Most people don’t need an excuse to party, but in case you need an official reason to celebrate, February doesn’t disappoint. Sure, there’s the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day, but we’ve also got Groundhog Day and President’s Day, and – in case you didn’t mark your calendars – February is also National Heart Health Month. You probably don’t want to celebrate this holiday with pizza and buffalo wings – so instead, why not show everyone that you’ve got a heart of gold by preparing a delicious heart-healthy meal?
First – make a toast to your good health with a glass of champagne. Not only is champagne festive, but a glass of bubbly is heart-healthy, too. Like wine, champagne is rich in polyphenols – naturally-occurring compounds found in grapes that help to increase blood flow and decrease blood pressure.
Next, start your meal with a colorful salad. Bright orange carrots, red tomatoes and deep-green spinach owe their colors to carotenoids – a group of antioxidant pigments that help the heart by inhibiting the oxidation of the ‘bad” LDL cholesterol in the blood – a key step in the development of atherosclerosis.
Don’t stop there, though! Toss some avocado into your salad for a bonus – carotenoids are fat-soluble, so avocado’s healthy fat helps your body absorb these beneficial compounds. Even better, add some beans to your salad – their water-soluble fiber helps to keep cholesterol levels in check.
For your entrée, grill up some fresh fish. Fish is one of the best sources of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids which help to keep certain fats in the blood – like triglycerides and cholesterol – within normal range, which reduces heart disease risk.
Let your self go “a little nuts” – tree nuts like almonds, walnuts and pistachios are rich in substances called phytosterols that help to lower cholesterol. Toast nuts lightly first to bring out their natural flavor, then sprinkle them over salads or veggies.
There’s no better finish to a great meal than a bit of chocolate. Naturally occurring compounds in cocoa – called flavonoids – are powerful antioxidants that fight free radical damage and help protect the heart. The darker (and more bittersweet) the chocolate, the better it is for you, so enjoy a bit of dark chocolate to finish, or drizzle some melted bittersweet chocolate over fresh berries for a doubly healthy dessert. Berries get their beautiful red-purple colors from anthocyanins, natural pigments that act as antioxidants, too.
I’ll admit, National Heart Health Month isn’t exactly a “cards and flowers” occasion – but why not celebrate anyway? It’s a perfect time to feature heart-healthy foods in a delicious, healthy meal that you, and your loved ones, can literally “eat to your heart’s content”.
Written by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD. Susan is a paid consultant for Herbalife.