February brings us to Valentine’s Day. And it’s also American Heart Month. Quick, it’s time to give something special to someone you love Friday. And surprise, some of our favorite Valentine treats can also be good to our hearts.
Chocolate: There is room for chocolate in a healthy diet, says the American Heart Association. Yay! Dark chocolate, because it has a higher percentage of cocoa from the cocoa bean, contains more healthful substances for the heart than milk chocolate. White chocolate contains almost none.
Better yet, make it chocolate with nuts. Walnuts, for example, provide heart-healthful polyunsaturated fats including omega-3’s. Because of their unique nutrient profile, nuts can contribute to lower blood pressure and cholesterol to make our hearts sing. Check out the yummy recipe for Walnut Chocolate Bliss Balls at walnuts.org.
And even if you like milk chocolate better, an occasional hit of this delectable food is OK, say experts. How much is OK? Probably not more than 3 to 6 ounces per week. (FYI, that’s about four to five pieces of See’s) according to some observational studies.
But let’s not fool ourselves. Chocolate is a treat, not a health food. Reserve it for special occasions.
Wine: If you drink alcohol, don’t feel guilty for ordering that nice glass of Cab with your sweetheart. A moderate intake of red wine (4 to 8 ounces a day for men, 4 ounces for women, darn it) is linked to a happy heart. Although some studies tell us that no amount of alcohol is good for us, populations of people who enjoy alcohol (including wine, beer or spirits) in moderation tend to have lower risks for heart disease. Of course there are medications and other health issues that discourage alcohol for good reason. Check with your health care provider before imbibing.
Coffee: Got a breakfast date with your lover? Coffee and tea can keep the love alive. Studies have shown that up to 5 cups of coffee or 3 cups of tea a day (we’re talking 6-ounce cups here) can offer some protection to the heart. However, because of the effects of caffeine on some folks, the American Heart Association advises us to limit coffee to one or two cups.
Cheese: While health experts still recommend we consume lower fat dairy foods, new science has emerged that may vindicate full fat varieties. Researchers are now seeing evidence that whole fat dairy foods may not be bad for our hearts as once thought. And in the realm of fermented dairy foods such as kefir, cheese and yogurt, there may actually be some heart health benefits. Stay tuned.
Kiss your Valentine. That is sure to make your heart soar.
Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator affiliated with Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula in California. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition” (Westbow Press, 2015). Email her at to firstname.lastname@example.org.