When it comes to decisions of the heart, February can be a complicated month. Do you follow your heart health and stick to your mostly whole food, plant-based diet – or do you feel pulled in the direction of the heart-shaped Valentine chocolate boxes?
After the post-holiday treat overload, you’re likely doing your best to comply with New Year’s resolutions to eat better, exercise more and lose weight, right? Then, February faces you with its combination of national heart month health advice and decadent Valentine’s Day temptations. So, how do you strike the balance?
A number of scientific studies have shown health benefits, primarily pointing to moderate alcohol and dark chocolate consumption, particularly if these treats are a small part of a mostly plant-based diet. These include healthy vegan, vegetarian or Mediterranean diets.
In regard to alcohol, most studies focusing on cardiovascular health limit moderate intake to any ONE drink per day. You can select a glass of wine (any color), beer or cocktail with “one” being defined as 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer or 1.5 ounces of spirits.
On the chocolate front, science indicates that antioxidant-rich flavanols are among the ingredients that give this treat its cardiovascular benefits. But, keep a couple points in mind: chocolate is made from cocoa powder produced from the cocoa bean. Milk chocolate adds milk and sugar, which increases calories, unhealthful fat and decreases the health benefits of the cocoa. As a rule of thumb, if a chocolate product is labeled as “dark” with 70 percent or more cocoa, serving size 1-2 ounces, I’d call it a healthful food. Eat chocolate in small amounts and read labels to help you avoid added sugar and saturated fats.
My best advice for indulging in Valentine’s Day treats and caring for your heart is to surprise your valentine by preparing a healthful, whole-food, plant-based meal at home. Consider including plenty of items from this list:
- Real food – food is not processed
- Whole food – you can recognize what it is
- Whole-grain breads and pasta, brown rice (multigrain does not mean whole grain)
- Legumes – beans, lentils, peanuts, peas
- Vegetables – fresh or frozen
- Fruit (whole, not juice)
- Unsweetened drinks from soy, almonds, rice or flax
- Quinoa, Chia, Amaranth, nuts, seeds
- Broiled, baked, steamed, raw
- Fiber – 25+ grams/day (read the nutrition facts label)
- Be aware of calorie content and portion sizes
And, yes, indulge in a drink of your choice and some delicious chocolate!