Perfect Valentine's Day.
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Love is good for your health. This is true, but so are the traditional
Valentine’s Day treats. From delectably delicious dark chocolate, to a glass of
cabernet sauvignon or pinot noir, to a bouquet of fresh flowers, Valentine’s Day
gifts can do more than just put a smile on your face. Find out how these V-day
signatures are literally good for your heart.
Yes the rumors are
true, dark chocolate is good for you. Chocolate has gotten a lot of media
coverage in recent years, as it is believed that it may help protect your
cardiovascular system i.e. your heart. In fact, recent research has indicated
that chocolate consumption might be associated with a one third reduction in the
risk of developing heart disease.
Why? The cocoa bean is rich flavonoids
(flavanols) – naturally occurring compounds responsible for giving flowers and
plants their vibrant color. They also help protect plants from environmental
toxins and help repair damage. While this is great for flowers and plants, what
does this mean for you? Flavonoids act as anti-oxidants inside the body, helping
to rid the body of harmful free radicals, substances that can accumulate in your
body and cause disease. These antioxidants specifically help to prevent
cholesterol levels by decreasing oxidation of “bad” LDL, while raising “good”
HDL cholesterol. Too much LDL can accumulate in your arteries (atherosclerosis),
thus increasing your risk of heart attack or stroke; while HDL cholesterol helps
to keep the bad cholesterol from clogging your arteries. A lower level of LDL
will reduce your chances of cardiovascular problems, while a higher HDL number
will protect against heart disease. To make chocolate even more appealing, this
isn’t even the only heart-health benefit of the cocoa bean. A Harvard study
found that dark chocolate might help to lower blood pressure for people who
suffer from hypertension.
Now before you go jumping up and down, pay attention
to the word dark – not milk, not white – but dark. But we are not even talking
about 60 or 65 percent even. To fully reap these hearty benefits, we need to
consume chocolate in its ‘purest’ form. Naturally, cocoa beans have a very
strong bitter taste - resulting from these healthy flavonols. So to transform
the cocoa bean into your conventional every day (and yes delicious) treat, the
pungent taste of the cocoa is removed – meaning that 60 to 70 percent of the
flavonols, along with the majority of their health benefits are also lost.
Research has shown that in order to reap any health benefits the chocolate needs
to be at least 75% cocoa (by weight). The higher the percentage of cocoa, the
lower the amount of sugar, the less sweet and the more bitter the chocolate will
be. As a general rule of thumb, the more bitter the chocolate, the more
flavonols it contains. Red Wine
No this is not ‘wishful thinking’. Red wine is
thought to have properties that prevent blood platelets from sticking together,
thus reducing the risk of blood clots that cause strokes and heart attacks. Why?
Just like dark chocolate, grape skin is loaded with heart beneficial flavonoids.
It also contains the much-publicized resveratrol, which may help to reduce
inflammation and lower LDL cholesterol, thus helping to prevent arterial damage.
As a result, red wine also contains these two heart-healthy ingredients. If that
wasn’t enough, grape skin (and as a result red wine) is rich in quercetin, an
anti-oxidant known for its anti-histamine and immune boosting effects. On top of
this, quercetin may help to decrease the formation of plaque in the arteries and
reduce the formation of blood clots.
Now just like chocolate, not all wines are
created equally. Dry red wines have the highest amount of of flavonoids.
According to a study conducted at Yale University, Cabernet sauvignon has the
highest level of flavonoids, followed by petit Syrah and pinot noir. As a
general rule of thumb, the sweeter the wine, the less flavonoids. Flowers
Lastly, but certainly not least, flowers! What girl doesn’t love a bouquet of
fresh roses on Valentine’s Day? But did you know that your heart loves them too?
Take jasmines for instant, studies have found an association between jasmine tea
and lower levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides; while
rose tea contains vitamins A, C, and even E as well as heart healthy
polyphenols, such as tannins. Marigold on the other hand contains numerous
antioxidants carotenoids that give the petals their bright orange and yellow
hues. And what about violets? Used to improve acne, asthma, bronchitis, soar
throat, violets health benefits go on and on. This flower can also help to treat
headaches (apply a cloth soaked in violet leaf and/or flower tea to the back of
the neck). Now, while violets do not have any heart healthy benefits, they can
prove useful on Valentine’s Day – they act as breath freshener.