Some people say that food is love, and on Valentine’s Day it is certainly true. After all, no matter how people celebrate February 14th, it usually involves food. But if you truly love someone, do you really want to fill them up with unhealthy holiday fare?
Goodies that are Healthy & Romantic
If your Valentine’s Day diet usually consists of chocolates, candy hearts and half a bottle (or more) of champagne, you are not exactly setting yourself or your loved one up for a healthy body. But you can still have a delicious celebration by serving more healthful versions of some traditional treats.
What’s more romantic than feeding your honey a tasty red ripe strawberry? These (and any berries, for that matter) are considered superfruits because so much nutrition can be found in that little package. Research shows that people who ate strawberries regularly had lower levels of LDL cholesterol and a decreased risk of clogged coronary arteries. The vitamin C and other antioxidants in berries can help protect you from cell damage, wintertime colds and even heart disease. In addition, strawberries are a significant fiber source, which benefits your digestive system as well as your heart.
If you want some variety, adding practically any type of berry to the mix will enhance the health benefits. Cherries and blueberries in particular, along with conferring heart benefits, contain ingredients that may contribute to brain health and lower the risk of dementia-related illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Add to the appeal of this heart-shaped fruit by dipping it in melted dark chocolate or fat-free whipped cream. Plain dark chocolate has many health benefits (see below) and fat-free whipped cream won’t add calories because it is surprisingly low in sugar—less than 1 gram per serving.
2. Dark Chocolate
Love plus chocolate has always been a magic formula. It’s fortunate that many researchers have studied this Valentine’s Day staple. Study results show that dark chocolate contains several different antioxidants including flavanols. These compounds can improve overall circulation and lower blood pressure, and the American Heart Association reported a study that showed that women who ate one two servings of chocolate per week reduced their risk of heart failure by about 30 percent.
Another interesting discovery that’s resulted from scientific research on dark chocolate is that although it’s high in fat, it’s not the kind of fat responsible for atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). The main type of fat in chocolate is cocoa butter, which is a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. And although it also has some saturated fats (stearic and palmitic acids), research suggests that these specific fats don’t have the same negative effect on blood cholesterol levels as other types.
Some research studies suggest that chocolate can improve mood—especially if you are in a good mood in the first place.
Although most people overindulge in chocolate on Valentine’s Day, health benefits are only evident when you stick to no more than two ounces three times per week.
You can show your love by baking cookies for your valentine and even use most of your favorite recipes—just modify them a little to increase their health value. For instance, make half (or all) the grain ingredients whole by using whole grain flour instead of regular (try white whole wheat flour for a lighter texture) or add rolled oats. Whole grains have become a hot topic because studies show a diet high in these excellent fiber sources can help reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer and diverticulosis.
If you are concerned about fat or sugar, trade the butter or solid margarine for liquid, vegetable-based oil. These fat sources contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, both of which can lower LDL cholesterol. Reduce the sugar by half—doing so makes a practically imperceptible difference in taste. You can also use other sweeteners such as fruit juice, honey or agave nectar. If you want to take out the sugar altogether, use a low-calorie or no-calorie sugar substitute that’s suitable for baking (it’ll say so on the package). To pack even more nutrition into your cookies add nuts (which have vitamins, fiber and healthy fat) and dried fruits, which are concentrated sources of antioxidants.
You don’t have to spend time in the kitchen if you don’t want to. With increasing awareness of the benefits of nutritious foods, you can find healthful cookies at many bakeries and grocery stores.
If you and your honey are not into sweet stuff, follow the example of the man behind the generic term “casanova.” In the 1700s, Giacomo Casanova allegedly ate about 50 raw oysters each day because of his belief in their aphrodisiac qualities. He may have been on to something—oysters are in fact high in zinc, a mineral that also happens to be an essential part of human sperm. These mollusks also have amino acids, which are building blocks of protein that help the body manufacture sex hormones. As a bonus, like practically any seafood, oysters have omega-3 fatty acids. These compounds can reduce your risk of heart disease, age-related macular degeneration and may help you retain your memory and cognitive function later in life.
Some people think the slimy texture of oysters is rather gross. Mr. Casanova, on the other hand, thought that soft and slippery oysters were a real turn on, and he’d feed them to his numerous paramours as a seduction tool on a regular basis.
5. Sparkling Purple Grape Juice
This is your healthy alternative to champagne or other alcoholic beverages. Avoiding alcohol is a smart move if you want a romantic evening that lasts—although a cocktail initially relaxes you and may make you feel amorous, it ultimately zaps your ability to perform sexually. Grape juice won’t affect your mental alertness and drinking it regularly can affect your health in several positive ways.
Purple grapes, especially the concord variety, contain resveratrol—a compound that is being intensely studied for its promising potential as a health aid. In animal studies, resveratrol was found to slow the aging process and help prolong life. In humans, it has been associated with memory preservation. Grapes also have antioxidants and polyphenols, both of which combat age-related conditions. Studies on polyphenols in particular suggest that they may contribute to the flexibility of the lining of blood vessels, which means better blood flow to all major organs.
Valentine’s Day is not the only time for you to focus on your loved one’s health (or your own, for that matter). Along with a nutritious diet, staying healthy all year long involves daily physical activity and keeping up with your preventive healthcare.