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Love Your Heart This Valentine's Day

Image: in-line skate Americans are Getting Smarter about Heart Health

(ARA) - Valentine's Day, February 14th, is a day that traditionally evokes feelings of the heart -- of flowers, romance and marriage proposals. But this Valentine's Day, many Americans are thinking about their hearts in a far more serious way. They're learning that a healthful low-fat diet, a regular exercise program, and finding ways to deal with life's stresses boost heart health.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Death from heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases claims one American life every 34 seconds.

Like any other muscle in the body, the heart requires preventive care if it is to continue to operate at top form. While some people are afflicted with congenital heart disease, most people who are affected can point to the way they live as a contributor to their problems. Fortunately, with lifestyle changes, many of these contributing factors can be lessened or eliminated entirely.

Smoking: The risk of heart disease for smokers is more than twice that of non-smokers. Smokers who quit now will greatly reduce their risk of heart disease and heart attack.

High Fat/High Cholesterol Diet: There are many wonderful food products available today that are free of cholesterol and saturated fat. Imagine Foods, a natural foods company, makes an array of beverages (Rice Dream and Soy Dream), soups (Imagine Natural Organic Soups and Broths), and Soy Dream and Rice Dream Frozen Desserts that are nondairy, cholesterol free and delicious.

In 2001, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said that foods containing at least 6.25 grams of soy protein per serving that are also "low fat," can claim to be "heart healthy" on their products' labels, because these foods play a part in reducing the risk of heart disease. Imagine Foods' Soy Dream Beverages, by way of example, has 7 grams of soy protein in an 8-ounce serving, so it is considered a "heart healthy" food product according to the FDA's guidelines.

High Blood Pressure: A healthy diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, high in grains, fruits and vegetables (a plant based diet), losing weight, exercising regularly, restricting sodium, and using medication might help lower blood pressure to a healthy level.

Family history of coronary artery disease: Make sure that you and your Valentine are aware of your individual medical histories, and that you consult a health care provider for a complete physical.

Diabetes: The incidence of type II diabetes is nearing epidemic proportions in the United States. Many people who are overweight or obese are at risk for type II diabetes.

Lack of exercise: In 1996 the U.S. Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health advised Americans to get at least a half-hour of vigorous exercise each day. This year, the National Academies' Institute of Medicine recommended doubling the amount of physical activity from 30 minutes to 60 minutes of moderately intense physical activity each day. Take your Valentine for a long walk; you'll be doing both of you good.

Obesity: An estimated 120 million adults in the United States. are overweight or obese. Weight control can be accomplished by various methods including changing your diet to include more "heart healthy" ingredients like those made without saturated fat and cholesterol. Instead of enjoying cream style soups full of dairy and saturated fats, try Imagine Natural Organic Soups and Broths, they're creamy, delicious and completely dairy and cholesterol free.

Stress: Exercise is a wonderful stress reliever, but there are plenty of other ways to stop life's pressures from reaching the boiling point. Some include keeping a journal, meditating regularly, reading novels that "take you away," spending time with friends and family and trying your hand at healthy all natural recipes, like those below. Your heart, and your Valentine, will be grateful. Enjoy!

Should you want a hot and spicy Valentine's Day, try this delicious Gazpacho soup -- it's red, the color of passion!

1 small onion, sliced
2 large garlic cloves
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 large fresh tomato diced
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 quart Imagine Organic Creamy Tomato Soup
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon red Tabasco sauce
2 teaspoons green Tabasco sauce
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Puree first 4 ingredients in processor or blender and set aside. Combine fresh tomato, 1/2 of the cucumber and 1/2 of the green pepper in small bowl; set aside.

Add Imagine Organic Creamy Tomato Soup, cilantro, tomato paste and remaining cucumber and green pepper to processor. Blend until chunky puree forms. Add the red and green Tabasco sauces, salt and pepper.

Move gazpacho to large serving bowl and mix in reserved vegetables. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled before serving. Serve with a rib of celery and a sprinkle of cilantro for garnish.

Should you want your Valentine's Day to be velvety smooth, serve up this "cheesecake" topped with fresh fruit (consider fresh strawberries in keeping with the Valentine's Day "red" theme). Agar flakes, which are made from seaweed, are used as a thickener. Look for them in natural food stores or Asian markets.

1 nine-inch baked crumb crust
2 tablespoons agar flakes
2/3 cup Soy Dream Original or Rice Dream Original Beverage
1/2 cup turbinado sugar, Sucanat or other sweetener
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound firm tofu
4 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
2 teaspoons vanilla
Fresh fruit for topping (strawberries, kiwi fruit, etc.)

Combine the agar and Soy Dream or Rice Dream in a saucepan and let stand 5 minutes. Stir in the sugar and salt. Simmer over low heat, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes.

Pour into a blender and add the tofu, lemon juice, lemon peel, and vanilla. Blend until very smooth. Spread evenly into a prepared crust.

Refrigerate 30 minutes, and then top with fresh fruit. Chill thoroughly before serving.

Per serving: 192 calories; 8 g protein; 36 g carbohydrate; 2 g fat; 247 mg sodium; 0 mg cholesterol

Courtesy of ARA Content

EDITOR'S NOTE: Recipes by Jennifer Raymond, author of The Peaceful Palate and Fat-Free & Easy.

Imagine Foods was founded in 1982 in Jamestown, MO., by Robert Nissenbaum, the company's president and CEO. During the past 20 years, Imagine Foods has maintained its commitment to making the highest quality, most delicious all-natural foods. The company's products are available in natural food stores and select grocery stores throughout North America. For more information on Imagine Foods products and vision, please visit

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