For a heart-healthy Valentine's Day, choose dark chocolate
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Q: I want to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a sweet treat for my wife this year, but I don’t want to derail her healthy eating regime. What kind of sweets can I gift?
A: If you want to celebrate Valentine’s Day with sweet treats while keeping your wife’s health in mind, consider chocolate. However, choose a dark chocolate, so she can both enjoy and gain some heart-healthy advantages.
In moderation, dark chocolate is believed to provide multiple health benefits. This is because of its high levels of flavonoids, which are antioxidants that protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can alter and weaken cells, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Research has found that flavanols, which are the main type of flavonoid found in cocoa and chocolate, have potential influences on vascular health, including lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the brain and heart, and making blood platelets less sticky and able to clot, the Cleveland Clinic says.
Milk chocolate, on the other hand, doesn’t provide the same health benefits. Generally speaking, dark chocolate has more cocoa than milk chocolate. Dark chocolate also has fewer unhealthy sugars and saturated fats than milk chocolate. Researchers at Harvard University Medical School suggest choosing chocolate that has at least 70 percent cocoa or more.
If you’d prefer to present your loved one with something other than sweets for Valentine’s Day, opt for red wine, which is also rich in flavonoids.
If you choose the red wine option, remember, it needs to be consumed in moderation, which generally, for men, means no more than two drinks per day and no more than one drink per day for women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC offers these other tips for heart-healthy Valentine’s Day treats:
- Limit your sodium intake. Spice up your romantic dinner with seasonings such as fresh or dried herbs and spices, and avoid prepackaged mixes that may contain a lot of salt.
- Opt for healthy substitutions for saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol in your baked treats. For example, swap the butter for olive or canola oil instead.
- When preparing your romantic dinner, choose to bake, broil or grill your food rather than fry it.
- When able, use fresh ingredients instead of prepared ones. For example, choose fresh lemons over lemon juice concentrate or fresh garlic cloves instead of garlic powder.
Remember, in addition to Valentine’s Day, February is also host to American Heart Month. Show your sweetie that you care by getting active and eating healthier, maintaining a healthy weight, and controlling your cholesterol and blood pressure. And if you smoke, try quitting.
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This column was reviewed by Irene Hatsu, state specialist in food security for Ohio State University Extension.