Valentine’s Day is a day where we often indulge in our favorite foods and drinks. This Valentine’s Day have your (dark chocolate) cake and eat it too! Below is a list of foods that you can indulge in that will have added heart healthy benefits to keep your ticker in tip top shape.
1. Go Ahead, Have Some Chocolate
I don’t know about you guys but the first thing that comes to mind when I think Valentine’s day is CHOCOLATE (sorry Andrew!). Valentine’s day is a day where you shouldn’t feel guilty about indulging and with the heart healthy benefits of dark chocolate you don’t have to! That’s because dark chocolate is high in a naturally occurring plant compound called flavonoids. Flavonoids have antioxidant properties and have been shown to improve blood flow and lower our risk of heart disease and stroke. In fact, a long a long term study done found that a square of dark chocolate per day can lower the risk of heart attack and stroke by nearly 40%!
It’s important to note however that not all chocolate is created equal. Dark chocolate contains a higher percentage of cocoa or cacao which is where we find those beneficial little compounds called flavonoids. When at the store you want to look for minimally processed dark chocolate: one that has at least 70% cocoa. That’s where you’ll find enough concentration of flavonoids to make a difference in your heart heath. Another tip: read the label and make sure that cacao is the first ingredient on the list rather than sugar. And remember: while dark chocolate does have some heart healthy benefits you still want to enjoy this in moderation. You don’t want to overdo as it still contains fat and sugar that will contribute to weight gain if you eat too much. If you snack on it frequently it’s best to enjoy just a square for a daily fix. If you don’t indulge that often keep your portion size to 2-3 squares max.
My other favorite chocolate, our chocolate lab Barrett:
2. Go Fish
Swap your turf for surf this Valentine’s day. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish twice per week to lower your risk of heart disease. Fish, particularly oily fish such as salmon, mackeral and tuna are high in omega-3 fatty acids which have been proven to lower your risk factors for heart disease such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. If you do chose to have a steak this V-day make sure to pick lean cuts of beef and look for the words round, loin or sirloin on the package. These cuts of meat are typically lower in cholesterol and saturated fats. Also, be mindful of portion size as the standard serving of meat should be 3 ounces or about the size of a deck of cards.
3. See Red
Deep, dark red foods don’t just look beautiful, they offer a slew of health benefits as well. Red fruits and veggies are loaded with antioxidants such lycopene and anthocyanin which can help ward off heart disease. This February stock up on strawberries (maybe some dark chocolate covered ones for V-day? 😉) red peppers, cherries, beets, raspberries and tomatoes. Not only do these red beauties have powerful antioxidants that protect our heart but they are also high in fiber which has been proven to decrease our LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
4. Be a Little Nutty
Reach for a handful of almonds this V-day as a heart healthy snack. Almonds are a smart snack choice because not only do they contain fiber that can lower our LDL cholesterol levels but eating more nuts has also been linked to lower levels of inflammation linked to heart disease. Walnuts are another heart healthy choice because in addition to fiber they are also high in omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids have an anti-clotting effect to keep blood flowing and reduce our risk of blood clots and stroke. In fact, a study that was published by the American Heart Association showed that eating nearly 1/3 cup of almonds a day — either alone or combined with almost 1/4 of dark chocolate and 2 1/3 tablespoons of cocoa a day — may reduce a risk factor for coronary heart disease.
5. Fill up with Fiber
Pair your Valentine’s Day dinner with some fresh fruit and veggies. The American Heart Association recommends that you consume at least one serving of fruits and vegetables at every meal for optimal heart health. Not only do fruits and vegetables contain powerful antioxidants but they are also loaded with fiber. One type of fiber, soluble fiber, forms a gel when mixed with water and slows digestion to help you keep you fuller. Soluble fiber is proven to lower cholesterol and decrease our risk of heart disease.
in fact, consuming 5 to 10 g of soluble fiber per day has been proven to reduce LDL cholesterol levels by approximately 5%. The National Cholesterol Education Program Expert Panel recommends consuming 10 to 25 g of soluble fiber per day to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Some good fruit choices high in soluble fiber include: apples, blueberries, plums, pears, bananas and oranges. Vegetables containing at least 1 gram of soluble fiber per serving include parsnips, carrots, brussels sprouts, baked potato with skin, spinach, squash, string beans, cabbage, baked sweet potato, turnips, broccoli, kale and zucchini (which if you haven’t been able to tell I’m pretty fond of 😏).
What about red wine?
You may have noticed I didn’t mention red wine which is the beverage most people seem to associate with heart health. In further research, the benefits of red wine on the heart seem to be inconclusive. Bummer, I know. While it’s still unknown if red wine in moderation really benefits the heart, what we do know is that excessive consumption of alcohol (of any kind) can lead to an increase in blood pressure and other symptoms of heart disease. So if you do want a glass of wine this V-day, that’s fine, just make sure to stick to one serving daily which is about a 5 oz pour.
So go ahead and grab some dark chocolate covered strawberries with your sweetie and enjoy your Valentine’s Day!