As the month of love is coming to an end, I wanted to talk about hearts and a few simple additions that can keep them healthy. After all, we live in a society where coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death, which just shows that the 10 ounce organ, as powerful as it seems, is very fragile and needs all your love and care as well as some essential nutrients to maintain its vitality.
I realise that the subject may not be as glamourous or entertaining as, say, talking about latest super food craze, another miracle diet or discussing kale smoothies. But then, again, none of them would matter if the heart didn't work properly, would it?
So here I am, talking about the little organ that never stops and beats about 100000 times per day - or even faster when you are in love.
The obvious changes anyone should make when it comes to heart health is to follow a wholesome organic diet that provides goods quality protein, essential fats, whole grains and plenty of fresh bright coloured vegetables and fruits whilst reducing the amount of processed foods, red meat, refined carbohydrates, table salt, alcohol and caffeine. Quitting smoking or, at least, reducing the number of cigarettes will also make a difference. Maintaining healthy weight and staying active are also good habits to stick with (bear in mind, when I say "stay active" I don't mean rushing to the gym - daily walking will do. If you do like to workout, do it in moderation - anything too vigorous creates physical stress and, as a result, negatively affects heart health.
It is also worth incorporating specific foods to boost levels of phytonutrients, prevent a build up of plaque in the arteries and maintain the heart rhythm.
* Wild salmon is one of the best sources of essential fatty acids Omega 3 that may help reduce high blood pressure, control the levels of triglycerides and prevent inflammation. The alternatives are trouts, mackerel, herring or sardines. Have 2-4 portions weekly. Choose wild or organic fish.
* Almonds, walnuts and Brazil nuts act as anti-inflammatory, contain essential fatty acids and fibre as well as magnesium - the mineral essential for proper contractions, preventing clot forming and controlling blood pressure. Walnuts also contain folate that may lower levels of homocysteine, an amio acid in the blood that has been associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
* Nuts, salmon and sunflower seeds contain L-Arginine, an amino acid that promotes relaxation of the heart membranes, improves blood flow, keep the arteries free of plaque and improves health of blood vessels. Important - if you are prone to cold sores/herpes, higher intake of L-Arginine may promote the virus.
* Sweet potatoes, carrots, butternut squash and apricots are great sources of beta-carotene and fibre that may reduce the risk of heart problems.
* Carrots in addition to tomatoes (especially in their cooked form), papaya, red cabbage, sweet peppers and watermelon will top up your lycopene levels, an antioxidant known for its ability to prevent heart disease.
* It is also worth paying attention to leafy green vegetables including broccoli, spinach, asparagus, chard and kale to maintain levels of potassium, magnesium, lutein and zeaxanthin that may help reduce blood pressure.
* Apples, papaya and oranges are high in pectin, a type of soluble fibre that keeps the arteries plaque-free and can help maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Oranges and papaya are also high in beta-carotene and vitamin C that may help people with heart failure by controlling inflammation in the body and reducing the risk of a flare-up.
* Blueberries are another natural aid and a wonderful source of beta-carotene, lutein, vitamin C, folate, magnesium, potassium and fibre as well as ellagic acid (also found in walnuts, pomegranates, strawberries and raspberries) that may protect heart tissue from damage.
* Oats and buckwheat are the heart-loving grains. Oats contain beta-glucan, a type of soluble fibre, and antioxidant compounds called avenanthramides that may lower cholesterol levels and reduce risk of heart disease. Buckwheat may help you control cholesterol levels and maintain healthy blood pressure doe to high levels of rutin. It also contains plenty of magnesium important for healthy blood vessels.
* Dark chocolate, the cocoa part, contains epicatechin (also found in beetroot) - an antioxidant polyphenol that may lower blood pressure, support healthy blood vessels and reduce risk of heart disease by maintaining levels of nitric oxide. Bear in mind that the best chocolate would be the raw one you make yourself or any organic dark chocolate - your daily dose is about 20g.
* Green tea also contains catechins and can help lower blood pressure, maintain healthy triglyceride levels, reduce risk of blood clots and keep the heart muscle strong. Remember green tea may interact with medication, so check with your doctor first.
Photo source: Puglia in Love / Elle Italia July 2014 (photography: Dan Martensen, styling: Eva Geraldine Fontanelli), shutterstock.com