By Dr. Kalin Suzuki, ND
Love is in the air!
February is here, and we are celebrating American Heart Month!
Let’s take a moment to celebrate the heart! This organ does so much for us, beating 108,000 times per day to supply all other tissues with oxygen and helping to remove toxins. It shouldn’t come to anyone’s surprise that if the heart stops working, you stop working. With that in mind, we are excited to celebrate American Heart Month!
Now, when we think of February, we can’t forget Valentine’s Day, which goes hand in hand with chocolate and sugary desserts. In support of Heart Month, I am going to suggest that rather than indulging in those high calorie, sugary sweets that will not benefit you or your heart, try indulging in healthier alternatives your whole body can enjoy.
So let’s dive in to how sugar consumption is related to poor cardiovascular health. There is abundant evidence indicating sugar consumption can lead to elevated triglycerides, which is a well established risk factor for coronary heart disease.1,2,3 When this happens, the major arteries that supply blood to the heart are blocked, and it is unable to function properly. Additionally, having coronary heart disease also increases your risk for heart attacks and sudden cardiac death. On top of that, there is evidence of sugar consumption contributing to elevated blood pressure and increased vascular inflammation, further increasing your risk for cardiac events.4
All in all, Americans have been consuming too much sugar, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that number continues to rise.5 So this Valentine’s Day, and perhaps the entire month of February, in celebration of Heart Month, let’s all reduce added sugar and give our loved ones a treat that is not only tasty, but healthy!
Heart healthy desserts to enjoy with your loved ones:
Dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate
Aim for 80% or higher dark chocolate, which has less sugar and more cocoa than milk chocolate, and is higher in antioxidants. Try dipping strawberries or almonds in dark chocolate, adding fiber and heart-protective omega-3 fats!6,7
Work your heart out to keep it strong
Instead of giving the standard box of chocolates this Valentine’s Day, give the gift of a shared experience. Try a new dance or yoga class, book ski or snowboarding lessons, schedule a snowshoeing date or join a rock-climbing gym. Activities that keep you active and allow you to share new experiences with a loved one strengthen your heart and your relationships at the same time.
Relax like your life depends on it
We are all overloaded by schedules, to-do lists and work…why not give the gift of relaxation? Consider booking a couple’s massage, a spa day or a weekend away to unwind and take a break from the madness. Stress can wreak havoc on your heart, but a restful retreat will rejuvenate you and your loved one.
Hope these healthy alternatives make for a delightful Valentine’s Day! Happy Heart Month everyone.
- Fried SK, Rao SP. Sugars, hypertriglyceridemia, and cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;78:873S–88
- Hellerstein MK. Carbohydrate-induced hypertriglyceridemia: modifying factors and implications for cardiovascular risk. Curr Opin Lipidol. 65. 2002;13:33– 40.
- Stanhope KL, Schwarz JM, Keim NL, Griffen SC, Bremer AA, Graham JL, Hatcher B, Cox CL, Dyachenko A, Zhang W, McGahan JP, Seibert A, Krauss RM, Chiu S, Schaefer EJ, Ai M, Otokozawa S, Nakajima K, Nakano T, Beysen C, Hellerstein MK, Berglund L, Havel PJ. Con- suming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in over- weight/obese humans. J Clin Invest. 2009;119:1322–1334.
- Yang, Q., Zhang, Z., Gregg, E. W., Flanders, W. D., Merritt, R., & Hu, F. B. (2014). Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US Adults. JAMA Internal Medicine, 174(4), 516. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13563
- Get the Facts: Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Consumption | Nutrition | CDC. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-statistics/sugar-sweetened-beverages-intake.html
- How to Eat More Fruit and Vegetables. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/add-color/how-to-eat-more-fruits-and-vegetables
- Haring, B., Selvin, E., He, X., Coresh, J., Steffen, L. M., Folsom, A. R., . . . Rebholz, C. M. (2018). Adherence to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Dietary Pattern and Risk of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm: Results From the ARIC Study. Journal of the American Heart Association,7(21). doi:10.1161/jaha.118.009340