Good heart health the best Valentine's Day gift

Rita DeMontis, National Food Editor, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:45 AM ET

As many of us ponder all those heart-shaped boxes of chocolate, bouquets of roses and those cute Valentine's Day cards this week, maybe we should also take a hard look at our own hearts, and the hearts of those we love.

It's more than just the organ that signals the ebb and flow of emotions — the reality is the heart is a muscular organ that keeps you alive.

For Valentine's Day, it's good to focus on its health. We've been doing a great job with the messaging — The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada reports that, since 1952, the cardiovascular death rate in Canada has declined by more than 75%.

Yet, Stats Canada reports (from 2011) that every seven minutes, someone dies from heart disease or stroke, and that heart disease and stroke are two of the three leading causes of death in Canada. Research also shows cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death for Canadian women.

With the alarming rise in obesity and Type 2 diabetes — and younger people being diagnosed with issues once only found in older individuals — we all need to become more diligent when it comes to taking care of our hearts.

What to do? Bite the bullet and start making changes to bad lifestyle habits. Ditch the smoking, pass on the unhealthy snacking, and just get up and go.

A healthy diet and exercise regime is crucial to maintaining a healthy heart and body.

It's not that difficult — the time you take to choose one of those nice boxes of chocolates or that perfect Valentine's Day card can go into something as planning a healthy meal, instead. Or going for a walk. Together.

Love your heart, and the heart of the one you love. Probably the best Valentine's Day gift you can give.

Heart-healthy foods:

According to Eating Well magazine "eating for a healthy heart means filling your plate with fruits and vegetables, paying attention to fibre, eating fish a couple times a week and limiting unhealthy fats like saturated and trans fats, as well as salt."

And, although no single food is a cure-all, certain foods have been shown to improve your heart health.

Eatingwell.com suggests the following:

  • Whole Grains: Contain antioxidants, phytoestrogens and phytosterols that are protective against coronary disease.
  • Beans: Of course they're good for your heart! Like all foods that contain a lot of soluble fibre, beans help bind cholesterol and keep it from being absorbed in the gut. Beans also contain a variety of heart-protective chemicals, including flavonoids, (compounds also found in wine, berries and chocolate), which can help lower risk for heart attack and strokes.
  • Salmon/Fish: Consuming two or more servings of fish per week is associated with a 30% lower risk of developing coronary heart disease over the long term, studies show. Fish — especially “oily” kinds, (such as salmon and tuna) contain omega-3 fats, which lower levels of triglycerides in the blood that may contribute to blood clotting. Faxseed oil, canola oil and walnuts also contain omega-3 fats.
  • Nuts: Are chock-full of vitamins, minerals, heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and low levels of saturated fats.
  • Chocolate: Eating moderate amounts of flavanol-rich dark chocolate has a blood-thinning effect, which can benefit cardiovascular health, and it may also boost the immune system by reducing inflammation.
  • Apples: Associated with a lower risk of death from both coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease; research also shows frequent apple eaters had the lowest risk of suffering strokes compared with nonapple eaters.
  • Berries: Eating just under a cup of mixed berries daily for eight weeks was associated with increased levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and lowered blood pressure.
  • Popcorn: Delivers polyphenols—antioxidants linked to improving heart health.

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