February is the month of love not only is there Valentine’s Day, but it is also National Heart Health Month. You probably don’t want to celebrate this holiday with pizza and a burger. So, instead, why not show everyone that you’ve got a heart of gold by preparing a delicious heart-healthy meal?
First, if you intend to drink alcohol, make a toast to your good health with a glass of champagne. Not only is champagne festive, but a glass of bubbly contains polyphenols—naturally occurring compounds found in grapes that affect the body’s regulation of blood flow and blood pressure. We don’t recommend you drink alcohol to get polyphenols for this purpose, but maybe thinking about them this way will remind you that you should find healthful sources of polyphenols in your diet.
Next, start your meal with a colourful salad. Bright orange carrots, red tomatoes and deep green spinach owe their colours to carotenoids. These are a group of antioxidant pigments that help the heart by inhibiting the oxidation of the ‘bad” LDL cholesterol in the blood, a key step in the development of atherosclerosis.
Don’t stop there, though. Toss some avocado into your salad for a bonus. Carotenoids are also fat-soluble, so avocado’s healthy fat helps your body absorb these beneficial compounds. Even better, add some beans to your salad. Their water-soluble fibre helps to keep cholesterol levels in check.
For your entrée, grill up some fresh fish. Fish is one of the best sources of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which help to keep certain fats in the blood within normal range (like triglycerides and cholesterol). And that can reduce the risk of heart disease.
Let yourself go “a little nuts.” Tree nuts like almonds, walnuts and pistachios are rich in substances called phytosterols, which help to lower cholesterol. Toast nuts lightly to bring out their natural flavour and then sprinkle them over salads or veggies.
There’s no better finish to a great meal than a bit of chocolate. Naturally occurring compounds in cocoa called flavonoids are powerful antioxidants that fight free radical damage and help protect the heart. The darker and more bittersweet the chocolate, the better it is for you. So, enjoy a bit of dark chocolate, or drizzle some melted bittersweet chocolate over fresh berries for a doubly healthy dessert. Berries get their beautiful red-purple colours from anthocyanins, natural pigments that act as antioxidants, too. We don’t recommend sweets as a regular part of your diet because of the sugar they contain, but as with polyphenols, thinking about antioxidants in your desserts might help you remember to pay attention to them as part of your diet.
I’ll admit that National Heart Health Month isn’t exactly a “cards and flowers” occasion, but why not celebrate anyway? It’s a perfect time to feature heart-healthy foods in a delicious, healthy meal that you and your loved ones can literally “eat to your heart’s content.”
Susan Bowerman, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., F.A.N.D. – Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training at Herbalife. Susan is a Registered Dietician and a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics.