Since her run on the hit TV show "Top Chef" in 2008, Antonia Lofaso's life has been a whirlwind. She reappeared on the small screen to compete in the all-star edition and is currently the executive chef for Black Market Liquor Bar in Los Angeles. But last year her good luck began to waver when her mother, the very woman who incited her passion for cooking and helped hone her skills, was diagnosed with early onset heart disease. | » Recipes from Antonia Lofaso
"I think so many times we think that our parents are invincible and it's one of those things where you're seeing them kind of get older, and I'm only 36 years old, so to have that dynamic switch (is hard)," Lofaso says. "It's been sad to see that - someone being so strong and then needing a little bit of help."
Lofaso not only has been helping her mother deal with her diagnosis, but she has partnered with Campbell's Soup for its Address Your Heart campaign to help educate Americans on their risk of heart disease.
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the U.S., with a new coronary event taking place about every 34 seconds, and a person dying from such an event every minute, according to the American Heart Association.
Lofaso was unaware of the prevalence of heart disease until her mother was diagnosed. She thought it was only an issue for overweight, inactive people, but with her mother's diagnosis she soon learned diet was also an important factor.
In fact, the AHA says less than 1 percent of American adults meet the definition of having an "ideal healthy diet," citing the need to reduce sodium and increase whole grains as the biggest challenges.
Dr. John Harold of Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute confirms that the first step for heart disease prevention is a heart-healthy diet, which includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, beans, high-fiber grains and olive oil.
Lofaso has her own tips on how to turn those heart-healthy foods into tasty dishes without sacrificing their value.
"I'm a huge believer in that food can taste good in general and I never close my eyes or boundaries to where good food comes from," Lofaso says.
"I always find that at all the healthier-cooking restaurants that I have gone to and seen, it's all about the use of adding herbs to dishes versus the cheeses and the butters and the creams and things like that."
Using dried spices like turmeric, garam masala, coriander and cumin are all good ways to add depth to your dish without the extra calories, says Lofaso.
And instead of using salt on poultry, Lofaso recommends using marinades like lemon zest, orange zest, the previously mentioned dried spices and vinegar.
When reading food labels at the grocery store, Lofaso says to keep a lookout for products with the AHA's Heart Check Mark, which means the item has met the organization's heart-healthy criteria.
"And when you're cooking I would suggest people do a lot of grilling ... and really do a lot more broiling," Lofaso says.
"Broiling it on a high heat so you get the same crunch and that same temperature that you're looking for in the outside of your protein, versus frying and things like that. The least amount of oil you can use when you're cooking and the least amount of dairy you can use when you're cooking, I think the better. "