Valentine’s Day is right around the corner! This time of year, it feels like we’re surrounded by things that are the exact opposite of heart healthy. But February is heart month and it’s the perfect time to be heart conscious. You can have a heart healthy Valentine’s day without sacrificing enjoyment!
Everything in moderation
It’s OK to indulge a little in the sweet treats of the holiday. In fact, the occasional treat can help curb your craving so you don’t overindulge too frequently. It won’t completely derail your healthy eating. However, it’s important to do so in moderation. Limiting sugar and other sweeteners is important to a healthy diet. Teach your kids healthy habits by having only one treat a day and encouraging them to do the same.
“Splitting” can also help you limit your sweets consumption. If someone brings in a box of pastries to work, see if someone will split one with you instead of eating the whole thing yourself. Even a smaller portion can satisfy your sweet tooth.
Try to avoid buying the treats and bringing them home. Treats will come home after school Valentine’s parties, but let that be the only candy that makes it into the house. If you buy the discount candy, it’s in the house readily available while you’re watching TV.
Moderation doesn’t only apply to sweets. Portion control is important for the main course as well. Use a smaller plate to help limit the amount of food and try to fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are low in sodium, fat, and calories and rich in the nutrients and fiber your body needs.
Swap your sweets
Chocolate isn’t the only thing that can satisfy your sweet tooth! Instead of reaching for a sugary dessert or candy, try healthier substitutes. Fruit is sweet and practically tastes like candy. Make a fruit “salsa” by finely cutting strawberries, mangoes, kiwi and other fruits. Strawberry shortcake is delicious, and you can hardly tell it’s healthier than that brownie. You can make it a date by searching for a new healthy dessert recipe and trying it out with your Valentine.
If chocolate is a must, give dark chocolate a try. Dark chocolate contains antioxidants that may help reduce inflammation and may provide some benefits to heart health. When selecting dark chocolate look for bars with at least 70 percent cocoa and remember to consume in moderation.
Change your date-night meal
Special occasions like Valentine’s Day are often associated with a steak dinner. Unfortunately, that’s not the most heart-healthy option on the menu. Lowering sodium and saturated fat is key for a heart-healthy meal. Swap high-fat protein with a lean protein like poultry or fish with less than 10-percent fat. Reducing the amount of saturated and trans fats you eat helps keep your cholesterol low. High cholesterol leads to the buildup of plaque in your arteries increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke. Consuming a lot of sodium can contribute to high blood pressure increasing your risk for developing heart disease. If you are preparing your Valentine’s dinner at home, you can trim excess fat off your meats and reduce the amount of salt you use to help make your meal more heart healthy.
Nickie Kaetzel is a clinical dietitian at Fisher-Titus Medical Center. For help in reaching your health and wellness goals, contact your primary care physician for a referral for outpatient nutrition counseling.