Heart Healthy Foods – Valentine’s Day

chocolate brownies - photo credit Mariona Otero

chocolate brownies – photo credit Mariona Otero

Heart Healthy Foods – Valentine’s Day

Being the skeptical person that I am, I couldn’t let this ‘holiday’ created to sell boxed chocolate, flowers and greeting cards pass without adding a contribution.

At first, I was going to go all literal on you and create a list of foods that are high in iron, which some of these foods are, but then I decided to expand the list to include foods that are associated with a lower risk of death from both coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease.

And yes, chocolate is on the list.

Here’s to a heart healthy Valentine’s Day.

Tomatoes – came from the New World and were brought to Europe by the Spanish colonizers.

Are high in lycopene and an excellent source of vitamin C as well as vitamin A, vitamin B6, niacin, folate, potassium and fiber.

Research suggests that the combination of nutrients in tomatoes may help prevent cardiovascular disease. Cooking tomatoes increases the amount of lycopene readily available. So it’s a good idea to include a mix of both of raw and cooked tomatoes in your diet.

Other fruits high in lycopene: pink grapefruits, watermelons and papayas.

Recipe ideas: salsa, pizza, pasta, soup, tomato and basil salad, brushetta, and quiche.

Garlic – Garlic is native to central Asia and has been cultivated for over 7,000 years.

Crushed or chopped garlic releases allicin, the pungent sulphur compound that gives garlic its characteristic smell. These compounds react with red blood cells and produce hydrogen sulphide, which relaxes the blood vessels, and keeps blood flowing easily.

Also known to keep ‘vampires’ at bay.

Recipe ideas: Spaghetti alla puttanesca, garlic mashed potatoes, garlic bread, roasted garlic

Apples – originated in Western Asia probably Kazakhstan.

Apples are packed with the following antioxidant flavonoid compounds — epicatechin, epigallocatechin, kaempferol, quercetin. These compounds play a key role by preventing “bad” LDL cholesterol from oxidizing and triggering a series of events that results in the buildup of plaque in arteries, as well as inhibiting inflammation. Apples are also rich in pectin, a form of soluble fiber known to help lower cholesterol, and they provide a decent amount of vitamin C, another antioxidant.

To get the benefits you have to eat the whole apple and not just the juice!

Other fruits you should try: pears plus the 7500 varieties of apples.

Recipe ideas: raw apples, apple crisp, apple pie, apple turnovers, and sautéed red cabbage with apples.

Pomegranates – come to us by way of Persia and the name is derived from medieval Latin word for apple.

Are full of powerful polyphenols, which are found in all fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds, red wine and chocolate. Studies have shown pomegranate to contain the highest antioxidant capacity compared to other juices.

Pomegranates may help to reduce the buildup of plaque in arteries and lower blood pressure.

Other fruits /juices you should try: blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, raspberries, pears, plums and red wine, strawberries, black currants, lingo berries, chokeberries and aronia berries.

Recipe ideas: winter salad, crumble, sauce, punch, and gelato

Red Beans or Kidney Beans – Probably originated from a common bean ancestor in Peru.

Chock full of B vitamins; niacin; folate; magnesium; omega-3 fatty acids; calcium; soluble fiber. The soluble fiber in red beans helps to reduce cholesterol levels, while the folate helps to lower levels of homocysteine, a compound associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Other beans/pulses you should try: black beans, lentils, pinto beans, and black eye peas.

Recipe ideas: stews, soups, salads, rice & beans and corn

Kale – originated in the eastern Mediterranean or Asia Minor and according to wiki was the most common green vegetables in all of Europe until the end of the Middle Ages.

It’s packed with heart-healthy antioxidants as well as omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, folate, potassium, and vitamin E. It’s also high in Vitamin K, which aids blood clotting, protects the heart, and helps to build bones.

Other greens you should try: cabbage, collards, broccoli, and brussels sprouts.

Recipe ideas: raw (dehydrated) kale chips, kale, apple, carrot and walnut salad, pasta with cavolo nero.

Almonds – are native to the Middle East and South Asia.

Nuts are chock-full of vitamins, minerals, heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and low levels of saturated fats. Know to reduce the absorption of cholesterol and encourage the liver to make less LDL and more HDL (good cholesterol).

Other nuts you should try: walnuts, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, pine nuts and peanuts (which actually are legumes).

Recipe ideas: raw almond cheese, stir-fry, chocolate covered almonds, almond Parmesan, almond biscotti.

Chocolate – originated in the lowland rainforests of the Amazon River basins of South America.

Chocolate and cocoa are high in flavanols and as with other antioxidants have been known to improve vascular health, such as lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the brain and heart, and making blood platelets less sticky and able to clot. To really get the benefits you have to eat the least processed form of chocolate. Sorry milk chocolate is no good; chocolate solids have to be at least 70%.

These plant chemicals aren’t only found in chocolate. In fact, a wide variety of foods and beverages are rich in flavonols. These include cranberries, apples, peanuts, onions, tea and red wine.

Recipe ideas: chocolate brownies, chocolate truffles, chocolate zucchini cake, raw cacao nibs, and hot chocolate drink.

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