We all know Valentine's Day is this month, but did you know it's also American Heart Month? While I hate that the shortest month of the year is dedicated to affairs of the heart, you can make simple additions to your diet to help your heart year-round.
It can sometimes be confusing as to what foods will best benefit your ticker, so I'm going to keep it easy and tell you to increase red foods in your diet. We see red hearts everywhere right now, so let that serve as a reminder to eat red for your heart.
Here are a few red foods to add to your diet so that when you give your heart to your Valentine, it's a healthy one:
Kidney beans - These ruby nuggets are full of lean protein and high in fiber. By replacing a fatty meat with them, you lower the saturated fat content in your diet, and that will make your heart very happy. The high fiber content of these beans also helps lower cholesterol levels.
Tomato products - It's unusual when a cooked fruit or vegetable is healthier than it's raw form, but tomatoes actually are better for you when cooked. Cooked tomato products such as tomato paste, stewed tomatoes, and tomato sauce have higher levels of absorbable lycopene, a powerful antioxidant shown in many studies to offer a protective effect on the heart.
Berries - Both strawberries and raspberries are full of anti-inflammatory agents that may help reduce your risk of heart disease. Add a handful of these flavorful fruits to your morning oatmeal and your heart will be in better shape for it at your next medical check up.
Apples - Any kind of apple is high in fiber and can help you lower cholesterol levels, eat less, and may help you lose a few unwanted pounds. By including a couple of these fruits throughout the day, you improve your health with every crunchy bite.
Red bell peppers - Choose these over their green counterparts to add another strong dose of lycopene to your diet. In addition to this heart-healthy antioxidant, red bell peppers are loaded with potassium, which can lead to lower blood pressure. Add in high levels of vitamins A and C and you are approaching super food' status.
Red wine - Toast to good health with your Valentine! A 3- to 4-ounce glass of the tasty beverage daily may drastically reduce your risk of heart disease by improving your good cholesterol, reducing arterial inflammation, and lowering triglyceride levels. Drink more than that, however, and you are doing more harm than good.
Say "I love you" to your heart every day by including some of these foods in your diet. It's always better to give a healthy heart to someone anyway! Happy Valentine's Day!
Roger E. Adams, Ph.D., CISSN, is a weight loss and fitness expert and doctor of nutrition. He owns eatrightfitness ®, an evidence-based counseling practice focused on weight loss, disease prevention, and sports nutrition.