Michigan Researcher Finds Benefits In Valentine Foods

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Put down that milk chocolate and pick up some dark chocolate, red wine and cherries this Valentine's Day! Come to think of it, you really could use a good massage....

Put down that milk chocolate and pick up some dark chocolate, red wine and cherries this Valentine's Day! Come to think of it, you really could use a good massage....

College students are often singled out for their poor eating habits with some researchers warning that the habits formed over their campus years may stay with them for life. Those findings may certainly be true, but not every student lives on pizza, beer and sweets day in and day out.

Then again, Valentine’s Day offers a challenge to even the most dietary conscious students, bringing forth a source of temptation that could be too hard to resist.

Moderation is the Key

As with anything, moderation is the key. And, according to a University of Michigan researcher, Steven F. Bolling, M.D., professor of cardiac surgery at the U-M medical school, some of the foods consumed can be downright heart healthy.

Quoting Dr. Bolling, “There are many fruits associated with Valentine’s Day, most commonly cherries, of course. In cherries there are compounds called anthocyanins, which also can be very good for your heart. Perhaps we could even take the cherries and dip them in chocolate to make a very good, heart-healthy Valentine’s snack.”

The Right Kind of Chocolate

But, not just any chocolate is good for the heart. Dark chocolate contains flavonoids an ingredient which has been credited with being good for the heart.

“People have asked the question which is better for you: red wine or white wine? Probably wine in itself is good for you, just because it reduces stress and anxiety; let’s not over do it,” Bolling warns. “But red wine has specific agents, perhaps in the dark skin of red wine grapes that are heart-healthy and heart-friendly.”

Grapes Are Good Too

Recently, Dr. Bolling published research on the benefits of grapes. A study performed in the U-M Cardioprotection Research Laboratory showed grape intake lowered blood pressure and improved heart function in lab rats. While more research should be done, the study results were encouraging.

The animals in the study were like many Americans who have high blood pressure related to their diet, particularly a salty diet. So what is it about grapes? The effect of the grapes is thought to be from the high level of phytochemicals — naturally occurring antioxidants — that grapes contain.

Get Tart Smart!

As for tart cherries, both animal studies and new clinical studies have examined their benefits. “A ‘tart, heart-smart diet’ has shown to be very beneficial in terms of heart health, heart function and also really reducing belly fat and changing your metabolic obesity syndrome, all very helpful,” Bolling says.

Animals that received powdered tart cherries in their diet had lower total cholesterol, lower blood sugar, less fat storage in the liver, lower oxidative stress and increased production of a molecule that helps the body handle fat and sugar. Cherries were found to alter these factors that can lead to heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Relax and Get a Massage

There are other activities associated with Valentine’s Day that are heart-healthy, including massage. In the hospital setting, massage therapy is used to help patients and their families relax and reduce anxiety. Reducing stress and anxiety has long been linked with benefiting the heart.

“There is proven research that indicates that massage itself is beneficial in the post-operative state, in hospitalized patients to reduce stress and anxiety and even probably to reduce blood pressure,” Bolling says.

It’s possible to set the mood for a romantic and heart-healthy Valentine’s Day.

“All of these indulgences really do not have to be limited to Valentine’s Day itself and certainly will lead to a much better heart-health status if we practice them everyday,” Bolling says.

So enjoy your Valentine’s Day, but not at the expense of your heart or your waistline!

Further Information

University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center

Grape Research Study

Tart Cherries Research Study

UMHS Massage Therapy

Source: University of Michigan Health System

Photo Credit: greenchild

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