Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope you weren’t planning on buying any fattening sweets for your significant other today. You weren’t, were you? Because you know better. You know thoughtful gifts from the heart are what that special person really wants. You know not all gifts are created equal.
But did you know that not all healthy habits are created equal, either? It’s true. Some are better for your heart than others.
I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” But you might be surprised that this phrase actually has some bite. Last year, a year-long study demonstrated that an apple a day can help reduce LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol. Good cholesterol reduces your risk for stroke or heart attack.
Already on top of this trend? You might be interested to know that Fuji apples, one of the United States’ top sellers, is not only one of the more expensive varieties you can buy, but also weighs in at a respectable but overall hefty-for-a-fruit 130 calories (they’re usually on the bigger side). Save a few bucks and about 50 calories per apple by switching to the tart and crisp Granny Smith apples.
Eating nuts may reduce your risk of heart disease. High in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and fiber (among other things), many kinds of nuts can be a great addition to your healthy diet. But there are a few downsides. Nuts have a lot of fat, and even though the fat is the good kind (unsaturated), it’s not a great idea to gorge on a huge mixed bowl. You also may have noticed that nuts come in lots of different varieties. The extra flavors and salting quickly turn these healthy snacks into dangerous diet destroyers.
That being said, you have some healthy choices to make. Raw almonds are one of your best bets — each nut is only about 7 calories. But how do you make sure not to overindulge? One word: measure. A quarter cup holds about 25 to 30 almonds, adding up to around 200 calories. Personally, I keep a measuring cup with my almonds so I never forget to measure out a respectable amount.
Like to make eating an event? Try pistachios. Shelling the nuts while you eat takes time, making it seem like you’re eating more than you actually are.
Everyone knows vegetables are a crucial part of a healthy diet. And this Mayo Clinic article says the vitamins and minerals in vegetables may help prevent cardiovascular disease, which is an obvious benefit to that heart of yours.
But did you know that cooking some vegetables reduces the amount of nutrients you get from eating them?
It’s true. This U.S. Department of Agriculture PDF describes how water leaches water-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin C and B vitamins, out of food, and how contact with air saps away vitamins A, C, E, K, and B vitamins as well. Avoid soaking your vegetables, and instead, try steaming them with as little water as possible. To keep the air from getting to your vegetables, cut them right before you plan on eating them, and serve them raw or just slightly cooked (read: tender) as often as possible.
There is an exception to this rule, though: tomatoes. Okay, so technically tomatoes are fruits, but hear me out anyway. A study conducted in 2002 found that cooking tomatoes actually boosted the amount of lycopene in the fruit. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect cells against the damage free radicals cause when we burn oxygen for energy.
So, remember your heart this Valentine’s Day, and eat something good for it.
P.S. Flowers are much healthier (and prettier) than chocolates. Just sayin’.