ANN ARBOR, Mich. - The sweet delights of Valentine's Day are thought of as indulgences, but fruit, chocolate, wine and romance can be good for your heart, says a University of Michigan researcher.
Of course moderation is key when enjoying food and wine, but there are components in tart cherries, grapes and wine that can lower blood pressure and protect heart muscle. And a glass wine and massage can do wonders for lowering stress and anxiety.
"There are many fruits associated with Valentine's Day, most commonly cherries, of course," says Steven F. Bolling, M.D.
, professor of cardiac surgery at the U-M Medical School. "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."
Not any chocolate will do. Dark chocolate is the kind that contains flavonoids 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."
Bolling recently 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 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 their high level of phytochemicals - naturally occurring antioxidants - that grapes contain.
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.
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 llinked 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.