While February has long been celebrated as a month of love and romance, it has also been deemed American Heart Month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. In today’s fast-paced lifestyle, people consume many unhealthy, processed foods, without a proper balance of fruits and vegetables in their diet. 

Obesity and other chronic diseases, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, have also contributed to the risk of developing heart disease. However, cardiovascular disease is preventable through exercise, smoking cessation, limited alcohol, and consumption of healthy oils, fruits, and vegetables and whole grains.

For this Valentine’s Day, I would like to combine this concept of love and relationships with heart health. In other words, it is a day to love your heart. I want to introduce three delectable recipes for Valentine's, using four of my favorite heart-healthy foods: avocados, walnuts, dark chocolate and kiwicha.

Although misconstrued for being high in fat, avocados are an example of a healthy fat. Eating avocados can decrease blood triglycerides and increase HDL, also known as the good cholesterol. Moreover, studies show that eating avocados can also decrease high blood pressure which lowers the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Because of their creamy texture and fat content, avocados make a healthy replacement for other fats such as mayonaisse or oils in baked goods and desserts.  

Walnuts are also rich in fiber and healthy fats that are beneficial to the cardiovascular system. They can help by decreasing bad cholesterol, decreasing inflammation and increasing heart flexibility.  

Cacao is the main ingredient in dark chocolate. The flavanols present in cacao have been proven to support healthy blood circulation by helping the arteries stay supple. Cacao has also been shown to help build resistance to oxidative stress, which when left uncontrolled, can lead to inflammation and artherosclerosis. Moreover, dark chocolate can be a healthy alternative over milk chocolate; while milk chocolate contains 23 mg cholesterol, dark chocolate only contains 3 mg.

Last but not least is kiwicha. Kiwicha is a small seed that can be cooked as a grain, and it has a positive influence on the heart, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Not only does kiwicha contain fiber for a healthy heart, but it has also been proven to reduce LDL or “bad cholesterol.” Kiwicha is an ACE inhibitor thus it helps reduce the risk for hypertension by inhibiting the enzyme responsible for an increase in blood pressure.  

Manuel Villacorta is a registered dietitian in private practice, MV Nutrition, award winning nutrition and weight loss center in San Francisco. He is the founder and creator of Eating Free, an international weight management and wellness program and author of three books, Eating Free: The Carb Friendly Way to Lose Inches, Peruvian Power Foods: 18 Superfoods, 101 Recipes, and Anti-Aging Secrets from the Amazon to the Andes and his newest book, Whole Body Reboot: The Peruvian Superfoods Diet to Detoxify, Energize, and Supercharge Fat Loss.

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