By Avance Care Dietitian: Nadeen Risi MS, RD, LDN
February is the month of love. This month also marks the last celebration after a slew of others that surround holiday treats, sweets and chocolate.
But did you know that February is also Heart Health Awareness month? It is ironic that this month contains the day that we typically celebrate with candies, desserts and chocolate, since it is also the month to bring to light the impacts of those foods on our heart health.
Heart health focuses on choosing healthier fats and lowering our sugar consumption (in addition to a focus on exercise and stress management).
With Valentine’s Day approaching, do you ever wonder how to stick to your healthy habits and goals while all you see at stores are heart shaped boxes of candy and chocolate? Since this month is meant to help promote life-long, heart healthy habits to implement, let us try to focus on those while still enjoying the romance that this month brings.
Heart Healthy Tips for Valentine’s Day
- Instead of candy or chocolate, focus on gifts that provide memories – an outing (socially distant of course), taking a hike through the woods, driving to a place neither of you have been, doing a puzzle at home or watching a favorite movie together are some ideas
- Make a valentine – there is something to be said about making something from the heart instead of purchasing chocolate
- If you plan on going out to eat, think about splitting the meal to help keep both of you from overeating
- Make dinner at home together – focus on adding a vegetable, lean protein, and a fiber rich starch
- Snack throughout the day – this can help prevent overeating. Some heart healthy snacks include trail mix (nuts and fruit), vegetables and hummus or guacamole, and apple or celery with peanut butter
- Include some fish – fish, especially oily fish like salmon, contain heart healthy omega-3 fats that reduce inflammation
- Make some heart healthy substitutions – choose whole wheat flour versus all-purpose flour, olive or canola oil versus butter, and applesauce or mashed banana for part of the sugar in a recipe
- Include natural sugars such as fruit into your treats – try chocolate covered banana or whipped cream with fresh berries
Other tips on creating a heart healthy Valentine’s Day can be found at the American Heart Association.
Focus on Balance
A focus on heart-health does not mean that you cannot enjoy some of your favorite foods or sweets. It does not mean deprive yourself on this day because you want to stay on track. One moment in time is not going to make or break your goals or healthy lifestyle, but it’s when those moments cascade into multiple moments. Remember to include a variety of options for the whole day and pair your dessert with a meal that is balanced and nutritious.
Mind the Sugar
Desserts can be a wonderful way to end Valentine’s day, but it is important to understand what kind and how much sugar we are taking in.
Added sugars are the types of sugar that is added into foods while being made, processed, or prepped. Natural sugars are those that are in foods naturally (such as fruit sugar and milk sugar).
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that men have no more than 150 calories or 9 teaspoons of added sugars per day while women should have no more than 100 calories or 7 teaspoons of added sugars per day. Think about it from this perspective, 1 teaspoon of sugar is about 4 grams. If your favorite dessert is 24 grams of added sugar that is about 6 teaspoons of sugar, almost your entire day’s recommendation.
Heart Healthy Dessert Ideas
Here are some alternative options for desserts or treats to try this year for Valentine’s Day:
- Spiced Chocolate Cake – this recipe uses a blend of whole wheat and all-purpose flour, canola oil instead of butter and skim milk to lower the fat content; https://www.fitday.com/fitness-articles/nutrition/celebrate-valentines-day-in-a-healthy-way.html
- Chia Greek Yogurt Pudding with Raspberry Puree – chia seeds are a wonderful heart healthy fat source and non-fat Greek yogurt adds protein without the unhealthy saturated fat; https://jeanetteshealthyliving.com/creamy-chia-seed-greek-yogurt-pudding/#wprm-recipe-container-33806
- 3 Ingredient Strawberry Yogurt Bites – individual bites that give you the sweetness of strawberries and the creaminess from Greek yogurt with a touch of chocolate; https://twohealthykitchens.com/3-ingredient-chocolate-covered-strawberry-frozen-greek-yogurt-bites/
This year, take some time to create a wonderful and romantic day for your special person by making it a heart healthy day. If you would like to discuss more heart healthy lifestyle changes, book online today or reach out to Wellness Services at (919)237-1337, option 4 and schedule an appointment with any of our Avance Care Registered Dietitians.
Nadeen Risi is the registered dietitian for the Cary Avance Care location. She enjoys spending her time with her husband, Steven and their three dogs, Harley, Gunner and Diesel. She also enjoys traveling to new places and trying as many new foods and restaurants as she can prior to COVID. Nowadays they like to find new spots outdoors to explore and trying new dishes at home.