Quinn on Nutrition: Heroes of the heart

Feb. 13, 2016

OK, men. You want to delight your sweetie this Valentineís Day? Give her what her heart craves. Itíll be good for you as well.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women as well as men in the United States, says the American Heart Association. And nearly half of us possess at least one factor that can make our hearts sick, including high blood pressure, obesity, physical inactivity or an unhealthy diet.

Want to know what your darling needs to strengthen her heart and yours? Here are some ideas from those who study such things:

Spice up her life. Season those romantic meals with less salt and more herbs and spices. These "mini vegetables" offer antioxidant substances that help keep arteries clear. And reducing sodium brings down blood pressure.

Eat some plant protein. Soy protein, for example, is just as "complete" a protein source as animal-based foods. A recent small yet well-designed study that replaced 30 grams (about 4 ounces) of animal protein in the daily diet of adults with the same amount of soy protein found a significant reduction in some risk factors for heart disease, including LDL cholesterol levels. And these volunteers dropped some extra weight in the process. Sweet.

Fish for your loverís heart. Those good omega-3 fatty acids in fish have been shown to decrease the risk of abnormal heartbeats (arrhythmias) that can lead to sudden death, reports the AHA. Omega-3 fatty acids also help lower triglyceride (fat) levels in the blood. A couple of small servings or 7 to 8 ounces a week should do the trick, say experts.

Indulge in a bit of dark chocolate. As opposed to milk chocolate, darker chocolate contains higher amounts of flavanols, substances that may help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, recognized risk factors for heart disease. One recent study reported at the Third International Congress of Cocoa, Tea and Coffee (can I go?) found that flavanols appeared to turn off some of the genes that help create abnormal fat placement in the body. My hero.

Enjoy some red. Modest consumption of wine is a feature of the Mediterranean style of eating which has been shown to have benefits for the heart. And modest means just that or not at all, according to the latest guidelines from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology (AHA/ACC). Excess alcohol ó more than 5 ounces of wine a day for women and more than 10 ounces a day for men ó increases blood pressure and the risk for stroke.

Take her out on the dance floor. Physical activity calms our nerves and strengthens our hearts. At least 150 minutes of exercise (including dancing) each week is the goal, say experts.

Flowers arenít a bad idea, either. Happy Valentineís Day.




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