Filet Mignon with a Bordelaise sauce. Yum! Flaky Beef Wellington. Mmmm! Warm Chocolate Melting Cake à la mode. Delish!
Valentine’s Day can conger up images of rich and delicious foods. But what if you’re watching your weight or trying to prolong your longevity with cleaner food? While we watch others celebrate Cupid’s day with decadent foods must the heart smart among us crunch on a salad and restrict our sweets to fresh fruit or frozen yogurt?
No! Valentine’s meals, and other holiday treats, don’t have to be high in fat and calories to be rich in flavor. Here are a few tips to make your Valentine’s Day both heart warming and heart smart.
If you like wine should you drink red or white? The jury is still out on this one despite research results showing all of red wine’s health benefits. The antioxidant compound resveratrol is found in red wine. It is believed to protect arteries and hearts from the adverse effects of consuming saturated fat. Resveratrol is considered to have cancer preventative properties, too. Additional benefits of drinking red wine include protection from cardiovascular disease gained by the flavonoids and sapponins it contains. Antioxidants are also believed to prevent diabetes and retard aging and osteoporosis.
So go with red wine, right? Not necessarily. Some research shows no significant difference in the health benefits of red over white wine and note that the alcohol found in both wines helps with the absorption of other antioxidants, aides with relaxation, prevents heart clots, and increases LDL cholesterol (the good type.)
The best course of action may be to pair your wine with your entrée and consume it in moderation.
This is the place in your meal to enjoy a delicious salad. Make or order ones with a variety of greens including Romaine lettuce, baby spinach, arugula, and edamame to create complex flavors. Keep your dressing on the side to avoid over-saturation and a higher calorie count. Even a small dinner salad will help assuage your hunger pains so less food in subsequent courses will fill you up. The chewing action itself helps to satisfy hunger. Researchers at Iowa State University found evidence that chewing slowly and taking short rests between bites allows the brain to register the additions to your tummy so you will fill up faster. And you’ll be full without an uncomfortable “stuffed” feeling.
Eat lower-fat proteins like lean beef, chicken breast, and fish. Poaching chicken in chicken broth with additives like garlic, mustard, and even some white wine adds robust flavor to the meat. Mushroom broth with fresh mushrooms and shallots makes an excellent poaching liquid for salmon. Add flavor to leaner cuts of beef with a low-fat marinade. I love a simple one made with equal parts of orange juice and tamari sauce combined with smashed cloves from one head of garlic. The acid in the orange juice helps to tenderize the meat, and all 3 ingredients infuse it with lots of flavor.
Use extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) for sautéing and frying instead of butter. It contains MUFAs – monounsaturated fatty acids – which are considered a healthy dietary fat. These can help lower your cholesterol, normalize blood clotting, and benefit insulin levels. I prefer EVOO in place of butter over vegetables and rice, too.
Herbs and spices are natural flavor enhancers for meat. Pork perks up when cooked with some fresh sage and thyme. Fresh rosemary adds flavor to chicken and beef. And when in doubt, add garlic! It goes with everything and comes with health benefits, too. Its high hydrogen sulfide content may help prevent certain forms of cancer and protect the heart.
Using other herbs and spices instead of fat has health benefits, too:
Fresh thyme has antifungal properties and is high in antioxidants, as well as being rich in potassium, iron, calcium, manganese, magnesium and selenium. These minerals help control heart rate and blood pressure, and aid in red blood cell formation. Thyme’s many vitamins include B-6, which can help to reduce stress; Vitamin C which helps develop resistance to infections; and Vitamin A which can help protect against lung and oral cavity cancers.
Fresh rosemary smells wonderful and tastes great, too. It also gives your health a boost. The herb contains an anti-cancer compound and has neuroprotective attributes that aid memory and reduce inflammation.
Sage is rich in antioxidants.
Mushrooms are fungi and many believe they have the natural ability to soak up toxins. Whether this claim is true or not, studies do show that shitake mushrooms can lower cholesterol, enoki mushrooms have immune-enhancing properties, and oyster mushrooms give some protection against cancer.
Onions can help lower the incidence of heart disease and cancer.
With all of these delicious and healthy ways to create complex flavors in our proteins why would anyone feed their loved ones protein flavored up with fat?
But, what about desserts? Some of us, like me, prefer chocolate to fruity desserts, especially on Valentines Day. Take heart! Chocolate has health benefits too.
Chocolate comes from the cocoa bean. It is rich in flavonoids, which seem to help resist cellular damage and protect the cardiovascular system. The more pure and less processed the chocolate, the higher its antioxidant properties will be. Dark chocolates are more likely to fit this bill. Count on milk chocolates to be higher in fat and sugar content, and therefore a little less healthy.
Like the idea of clean and heart-smart food for Valentine's Day, but unsure what to make? Check out Easy Weekly Meals for Moms on the Go, which contains several dishes designed just for this holiday.
Heart-felt wishes for a heart-smart Valentine's Day for you and your loved ones!
Chocolate Heart Photo: Image courtesy of nixxphotography http://www.freedigitalphotos.net
Peppers Photo Credit: Image courtesy of luigi diamanti http://www.freedigitalphotos.net