Consider your heart (health) this Valentine’s Day
5 strategies for a healthier holiday.
By Anne Riggs, MS, RD
While January may be the most ambitious month of the year — we try to eat better, drink less, and jumpstart our fitness routines — by February, many of us fall back into our usual habits. It’s also still the depths of winter … in a pandemic … so an excuse to relax a bit is not exactly unwelcome. But Valentine’s Day (or any date night, for that matter) doesn’t have to derail your healthy lifestyle.
No matter your relationship status, February 14th can be a day of indulgence. Cocktails, multi-course meals, and decadent desserts are par for the course, as is binge-watching rom-coms with delivery pizza and ice cream. Whatever your style, if you’re trying to make your festivities more balanced this year, here are some tips to consider:
Choose heart-healthy foods
Valentine’s Day is all about matters of the heart, so what better holiday to seek out heart-healthy foods? Salmon is full of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to improve heart health by lowering blood pressure, triglyceride levels, and inflammation in the body. Whole grains like brown rice and quinoa are high in fiber, which reduces “bad” LDL cholesterol. Leafy green vegetables are high in vitamin K and nitrates, both of which help keep blood vessels functioning well. A good example of a heart-healthy meal is this nutrient-packed poached salmon option from Som Bo in New York.
Imbibe responsibly (or try a mocktail)
Holidays often go hand in hand with increased alcohol consumption, despite the many known health risks of overdoing it. High blood pressure, depression/anxiety, liver disease, and various cancers have all been linked to excessive alcohol intake. Light to moderate drinking, on the other hand (up to one drink/day for women and two drinks/day for men), may be associated with various health benefits, though the type of alcohol you drink is likely just as important a factor as how much you drink. Red wine, for instance, contains antioxidants called polyphenols, which may reduce the risk of coronary artery disease.
Skipping alcohol altogether is never a bad idea, however, and if you don’t drink, the potential health benefit of a glass of red wine is not a reason to start. There are plenty of festive Valentine’s Day mocktails you can whip up — just be mindful of the sugar content.
Boxes of chocolates, red and pink M&Ms, Sweethearts … the list goes on. There’s nothing wrong with partaking in the holiday sugar rush (remember, intuitive eating), but you may feel better with some strategic swaps. Dark chocolate, for example, contains flavonoids, a group of antioxidants that research has linked to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, improved glucose metabolism, and improved brain function. A small piece of dark chocolate would be a great way to take advantage of these health benefits while indulging your sweet tooth, as would a couple of dark-chocolate-covered strawberries, which have additional heart-healthy nutrients.
If all else fails and you’ve overindulged, don’t despair. Research has shown that taking a walk after a meal can aid digestion, help manage blood sugar levels, reduce heart disease risk, and promote weight management. Exercise also causes the body to release endorphins, neurochemicals that reduce stress and boost feelings of well-being. And it’s something healthy you can do while spending time with the people you love, which is what the holiday is really all about, anyway.
Feeling the love for a healthy Valentine’s Day? Check out our Healthy Enough collection for heart-healthy dishes from restaurants picked by our in-house nutritionists.
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