with seafood, hearty green vegetables, and some broth-based soups.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar: this is another widely utilized ingredient in kitchens. This works best with pork chops, pork tenderloin, pork shoulder, and light green vegetables like cabbage or lettuce.
  • Red Wine Vinegar: this is a rich and robust vinegar. This works well with beef, chicken thighs, white beans, chickpeas, and hot vegetable preparations such as mixed vegetables, brussels sprouts, or broccoli.
  • Champagne or Sherry Vinegar: these are both lighter vinegars, with slightly different flavor profiles, but work fairly well interchangeably. These work well with chicken breasts, mushrooms, and leafy greens (including drizzled on salads).

Please note: replacing salt with acidity works great in savory applications. However, you will notice that a lot of baking recipes call for salt as an ingredient. In most recipes, it is difficult to simply remove the salt without affecting the flavor of the finished product. In some sweet recipes, you can help alleviate this issue by replacing the salt with vanilla extract, but you will need to use a double measure of vanilla versus salt. However, if you are baking something like bread, there is no easy replacement, and you may have to simply leave the salt out of the recipe and deal with the resulting product.

The final piece of advice that I want to provide is this: sometimes, the easier way to intensify flavors for some foods is to roast them, and this works especially well for foods that have a high water content. For instance, when I make mushroom soup (either broth-based or creamy), I always toss the mushrooms with some olive oil, Dijon mustard, paprika, parsley, and chives, then spread on a roasting pan and roast in a 375 degree oven for 25-35 minutes, until most of the moisture is baked out, then put the mushrooms into the soup and allow them to slightly rehydrate, which in turn flavors the broth.

Not every ingredient or every method will work for everyone, it depends on your palette and your food preferences. But this should give you some possibilities and flexibility when it comes to cooking at home on a Heart Healthy Diet. Best of luck, and good eating!

Heart Healthy Creamy Turkey & Wild Rice Soup

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

2 cups sliced mushrooms, (about 4 ounces)

¾ cup chopped celery

¾ cup chopped carrots

¼ cup chopped shallots

¼ cup all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth 

1 cup quick-cooking or instant wild rice

3 cups shredded cooked chicken, or turkey

½ cup reduced-fat sour cream

1 teaspoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley


Step 1: Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add mushrooms, celery, carrots and shallots and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add flour and pepper and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes more.

Step 2: Add broth and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits. Add rice and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook until the rice is tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in turkey (or chicken), sour cream, lemon juice and parsley and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes more.