Come February, many of us rush to buy chocolates and make dinner reservations to show our affection for our partners or spouses. But what if you gift each other something better this year?
Rather than indulging in one splashy Valentine’s Day dinner, change your daily diet in subtle ways that have the greatest chance of keeping you—and the romance you both share—alive.
When samey-samey becomes a problem
When we commit to a partner, we often merge everything from households to bank accounts to friends. But what about health?
A recent study found that couples who live in the same home environment also tend to “copy” each other. This may explain why, when one partner has a chronic condition like hypertension, diabetes, or dyslipidemia (high cholesterol), their spouse is at risk of having (or developing) the same health condition.*
Wearing the same t-shirts is cute. Sharing unhealthy habits isn’t. So how can you use your proximity and the copy-cat effect for good health instead?
Take small steps for two
If you or your partner have high blood pressure, start by reducing the amount of salt in your food, says registered dietitian Carla Centola. Be aware of hidden salt (even in sweet foods!) and opt for more home-cooked meals, where you have control over how much salt is added.
Forgo the salt altogether and use a mix of spices and herbs, Centola suggests, to enhance flavor. Your taste buds may need time to adjust, so start gradually by lowering the salt content rather than cutting it out all at once.
If you or your spouse have type 2 diabetes, include more whole grains in your diet. “It’s one of the easiest changes you can make,” says Centola. “It still allows you to eat a lot of the foods that you love, and many restaurants now offer whole grains too.”
Add nuts and seeds to your diet for heart-healthy fats, protein, and fiber. They also provide minerals and antioxidants, and their nutrient density makes you feel satisfied, which reduces overeating.
Welcome more plants on your plates
Even if you don’t follow a plant-based diet, it’s wise to choose more plant-based dishes when dining out and get in the habit of recreating these dishes together at home.
“Cooking together is a great place to start, and it’s also fun to experiment,” says Centola. “Not everything you cook will be an instant favorite, but that’s how you learn.”
Replace some or all meat in your diet with meatless protein options like beans, lentils, and whole grains. Red and processed meat consumption, along with frying or grilling meat, is associated with a higher incidence of chronic health conditions like cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and colon cancer in both men and women.
“You can still obtain all essential amino acids by using a variety of plant proteins, but with the bonus of some heart-healthy fats, fiber, and much lower levels of saturated fats, which can be damaging for our arteries in excess amounts,” says Centola.
Fiber is for lovers
Eating enough fiber helps you and your Valentine keep your digestion regular; it also helps reduce cholesterol and control blood sugar. And don’t forget your microbiomes—those friendly bugs rely on you to feed them fiber so they can, in turn, keep you both healthy.
Make sure your diets include both soluble and insoluble fiber. Do this by eating lots of greens, legumes, and other vegetables. This reduces the risk of chronic health conditions like obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and colon cancer.
Don’t forget to drink plenty of water. “Whenever you add fiber into your diet, be sure to increase your fluid intake to avoid constipation,” says Centola.
What about dessert?
Treat yourself and your partner to better, wholesome desserts by avoiding simple carbohydrates like refined white flour and added sugar. Try fruit for your sweet fix: Eating fruit such as apples can greatly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. (Don’t peel them though—that’s where the heart-healthy polyphenols reside!)
Again, taste buds need time to adjust. “Start gradually,” says Centola. Add one less teaspoon of sugar into your coffee and eat half your usual amount of dessert. Also, she says, “Make sure you’re getting enough protein, fiber, and healthy fats in your regular diet; they help regulate appetite and contribute to satiety.”
What’s love got to do with food?
The German language has an expression that literally means “love goes through the stomach”—a poetic suggestion that love and cooking intersect.
In other words, the way we eat is influenced by more than what’s on our plate. Stress, physical activity levels, and our socializing habits, including at home, affect our eating habits.
Devote time and effort to resolving marital conflict. After all, the endocrine, immune, and cardiovascular systems are all affected when you’re not getting along well with your partner.
Bottom line: Just get started. The very act of moving forward together with an attitude of constructive change will give you momentum. There’s no stopping you two! [END]
Your heart loves omega-3 fatty acids from foods like flaxseeds or walnuts. You can also get omega-3s in supplement form.
Preliminary research has shown that hawthorn berry extract may help reduce atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries) and regulate blood lipid levels.
Research shows garlic may help lower total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and blood pressure and inhibit platelet aggregation (aka blood platelets clumping together and potentially leading to clots).
This fiber supplement can reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol by 5 to 10 percent.
Green tea catechins
Green tea helps lower LDL cholesterol and triglyceride numbers and may help reduce risk of heart attack and stroke.
Probiotics and prebiotics
Maintaining a healthy gut with the use of probiotics can improve cholesterol numbers and may help manage inflammation linked with heart disease. Meanwhile, prebiotics feed your gut bacteria and help the good bacteria flourish.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
In studies, CoQ10 has been shown to decrease blood pressure and improve symptoms of chronic heart failure.
When it comes to this flavonoid, researchers have unearthed a host of heart-friendly mechanisms—everything from reducing blood pressure to quelling inflammation.
Bye, heart disease
Up to 80 percent of premature heart disease and stroke can be avoided by switching to a healthy diet and—this is important!—getting regular exercise.
Try these ideas to get you and your Valentine moving.
- Sign up for an online fitness class with your spouse and do it together in the privacy of your own home.
- Commit to 15 minutes of exercise twice a day and take turns choosing the activity.
- Turn up the music and dance as if only your spouse can see you.
Your most important relationship may not be a romantic one. It may not even be with a human! All kinds of love can benefit our heart health … including love for a dog.
Owning a dog means you go out for walks regularly. A dog will make you focus externally more and banish loneliness. And dogs show unconditional love! All of that potentially protects your heart health. Need more convincing? Dogs help reduce stress levels and have been shown to improve self-compassion levels in people with post-traumatic stress disorder. Dogs also mirror the emotions of their owners, which is an incentive to work on addressing any sources of stress and negative emotions.
In a fun experiment out of the UK, a heart monitor attached to dogs to measure their responses to a number of human interactions showed that when their “person” said “I love you,” the dog’s heart rate went up—in pleasurable response. Yours does too (admit it!), so go ahead: Indulge in that baby talk.