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Expert Q&A

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Can you suggest affordable, healthy, easy-to-fix meals?

Asked by R. Gordon, Florida

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I'm a senior on a fixed income. I can't drive and have only partial use of right arm because of stroke. Now my doctor tells me to get on a low-fat, low-sodium, low-carbohydrate diet. I have about $150 a month to spend on "kitchen" items, including taxi fare, detergent, paper towels, etc. I've done some online searching, but have not come up with an affordable, easy-to-prepare menu. Any help out there?

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Diet and Fitness Expert Dr. Melina Jampolis Physician Nutrition Specialist

Expert answer

Hi R. Gordon. This is a great question that brings up several important topics.

First of all, since you have already had a stroke, it is important for you to follow a heart-healthy diet. Without knowing more about your medical history, I generally suggest that people follow a reduced (not low) carbohydrate, Mediterranean-style diet (rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and healthy fats and lower in meat and saturated fat) rather than a low-carbohydrate diet to decrease your risk of having another stroke and to lose weight if necessary.

I agree with the low-sodium recommendation. Lowering it can help reduce high blood pressure, a significant risk factor for stroke. Following a reduced-fat diet can help cut calories, which can lead to weight loss if you are overweight (another risk factor for heart disease and stroke). But including healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil and canola oil is important for heart disease and stroke prevention.

Here are some budget friendly, lower-sodium, heart-healthy options that you should try to include in your diet on a regular basis.

1. Dried beans: Beans and legumes are inexpensive and are an excellent source of soluble fiber, which can help lower cholesterol. They're also a plant-based protein, which research suggests can lower cholesterol and blood pressure when replacing saturated fat. Dried beans are less expensive than canned and lower in sodium, but you can find low-sodium canned beans if it is difficult for you to cook. You can throw together a three-bean salad with a little olive oil for a healthy side dish or light lunch option.

2. Frozen vegetables: Many people assume frozen vegetables are not as healthy as fresh, but the reality is that they can be just as healthy since they are often quickly frozen which preserves nutrients. You can buy them in bulk and heat them in the microwave or steam them rather than boiling, which can deplete them of vitamins. Use herbs and spices to add flavor rather than high-fat, high-sodium toppings.

3. Nuts: Nuts and seeds are loaded with heart-healthy fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals in addition to protein. You can buy them in bulk with no salt added and portion them into single-serving (about ¼ cup), re-usable bags to save money. These make great snacks as long as you keep portions under control.

4. Canned fish: The American Heart Association recommends consuming fish twice a week but fresh fish can be very expensive. Opt for canned tuna and salmon packed in water and try to choose lower-sodium options. Add a can of fish to the three-bean salad mentioned above, and you have a healthy, satisfying lunch or dinner option.

5. Eggs: If you have very high cholesterol, you may want to discuss adding eggs to your diet with your doctor, but most nutrition experts agree that having an egg a day (on average) will not raise cholesterol significantly. Eggs are inexpensive and very good source of protein and nutrients.

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