Healthy Eating: Valentine’s Day for your heart

Chocolate, red wine and flowers may make a perfect Valentine’s day, but what about a perfect health combination?

Perfect Valentine's Day (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
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.
Dark Chocolate
Dark Chocolate (Thinkstock/Imagebank)Dark Chocolate (Thinkstock/Imagebank)
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
Red wine (Thinkstock/Imagebank)Red wine (Thinkstock/Imagebank)
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.
Jasmine (Thinkstock/Imagebank)Jasmine (Thinkstock/Imagebank)
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.