American Heart Month, a special time of year to spread the word about ways to prevent heart
disease and encourage others to live heart-healthy lives. Heart disease
is the leading cause of death for men and women in the U.S.—the
disease causes nearly 1 in 4 deaths each year. Even though your Valentine
may make your “heart skip a beat”, you shouldn’t sacrifice
heart-health to overindulge this Valentine’s Day.
So whether you celebrate with a sweetheart, friends, family, or on your
own, don’t forget to show your heart some love, too.
Dining Out? Don’t Disregard Your Diet
Restaurant meals are typically higher in calories, saturated fats, and
serving size, which all adds up to being bad for your waistline and your
heart. According to a study by the
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, restaurant dining is comparable to—if not less healthy than—eating
at a fast food restaurant. Research showed that study participants dining
out consumed more sodium, cholesterol, and, on average, 200 more calories
when they dined out than when eating at home.
Unfortunately, many of us prefer to celebrate Valentine’s Day with
dinner out on the town. While these stats are concerning, there are healthy
options out there. Many restaurants offer lighter menu items or replacement
options so you don’t have to sabotage a heart-healthy diet for a
Consider these tips when dining out this Valentine’s Day:
Know where to go. A little research goes a long way. Many restaurants list their menus—and
in some cases, their nutritional value—on their website. Consider
all your options, and choose the restaurant with the greatest variety.
Plan ahead. So you know you’re going to an Italian restaurant with tons of carb-filled
menu options. Eat a lighter lunch filled with fresh veggies so you’re
getting the nutrients and fuel your body needs throughout the day—and
you’re not overdoing your daily calorie intake.
Learn the lingo. Look for healthy clues, phrases, or symbols on the menu, words like light,
fresh, fit, skinny, and vegetarian. Some even include on their menus the
Heart-Check mark, an easy indicator of healthier choices that meet the trusted nutritional
standards of the
American Heart Association.
Eat slowly. It
takes your brain about 20 minutes to get the message from your stomach that you’re no longer hungry.
Crazy, right? When we eat fast, we often overeat, so slow it down and
savor every delicious bite.
Control portions. Most restaurants serve outrageously large portions, often enough for two
or three people. Ration your dinner portions. Eat a smaller portion at
dinner, then bring your leftovers home for the next day’s lunch
or dinner. Or, consider sharing a meal or dessert with a loved one, or
ordering a small appetizer and a side salad instead of a full entrée.
When in doubt, swap it out. Many restaurants let you swap out side items like French fries with a salad,
or replace creamy salad dressings with lighter options. Even if an item
comes with an unhealthy side, ask your server if you can combine veggies
or select side options from other items. There’s no harm in asking.
Limit alcohol consumption. Excessive drinking can lead to long-term health problems, including heart disease.
Resist the freebies. Just because the bread or chips and salsa are complimentary with your meal
doesn’t mean you
have to eat them. These items often add fat, sodium, sugar, and several calories
to your meal.
Request items on the side. This helps you to control portion sizes for fatty foods like butters, cheese,
dressings, sauces, gravies, and other ingredients.
Keep it colorful. Just as we encourage kids to eat a “rainbow” of foods with
each meal, the same goes for adults. Choose colorful fruits and veggies
Don’t be shy. Speak up. If you’re ever in doubt about how a meal is prepared or
the chef’s ingredients, ask your server. It’s better to be
safe than sorry.
Other easy food swaps are simple and can make your meal healthier:
- Lose bacon, sausage, and other fatty, salty meats. Instead, choose skinless
chicken, fish, and other lean meats.
- Ditch white bread, rice, and pasta for whole-grain versions.
- Resist cream-based or cheesy soups for broth-based soups loaded with veggies.
- Say no to deep-fried, pan-fried, extra crispy, creamy, or stuffed. Instead,
choose items that are grilled, sautéed, roasted, steamed, baked,
- Replace fries with a baked potato (easy on the butter and sour cream though)
or side salad.
- Choose light sauces flavored with herbs, spices, vinegar, or wine over
salty ones like soy, teriyaki, cocktail, or au jus.
- Steer clear of all-you-can-eat restaurants, or anything that mentions “supersized”
or “buffet” in the name. Look for words like a la carte, light
menu, or salad bar.
- Skip dessert, especially more traditional items like cookies, cakes, and
ice cream. If you’re still craving something sweet after dinner,
ask for fresh fruit or fruit-based desserts.
- Ditch regular soda, sweet tea, and other sugary drinks and sip on water,
100% juice, diet soda, seltzer, or spritzers.
Planning a Healthy, Romantic Meal at Home
If dining out on Valentine’s Day isn’t your style, consider
preparing and cooking your own meal in the comfort of your home. In addition
to the calorie savings mentioned earlier, when you prepare your own meals,
you’re in control of what you and your loved ones are eating, you
can get as creative (and as simple or complex) as you want, and you save money.
You don’t have to be an experienced chef to wine and dine your loved
ones on Valentine’s Day. All you need is a little inspiration and
these healthy at-home cooking tips.
Get inspired. From cookbooks to cooking shows to
Pinterest boards, thousands of delicious, healthy recipes are within your grasp. Find the
ones that speak to your tastes, time, and budget.
Prepare, prepare, prepare. Take inventory of your kitchen cabinets, and stock up on all the ingredients
you need for a heart-healthy meal.
Trade this for that. If there’s a specific meal you have in mind, consider making some
of the healthy food swaps mentioned above to enhance the meal and make
Add color. Remember, green is good! Add color with fruits and veggies, whether they’re
fresh, frozen, canned, or dried (just look at those pesky salt and sugar
Find your flavor. Instead of seasoning with salt, consider adding flavor with healthy herbs,
spices, and other seasonings.
Don’t skimp on the salad. Get creative. Sometimes a colorful, hearty salad can stand as its own
Learn new cooking techniques. Brush up on your sautéing or grilling skills, for example, with a
YouTube tutorial, or take a couples cooking class with your honey.
Relax, and have fun! It may be a special day, but it’s still just a meal. Enjoy your
time preparing—especially if you’re cooking together as a
couple or as a family—and don’t be afraid to take risks in
Looking for more inspiration? Here’s a delicious, well-rounded Valentine’s
Day menu that we recommend:
Spreadable avocado is not only delicious—it’s a healthy fat,
when consumed in moderation. This works great as an appetizer, or even
for breakfast the day after Valentine’s Day.
Cabbage gets a spicy kick thanks to jalapenos. A peanut butter infused
dressing with peanuts throughout round out this hearty salad.
This traditional Mexican soup is the main event. Enjoy it with corn tortillas,
and treat your taste buds to a variety of flavors, from cilantro to lime
to chili powder.
Hope you left room for a light dessert! This delicious pudding or heart-healthy
version of an American classic is sure to settle your sweet tooth.
Want to build your own custom Valentine’s Day menu? Visit the
American Heart Association’s Recipe Collections page for recipes, a breakdown by course, budget, cooking methods, and much more.
Keep It Active
Looking for a post-dinner activity to burn off the calories while spending
time with your special Valentine, friends, or family? One of the simplest
ways to get active (and stay active) is walking. In fact, every step you
take is one step closer to good heart health.
Walking briskly can lower your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol,
and diabetes as much as running, according to a study by Lawrence Berkeley National
Laboratory, Life Science Division.
Here are some after- or before-dinner activities you can do that require moving:
- Take a long, romantic walk around the neighborhood.
- Walk from your house to your favorite restaurant for dinner, or park a
few blocks away from the restaurant to get extra steps in.
- Go bowling.
- Learn to skate.
- Compete in a round of miniature golf.
- Ride bikes around the block.
- Take the pup for a walk.
- Plan a hike in the woods—bonus points if you pack a picnic for enjoying
once you reach your destination!
- Practice your moves at a couples dance class.
- Visit the gym together for a solid workout before the day’s festivities.
Treat Yourself to a Stress-Free Holiday
As we celebrate the special people in our lives this Valentine’s
Day, don’t forget to take care of the one person who matters most—you!
We know that major holidays like Valentine’s Day can be stressful
and upsetting for some people. When we’re stressed,
we can experience health issues like digestive problems, anxiety, headaches, depression, trouble sleeping,
weight gain, concentration problems, high blood pressure, and if you’re
stressed for long periods of time, heart disease and stroke.
The good news is there are ways to manage stress and its symptoms. Instead
of focusing on all the expectations Valentine’s Day brings, relax
and enjoy the day for what it’s meant to be—a time to celebrate
the loved ones in your life.
If busy restaurants and overpriced menus aren’t your style, consider
planning your Valentine’s Day celebration on a different day during
the week. Restaurants won’t be as packed with Valentine’s
Day diners and menu pricing should return to normal.
Plan activities in your day that actually help you de-stress. This is different
for everyone. It could be taking a long walk at lunch by yourself to clear
your mind, lounging on the couch before heading out for the evening, or
reading a good book in the bathtub to relax your mind and body.
Commit to a good night’s sleep the night before, so you’re
alert and ready to tackle the day. Breathe deep and distress when you
feel under pressure. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you’re
planning a meal at home, for example, ask a family member to help meal
prep or clean the house before dinner. Or, volunteer to help your loved
one to lighten their load.
Make a to-do list for the day of everything that’s important so you
don’t feel buried. Plus, it feels great to check an accomplishment
off the list. Don’t be afraid to take a break and walk away from
a stressful situation for a while, and come back to it when you feel cool
Don’t feel pressured to plan “the picture-perfect evening”
either. It’s the thought and time spent together that counts. Find
time to focus on yourself, your family, and your friends all year round,
so you don’t feel overwhelmed one day of the year.
Practice gratitude—the habit or practice of changing your perception
Clinical trials show that simply acknowledging the things you’re grateful for in life—what
your body did for you that day, how you nourished yourself, activities
you really enjoyed, the people in your life who matter, and every moment
as it happens—can lower blood pressure and improve immune function.
Research shows that stress affects many behaviors and factors that increase
your risk of heart disease, things like high blood pressure and cholesterol,
smoking, physical inactivity, and overeating. When you take the time to
care for yourself and manage stress, you’re taking time to care
for your heart health, too.
From everyone at
Frederick Regional Health System, we hope you have a safe and happy Valentine’s Day!