Health & Beauty

Heart Health for Your Valentine

Tea and chocolate are a tasty and heart healthy combo
Tea and chocolate are a tasty and heart healthy combo

The heart has long been an icon for love, and no wonder - its gentle beating keeps us alive and breathing! February is also American Heart Month, so why not give your Valentine a fine black or green tea and a box of dark chocolates? This double-whammy of a gift offers twice the heart benefits because chocolate has high antioxidant qualities, too. Sounds like a gift your special someone will love!

Chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, has high amounts of antioxidants which fight destructive molecules implicated in heart disease and destroy free radicals that can cause cell damage. Alas, milk chocolate is not as powerful because the milk may interfere with the absorption of the antioxidants.

Dark chocolate also has cocoa phenols, compounds known to lower blood pressure. It also has flavanols which contain epicatechins, catechins and procyanidins which reduces blood clotting, stabilizes arterial plaque, increases blood vessel flexibility and increases the flow of blood circulation. One caveat: either amp up the exercise dancing with your sweetheart Valentine's Day or reduce calories elsewhere in your diet. The fat grams and calories vary considerably among US brands and compared to European chocolates, so read the labels and keep portions to one to two ounces and the amount of fat under 20g and calories under 200, as possible. The plus side is, of course, the pleasure of exceptionally made chocolate and the benefit to your blood pressure! So, a small, rich piece of chocolate with your favorite black tea may be just the prescription for heart health this Valentine's Day and every day.

Is tea as beneficial as chocolate for heart health? According to medical researchers, yes. For more than 15 years and in more than 65 studies, researchers have cautiously, albeit optimistically, touted tea - especially black tea - as a positive addition to a healthy diet. In a study of 13,000 people over 13 years in the Netherlands, the results were striking that modest consumption of tea reduced the possibility of heart disease. The reasons for modest consumption rest primarily on the flavonoids present in abundance in black tea and the catechins predominant in green tea. Each element works differently: the flavonoids help resist disease by fighting free radicals and keep the arteries flexible to enable deep breathing, while the catechins in green tea help the arteries relax.

In the Netherlands study, drinking up to six cups per day was associated with 44% fewer heart attacks, and one cup per day was associated with 20% fewer heart attacks. Other benefits were easier and more complete recovery from heart attacks, and lower cholesterol levels when compared to those in the studies who did not consume tea. Drinking four cups a day, researchers said, may reduce the plaque in arteries. While six cups appeared to be the most beneficial, there is no need for such high consumption; two cups can provide as many phytochemicals (antioxidants) as one serving of vegetables. The current RDA is three to five servings of vegetables a day, so adding a cup or two of tea on top of that may indeed be beneficial: the average cup of black tea, brewed for two minutes, can produce 172 mg of flavonoids. Drinking tea on a regular basis will produce a beneficial effect, researchers say. The effect seems to be long lasting and cumulative in dilation of the arteries. Tea's vitamins E and C also contribute to heart health.

These recommendations are for plain tea only, with no sweetener or milk or plant milk products added. More research is ongoing to determine tea's benefits for reducing thrombosis (strokes), promoting heart function, and reducing atherosclerosis.

Adagio black tea choices that enhance dark chocolate are Keemun Rhapsody, Assam Melody and Yunnan Noir; green tea choices include Fujian's Sleeping Dragon, Japanese Sencha Premier or Sencha Overture. Herbal tisanes are a nice alternative to black or green teas and offer heart-healthy protection as well. Consider the silkiness of Chamomile, the antioxidant-heavy Rooibos and Green Rooibos, or Lemongrass for perfect go-with-chocolate brews.

Give the one who has your heart the benefits of powerful antioxidants for good health in a box of dark chocolate and a tin of fine ambrosial tea. What's not to love?