February is American Heart Month! My family health history has proven to me that I have a ticking time bomb nestled in my chest, so heart health has always been extremely important to me. But just because I like to look out for my heart, doesn’t mean I miss out on delicious desserts. In fact, the ingredients in these little treasures can help defend against heart disease and loads of other illnesses.
Dark Chocolate – Sometimes I think the main heart benefit of dark chocolate is the relaxing feeling you get when it hits your tongue (AKA euphoria), but experts say there’s a whole lot more involved (AKA science). Lucky for us, dark chocolate contains the highest amount of flavanols, which are a type of flavonoid. Our body naturally produces toxins on a daily basis and antioxidants, such as flavonoids, help fight against the damage toxins can cause over time, like the build up of plaque in our arteries. Flavanols also help lower blood pressure and improve blood flow – so three cheers for dark chocolate!
Nuts (Pistachios, Almonds, and Walnuts) – Nuts tend to get a bad wrap because of their fat content, but a little goes a long way since they are filled with healthy monounsaturated fat. A study done in 2008 by the American Society for Clinical Nutrition showed that just two servings of pistachios can help drastically lower LDL and total cholesterol. The unsaturated fats found in nuts can protect your heart and raise seratonin levels, which will help boost your mood. Nuts also contain a good amount of fiber and plant sterols to help lower cholesterol, Vitamin E to help decrease plaque build up, and L-arginine to help make the blood vessels more flexible.
Pumpkin Seeds – At first we decided to add the pumpkin seeds because they are such a beautiful color, but it turns out these beauties are also packed full of healthy nutrients for your heart. The biggest powerhouse is Magnesium – a mineral that most Americans are deficient in. Magnesium can help regulate blood pressure and help prevent cardiac arrest or a stroke because of its role in helping the heart pump.
Dried Fruit (Cherries and Blueberries) – Just like dark chocolate, dried fruits contain a hefty amount of antioxidants, especially polyphenols. All of those antioxidants will help improve blood flow and keep the heart pumping for generations to come.
- Line an 8×8 pan with wax paper.
- Break up 8 ounces of dark chocolate into small pieces and place in a microwave safe container.
- Microwave 60 seconds and stir. Place back in microwave for another 30 seconds, stir and repeat until chocolate is melted completely.
- Pour melted chocolate into the 8×8 lined pan and let cool for 3 to 5 minutes (do not allow chocolate to set completely).
- Top with nuts, seeds, and dried fruit.
- Eat it.