More than 35 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate will be sold for Valentine's Day this year, but you’d have to do the tango for 16 hours straight to burn off the calories in one large box! Instead, consider whipping up one of these decadent but heart-protective treats for yourself or your sweetie:
Heart Hug Sundae
A ½ cup scoop of ice cream made from coconut milk, topped with 1 cup red raspberries, and 2 tablespoonds sliced almonds, garnished with organic edible flowers.
• Coconut. The type of fat found in coconut milk is rich, but is actually heart healthy. It’s been shown to lower the “bad” cholesterol, up the “good” cholesterol, rev up metabolism, and reduce waist circumference. Coconuts also contain antioxidants similar to those found in berries, grapes, and dark chocolate.
• Raspberries. A member of the rose family, raspberries are rich in vitamin C and they’re one of the highest fiber fruits, providing a whopping 8 grams per cup—over 30 percent of the recommended daily intake. A classic fiber study concluded that for every gram of fiber we eat, we eliminate about seven calories, and research in Brazilian dieters found that over a 6 month period, each additional gram of fiber resulted in an extra quarter pound of weight loss. Also, the natural chemical responsible for raspberries’ mouthwatering aroma is similar to capsaicin, the substance that puts the heat in hot peppers and has been shown to fire up metabolism.
• Almonds. They’re incredibly heart healthy for a handful of reasons. Almonds’ good unsaturated fat has been shown to improve cholesterol profiles, and they’re incredibly nutrient rich, supplying fiber, protein, vitamin E, antioxidants, calcium, magnesium and potassium. Almonds also boost satiety, so you feel fuller longer, and they’re linked to weight loss. One study found that a low-calorie, almond-enriched diet helped overweight people shed more pounds than a low-calorie diet higher in complex carbohydrates. The almond eaters experienced a 62 percent greater reduction in their body weight, a 50 percent greater loss in waist circumference, and a 56 percent greater loss of body fat.
• Edible flowers. Like fruits, edible flowers are rich in vitamin C and other antioxidants. Just be sure they’re marked as edible and grown without pesticides.
Strawberries with Sass
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger folded into 2 tablespoons melted dark chocolate chips served as a dip or drizzled over 1 cup of fresh strawberries.
• Ginger. This root is a potent anti-inflammatory food. It not only eases pain but it protects your health from head to toe, since we now know that systemic inflammation, inflammation at the cellular level, is linked to premature aging and disease. It has also been shown to strengthen immunity and fight cancer; and a touch of ginger is a feast for your senses, which can boost satiety.
• Dark chocolate. The good news about the health benefits of dark chocolate (70% cocoa or greater) continues to grow. Its antioxidants are heart protective, it’s been shown to curb cravings for both sweet and salty foods, it contains magnesium, a mineral that can help alleviate water retention, fatigue, depression, and irritability, it’s linked to blood pressure control, improved circulation and better brain activity. Best of all its natural substances trigger the same feeling we experience when we’re in love.
• Strawberries. Because the heart is so closely linked to love, red is thought to be the most romantic color, and it just so happens that the pigments that give red fruits, like strawberries, their gorgeous hue contain powerful antioxidants that protect your heart and fight aging. Strawberries also provide fiber, folate, vitamin C, and potassium. And in published studies these gems have been linked to better blood sugar control, reduced cancer risk, and protection against inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease.
Forget those conversation hearts and iced sugar cookies, and reach for some real food. You’ll feel more satisfied and you’ll have the energy to enjoy spending quality time with your sweetie.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.