by Katie Cohen Olivenstein RD
A little bit over a month into the new year and already another holiday is upon us. Though it may be not a statutory holiday, those ones where we get the day off from work to relax and enjoy ourselves, it’s definitely a day worth celebrating nonetheless – Valentine’s Day.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind as February 14th quickly approaches?
It’s highly likely that what pops in my head is invariably different than what you think of when you hear about this day devoted to romance. In fact, Valentine’s Day can bring about a slew of mixed thoughts and emotions for different people. Maybe you’re excited to spend some dedicated quality time with your loved one, struggling to find the perfect gift for your partner, feeling anxious about wanting to find that special someone or maybe you’ve decided to focus on loving yourself. Whatever your plans may be, we should all try that last one out this year.
Love yourself, take care of yourself, and nourish yourself with the same passion and devotion that you have for the people closest to you.
The first thing that comes to my mind when I think about how to express love and gratitude for myself and others on Valentine’s day are what I like to call my “Valentine’s Day Essentials”:
Matcha Green Tea
As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I can’t help but make a connection between my Valentine’s day essentials and the quintessential Valentine’s day symbol – hearts! It just seems so perfectly convenient that dark chocolate, red wine, and matcha green tea can be significant contributors to your heart health and overall wellness.
Before we dive in, let’s take this opportunity to define our Valentine Word of The Day: Flavonoids are a group of phytonutrients that are found in varying amounts in fruits, vegetables, and beans. With over 6000 types, they are largely responsible for the colours of our food and have been shown to play important preventative health roles.
What’s so great about chocolate, you may ask?
Well, aside from the obvious deliciousness, the cocoa bean is a significant source of flavonoids, specifically flavonols – phytochemical compounds also found in tea, wine, and certain fruits and vegetables. These flavonols play an important role in improving endothelial health or the health of the inner lining of blood vessels, allowing for better blood flow throughout the body. With poor endothelial function at the heart of many cardiac risk factors such as high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, and oxidative stress, flavonol containing chocolate is the perfect antidote. Not only do these flavonols play a role in reducing cardiovascular disease, they’re also important antioxidants that repair inevitable cellular damage.
In order to benefit from these heart healthy compounds, enjoy a 1-ounce portion of minimally processed dark chocolate daily; cocoa nibs, raw cocoa powder, or a bar that is ideally 80% cocoa or higher. For a fun twist on the real thing, try this recipe for chocolate nice cream.
The French Paradox: Drink up!
Big thanks to our flavonoid friends for giving us permission to enjoy a little more wine. In addition to the flavonoid known as quercetin, red wine also contains resveratrol, a polyphenolic compound found in grapes, berries, and peanuts. These compounds work together to protect our cardiovascular system when consumed in moderate amounts. They play an active role in increasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol, preventing blood clots, improving endothelial function and provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects as well. Some studies suggest that alcohol itself may even have a positive impact on our heart health through different mechanisms, but researchers aren’t sold on the idea just yet.
The bottom line: When consumed in moderate amounts (read: a maximum of 1-2 standard 5-oz glasses per day), red wine has greater cardioprotective effects than other alcoholic beverages.
Remember to keep your health goals in check when drinking alcohol:
- Women can enjoy 1-2 alcoholic beverages 1-2 times per week
- Men can enjoy 2-3 alcoholic beverages 2-3 times per week
Brew the Matcha Benefits
Searching for yet another way to arm yourself against heart disease? Look no further than your tea kettle. Though tea has long been known to play an important role in protection against disease due to its, you guessed it, flavonoid content, matcha tea is a fairly new trend. Matcha, a traditional Chinese and Japanese tea, contains flavonoids called EGCg (epicgallocatechin gallate). Studies suggest that matcha green tea offers even more health benefits than ordinary green tea, largely due to the fact it contains somewhere between 150-200 times the concentration of flavonoids. The major difference between green tea and matcha seems to lie in the way its prepared. Though most green teas are steeped, the matcha variety is made by mixing hot water with powdered or milled tea leaves, so that you’re actually consuming the whole leaf.
Check out this smoothie recipe for an even more delicious way to get your matcha fix!
Some of you may be asking yourselves, if these “Valentine’s Day Essentials” are so important for my heart health, why can’t I just take a flavonoid supplement?
Simply put, the research that’s currently out there doesn’t support the effectiveness of single nutrient supplementation. The cardiovascular benefits associated with flavonoids have only been documented as part of dietary intake with a focus on whole foods. So drop the search for a quick fix and let yourself indulge in these heart healthy Valentine’s day treats this year. In fact, enjoy them and other flavonoid containing foods (fruits, veggies, beans) all year long because these heart healthy foods come with a whole slew of other health benefits that would require an entirely separate blog post to cover…
Whether you’re buying yourself a Valentine’s day gift or putting together a basket for your special someone, pick up my “Valentine’s Day Essentials” not only as a declaration of your love for others, but for their health as well.
Happy Valentine’s Day from the Motive Nutrition. Have a festively healthy day!