Cooking, heart healthy and delicious

The words "healthy eating" often conjure up images of endless vegetables, flavorless chicken or even rubbery tofu.   While that may be true, doctors will agree that healthy eating is one of the basic building blocks of a healthy life.

Baton Rouge native and national American Heart Association Spokeswoman Mary Leah Coco knows this well.

Coco has a heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy.  Basically, her heart is enlarged and can't operate a full capacity.  While she appears to be perfectly healthy, she has less than 20 percent heart function.

To manage her condition, Coco has a strict low sodium diet.  Living in South Louisiana doesn't make that easy.  However, Coco's husband Jeremy happens to be a chef and instructor at the Louisiana Culinary Institute.

Jeremy has drawn on his culinary education, as well as the nutrition classes at LCI, to get back to the basics of cooking and health.

"Try to bring good, quality healthy, nutritious food home as opposed to some of the things that people are accustomed to," said Jeremy.

"People think eating healthy has to taste poorly," said Mary Leah. "[We're] finding different ways to make those healthy dishes taste good, and the way to do that would be to eliminate the salt and the preservatives and put real flavors."

One of the biggest tips the Coco's have is watching sodium intake.  Unlike water, Jeremy explains that salt doesn't evaporate out during the cooking process as many people believe.

He suggests using other spices and herbs to flavor food in place of salt.  Also, if you must add salt, add it at the end of the dish.

Mary Leah also learned that when grocery shopping, stick to the exterior of the store where the fresh produce and meat are on display.

"Educating yourself in what your body needs because we are accustomed to using so much in excess," said Jeremy. "Knowing what your body needs as far as fats, as far as sugars, as far as sodium so your body can properly function."

LCI offers some classes to the public, many featuring healthy versions of Louisiana staples. For more information on the classes, click here.

For a healthy version of Chicken Piccata, click here.

Copyright 2013 WAFB. All rights reserved.