Year after year, cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death among men and women in the United States. From genetics to lack of exercise to chronic stress, there are many reasons why our hearts are calling out for help.
But, one of the most important factors that contribute to heart health – or heart disease – is diet. Thankfully, nature provides many foods that not only improve our heart health but also help prevent chronic disease.
This Valentine’s Day, give your heart some love, too, with a heart-healthy three-course dinner for two! The following meal plan combines three delicious recipes that are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support a healthy heart. Bon appetit!
Heart-Healthy Appetizer Recipe
Green Soup with Lemon and Cayenne
Share a healthy bowl of greens with your Valentine’s Date without having to worry about spinach in your teeth! This pureed soup is a great way to start a romantic dinner for two or as a weekday lunch or dinner side.
- Leafy Greens
Studies show that eating greens regularly can help reduce your risk of heart disease by up to 16%! How? Greens like kale and spinach contain vitamin K, a nutrient that promotes proper blood clotting and protects the arteries. Dietary nitrates in leafy greens also improve overall cardiovascular function by keeping blood pressure levels in check.
- Lemon Juice
Researchers find that those who get plenty of vitamin C in their diets (as from citrus fruits) are less likely to develop heart disease and stroke. Lemons also contain plant compounds such as hesperidin and diosmin which have been proven to reduce cholesterol levels.
Heart-Healthy Main Course Recipe
Sumac Salmon with Pomegranate
This salmon dish is elegant and impressive, yet so simple to make. Pair with a side quinoa, couscous, or mashed sweet potatoes and a small glass of red wine.
Salmon is one of the best superfoods around, mostly because of its high omega-3 fatty acid content. These healthy fats protect the heart and cardiovascular system against inflammation, damage, and atherosclerosis. Studies show that fatty fish like salmon can help prevent cardiovascular disease by reducing blood lipid levels, improving the health of your arteries, and decreasing blood pressure.
- Pomegranate Seeds
Pomegranate seeds add a beautiful ruby color and juicy crunch to this dish. They also add antioxidants like tannins and anthocyanins, which are known for helping to slow the development of chronic heart disease. Research shows that pomegranates are particularly helpful for reducing blood pressure and atherosclerotic plaques.
Sumac is a deliciously tangy spice that is often used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking. It contains antioxidants and monounsaturated fats, which support heart health. It has even been shown to help manage diabetes. In one study, those who eat sumac regularly had reduced inflammation and up to 25% reduced circulating insulin.
Heart-Healthy Dessert Recipes
Dark Chocolate-Covered Strawberries
No Valentine’s Day dinner for two is complete without a tempting dessert. Unfortunately, indulging in too many sugary cakes and pies can increase your risk of developing heart disease and diabetes. Instead, opt for healthier (and still decadent) chocolate-covered strawberries.
- Dark Chocolate
Cocoa was long used as a medicinal elixir by the ancient Mayans. Today, we are learning that dark chocolate does in fact offer many health benefits. Cocoa has been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) while increasing HDL (the “good” cholesterol). It also contains flavonoids that fight insulin resistance and protect against heart disease.
Nearly all berries offer some health benefits, and strawberries are no exception. Their benefits lie in a type of powerful antioxidant called anthocyanins. These compounds fight oxidative stress and inflammation that leads to heart disease. Strawberries have also been shown to reduce insulin resistance and LDL cholesterol.
Much love and Happy Valentine’s Day!
Dr. Lena Fernandez