Romancing the ‘Whole Diet’ Approach for Heart Health

Mejool Date & nut stuffed chicken

In honor of heart month I am happily sharing some of my favorite heart-healthy foods. As a registered dietitian, my primary focus is on nutritious foods, and I sincerely believe food is meant to be a pleasurable experience! Much of my professional time is spent helping individuals find foods they SAVOR that will also help them meet their health and fitness goals. It is far easier to embrace a lifestyle that you enjoy!

The meal I am sharing is a perfect example! There are three reasons why I relish this meal. First of all, it’s centered around foods that are heart-healthy, not just designed to eliminate those that are not. Secondly it has taste appeal! This meal will delight your taste buds and open your heart to some old and possibly new foods and/or flavors.  Finally, it’s a healthy model for nearly everyone with benefits that extend far beyond your ticker! So take heart, this mouth watering meal promotes well being for the entire family!

As you would expect, this meal is low in saturated fat, low in cholesterol, and low in salt/sodium. But equally important to what is excluded, is what’s included! As a matter of fact, a recent study published in The American Journal of Medicine, conclude that the ‘whole diet’ approach has more evidence of reducing cardiovascular risk than strategies that focus exclusively on reduced dietary fat.1 So please take note- this meal contains substances that are cardio-protective including: healthy fats, fiber, phytonutrients, and omega-3 fatty acids.

My taste for scrumptious food and my affection for good nutrition collide in the this heart -healthy meal consisting of 3 dishes:

1. Main Dish: Medjool Date & Nut Stuffed Chicken.

2.  Side Dish: Brown Rice  &Pumpkin Risotto

3. Salad: Spring Mix & Spinach Salad with Fresh Lemon Vinaigrette.

1. Medjool date and nut stuffed chicken. Starting with a very lean protein source, this dish gets a boost of flavor with sweet delicious medjool dates, fresh parsely and a bit of crunchy nuttiness from walnuts. Extra virgin olive oil, a heart healthy, monounsaturated fat, is used for sauteing the stuffing mixture and brushing chicken.  The dish is finished with Za’atar, a Mediterranean spice blend, eliminating the need for additional salt and adding woody and nutty accents. This dish is baked, keeping both the calories and fat to a minimum.

Mejool Date & Nut Stuffed Chicken

by Diane Boyd

Ingredients (serves 6)

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil + more for brushing chicken
  • 1/4 cup sweet onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup Medjool dates, pitted and chopped
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsely
  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon za’atar


1 Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Heat olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Add dates, bread crumbs, nuts and parsely to the onions and stir to combine. Set aside.

3 Pound chicken to a ¼ inch thickness. Spread with onion nut mixture and roll up tightly. Secure with toothpicks.

4. Brush each chicken breast with olive oil and sprinkle with za’atar.

5. Place chicken breasts in shallow baking dish. Add wine.

6. Bake for 45-50 minutes until chicken is browned and juices run clear. Remove toothpicks .

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2. Brown Rice & Pumpkin Risotto

Pumpkin makes this risotto creamy without the addition of butter or full fat cheese that are traditionally used to make risotto. Thyme, lemon juice and lemon zest add a bit of tang and eliminate the need for salt or higher sodium broth. Pumpkin and brown rice contribute fiber and phytonutrients to the dish.

Brown Rice & Pumpkin Risotto

by Diane Boyd


  • 1-Tablespoon Canola Oil
  • 1 small sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 1-cup brown rice, short grain
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 3 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable stock(use Pacific Natural Foods Free Range Broth for Gluten Free)
  • 1 /4- teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 t lemon zest
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped parsley


1.In a medium saucepan, heat oil and gently cook onions until softened, about 8 minutes.

2. Add rice and heat until fragrant, stirring often to prevent scorching.

3. Add pumpkin, broth, and thyme and bring to a simmer. Cover pot and cook for 45 minutes, stirring to prevent sticking as needed.

4. Add lemon juice, lemon zest and parsley. Fluff with a fork to combine

Spring Mix and Spinach Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

3. Spring Mix & Spinach Salad with Fresh Lemon Vinaigrette. A salad made with dark leafy greens is one of the foods you can eat regularly to improve your health.  Spinach and red leaf lettuce are brimming with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients (plant based substances that may protect you from not only cardiovascular disease, but diabetes and some cancers). Celery and apples add crunch. The tartness of the fresh lemon vinaigrette pairs well with the sweetness of the fresh and dried fruit. Its’ citrus notes are also a nice complement to the za’atar used on the chicken, helping to not only enhance but unify the taste experience.

Spring Mix & Spinach Salad with Fresh Lemon Vinaigrette

by Diane Boyd


    for the salad

    • 4 cups spring mix
    • 4 cups baby spinach
    • 1 stalk celery, sliced
    • 1 Pink Lady apple, quatered and chopped
    • 1-2 Tablespoons craisins

    for the lemon vinaigrette

    • 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon Juice
    • 1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar
    • 1 Tablespoon water
    • ½ teaspoon sea salt
    • 1 teaspoon sugar
    • 1 teaspoon Monk Fruit in the Raw
    • ¼ cup sliced shallots
    • 2 Tablespoons Canola oil


    for the vinaigrette

    In a small bowl combine lemon juice, vinegar, water, salt, sugar and monk fruit. Whisk in shallots and canola oil.

    for the salad

    Arrange salad greens in large bowl. Top with craisins, sliced celery and chopped apple slices. Pour lemon vinaigrette over top and toss gently. Serve immediately.

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    Spring Mix and Spinach Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette


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