Valentine's Day: Taking your Food to Heart

There’s a lot more to Valentine’s Day than simply pink and red Hallmark cards and heart-shaped boxes of chocolate. The heartfelt holiday, and many of the indulgent, seductive foods associated with it, actually boast quite a few health benefits.

Here’s a quick run down of how to find the health in V-Day:

Dark Chocolate – If you’re going to dive into a box of chocolates, make them dark. Rich, decadent dark chocolate is loaded with heart-healthy antioxidants, flavonoids, and magnesium. Seek out dark chocolate that contains 70% or more cocoa. If you’re wanting a bar that spices things up a bit, keep it simple and go for add-ins like nuts, dried fruit, pure cocoa nibs, ginger or chili powder. Just bear in mind that although dark chocolate may help lower blood pressure and reduce heart disease, it is still chocolate and can rack up calories and fat quickly. Aim for 2-3 squares per serving. Take health benefits up a notch and try fresh strawberries, banana or pineapple dipped in melted dark chocolate.

Oysters – If you’re considering delving into aphrodisiac foods this Valentine’s, oysters should be on the top of your list. Slippery and seductive, oysters are high in heart-healthy omega-3 fats and zinc which aids testosterone production and boosts your immune system.

Asparagus – These delicate green stalks are known for their discreetly phallic shape. Asparagus is high in fiber, vitamins A and C and iron. Just one serving provides over 100% of your daily recommendation for vitamin K and over 60% of folic acid, great for promoting heart health and preventing birth defects.

Strawberries – These heart-shaped scarlet-hued berries were the symbol of Venus, the Roman goddess of love. Strawberries are a great source of antioxidants and vitamin C.

Avocado – The Aztecs found avocadoes to be an aphrodisiac, increasing sexual desirability. Avocados are incredibly rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fats, protecting against cardiovascular disease, inflammation, signs of aging and depression.

Chili Pepper – Kick up the fire this Valentine’s Day with chili peppers. Preliminary research shows that capsaicin, the active compound in spicy peppers, helps release mood-enhancing endorphins and may stoke metabolism up a notch.

Walnuts – According to history books, ancient Romans threw walnuts instead of rice after weddings as a symbol of fertility. Walnuts are an excellent source of omega-3 fats to fend of inflammation, high cholesterol and heart disease. As with chocolate, nuts are calorie dense, so grab a small handful or two … a little goes a long way.

Marissa Lippert is a registered dietitian in Manhattan who helps clients lead balanced lifestyles, enjoying food while actively achieving dietary, weight, health and wellness goals. Marissa works to bring her clients back into the kitchen, making grocery shopping and cooking healthful, quick, and simply delicious. She keeps her finger on the pulse of what busy, informed individuals need and want when it comes to living and eating well. Voted as one of New York's "Best Nutritionists" in 2007 by New York Citysearch, Marissa currently counsels clients through her self-owned company, Nourish. She frequently contributes to numerous publications including Glamour, The New York Times, Women's Health, Woman's Day, Runners World, and Health magazine and has partnered with Equinox Gyms, Whole Foods, Disney and other corporations to plan and promote nutrition and healthy cooking programming and seminars. For more information, see Marissa's Web site.

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