By Sarah Klein
June 04, 2013

Eating foods that are good for your heart doesn't have to be a punishment. Some of America's top chefs are cutting down on fat, cholesterol, and salt without skimping on flavor and fun. Here are some of their best tips on how to make your diet more heart friendly.

1. Swap nonfat yogurt for sour cream.
Using nonfat yogurt instead of sour cream in this recipe for Salmon Cakes With Creamy Ginger-Sesame Sauce cuts out 4 grams of fat and 2 grams of saturated fat, and doubles the calcium, says Ellie Krieger, a registered dietitian and host of the Food Network's Healthy Appetite.

Quick tip: Straining yogurt in a paper towel for at least 30 minutes will eliminate some of the water, giving it a rich, creamy texture closer to that of sour cream.

2. Say bye to butter with canola oil.
Krieger also suggests eliminating some of the butter in desserts and replacing it with heart-healthy canola oil, which is rich in monounsaturated fat. The neutral taste lets the remaining butter flavor shine through while slashing fat. Her Double-Chocolate Brownies, for example, call for only 2 tablespoons of butter, about 1 gram of fat per brownie in a recipe that yields 24.

Quick tip: Heart-healthy eaters should skip traditional brownies, which can pack more than half a tablespoon of butter per brownie!

3. Learn to love leaner meats.
Choosing lean cuts of meat will help zap the fat from your diet. Opt for round, sirloin, chuck, or loin, and extra-lean hamburger. Even better, add bulk with meatless ingredients, as Krieger does in these Burgers With Green Olives, or this Greek-Style Burgers with Feta Aioli. Each patty has less meat and packs lots of vitamins and nutrients in the space the veggies take up.

Quick tip: If you simply can't resist a traditional burger in all its juicy glory, make sure the meat is at least 90% lean, says Krieger. Turn lean ground beef into delicious comfort food with Health's take on meatloaf.

4. Discover the joy of soy.
After leaving reality TV show Top Chef, Lee Anne Wong lost 50 pounds, in part by eating more soy, which adds lean protein without much fat. Stick to natural sources, like edamame, to avoid the blood-pressure-boosting sodium added to some processed products. Wong's recipe for Grilled Tofu With Asparagus is a little heavy on the oil, but had the dish featured lean pork chops, the meat alone would rack up 11 grams of fat (including 4 grams of saturated fat) per serving.

Quick tip: Replacing pork with tofu cuts out 3 grams of fat and eliminates all the saturated fat, while still delivering a hefty 12 grams of protein. Here's an Asian-inspired dish using tofu and spicy noodles.

Next Page: Try a fruity twist to your favorite treat [ pagebreak ]5. Try a fruity twist to your favorite treat.
Sara Moulton, Gourmet magazine's executive chef, maintains her weight by altering the foods she loves—that way she doesn't skimp on the flavors and foods she craves. These stuffed strawberries, a fruity twist on the cannoli, swap out deep-fried dough and fatty ricotta cheese for strawberries and low-fat cream cheese.

Quick tip: Traditional cannoli contains as much as 17 grams of fat! But a serving of Moulton's dessert has only about 4 grams of fat, and the strawberries add a jolt of immunity-boosting vitamin C.

6. Add flavor without fat.
Natural flavors—such as citrus products, herbs, spices, and vinegar—add zing to meals while zapping fat and sodium. Giada De Laurentiis, of the Food Network's Everyday Italian, agrees, telling Cooking Light that naturally fat-free lemon juice is the most essential ingredient in her kitchen. She flavors these salmon fillets with lemon juice, white wine, rosemary, and capers, so they need just a pinch of salt, which cuts out half the sodium found in this fattier seafood sauce.

Quick tip: Toss the salt in favor of lemon juice often enough, and you may even lower your blood pressure.

7. Get inspired by Asian cuisine.
Asian cuisine is typically low in bad fats and full of fruits and veggies. Fish, a staple in the Japanese diet, is a great source of heart-healthy omega-3s. Take the Asian inspiration a step further by pickling vegetables. Harold Dieterle, the first winner of Top Chef, has been commended for his restaurant Perilla, whose menu includes watermelon pickles. The vinegar (essential for pickling) adds bold flavor without fat or cholesterol.

Quick tip: These Pickled Ginger Cucumbers add some unexpected flavor, and the ginger boasts anti-inflammatory benefits.

8. Go nuts.
Nuts are loaded with healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats, so they're an easy way to load up on heart-healthy fat and fiber. Walnuts are especially rich in omega-3s, so adding them to a decadent dessert, like French pastry chef François Payard does in these cookies, can make an indulgent treat feel less sinful.

Quick tip: The USDA recommends that adult women consume 1.1 grams of omega-3s every day. Just one of these cookies would nearly knock out your daily recommended intake.

9. Control portion distortion.
Celebrity chef Bethenny Frankel is known for using all-natural ingredients in her lean, low-fat "Skinny Girl" recipes. But she knows that we all crave guilty pleasures once in a while. To keep your diet on track when indulging, she suggests preparing treats in proper portion sizes. Her recipe for Guilt-Free Chocolate Muffins has only 5 grams of fat per serving, without sacrificing any of the rich chocolaty taste you'd expect from a baked treat.

Quick tip: A typical store-bought chocolate muffin would wreak havoc on heart health with as much as 11 grams of artery-clogging saturated fat!