Planting the seed for a healthier heart, together
When February rolls around, many of us rush to buy things to prove our affection to our partners. But what if, instead, we gifted each other better health and a long-lasting togetherness—and not just as Valentine’s Day comes and goes, but all year round?
When we say “I do” we merge homes, bank accounts, and friends, too. But what about our health?
A recent study observed 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 disease such as hypertension, diabetes, or dyslipidemia (high cholesterol), their spouse is at risk of having (or developing) the same diseases. According to the same study, though, women are more likely to seek medical care then men.
Take small steps for two
If your partner has high blood pressure, start by reducing the amount of salt in your food, says Carla Centola, a registered dietitian. Be aware of hidden salt (even in sweet foods) and opt for more home-cooked meals where you have better control.
Forgo the salt altogether, and use a mix of spices and herbs, Centola suggests, to enhance the flavor. Your taste buds may need time to adjust, though, so start gradually by lowering the salt content, rather than cutting it out all at once.
If you or your spouse has 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 the problem of overeating.
Welcome more plants on your plates
Choose more plant-based dishes when dining out and get in the habit of recreating these dishes at home, together.
“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 such as beans, lentils, and whole grains. Red and processed meat consumption, and frying or grilling meat, is associated with a higher incidence of chronic health conditions such as 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.
Include more fiber in your lives
Eating enough fiber helps 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.
You want to make sure your diets include both soluble and insoluble fiber. Do this by eating plenty of greens, legumes, and other vegetables. This also helps keep your microbiome “garden” flourishing and reduces the risk of chronic health conditions such as 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 for two?
Treat yourself and your loved ones to wholesome desserts by avoiding simple carbohydrates such as refined white flour and added sugar. Again, taste buds need time to adjust.
“Start gradually,” says Centola. Add a little less sugar in 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 do intersect. So, why not take care of yourself and the ones you love by cooking up better health, together?
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
Do the two-step
A healthy heart starts with our diet, but the correct supplements can provide a helping hand. These supplement pairings are more proof that two heads are better than one when it comes to heart health.
Iron & Vitamin C
If your health care practitioner has advised you to use an iron supplement, which may increase cardiac function, taking it with vitamin C will support absorption. Some supplements include vitamin C, or you can take your iron with a food source such as orange juice.
Omega-3’s & Vitamin E
Combining omega-3 fatty acid and vitamin E supplementation can lower heart-hampering inflammation while boosting the body’s antioxidant capacity.
Folate & Vitamin B6
These two B vitamins (along with vitamin B12) work together to reduce the level of an amino acid called homocysteine that, in high levels, is thought to damage artery linings, leading to higher stroke risk.
Vitamin K & Flaxseed Oil
Greater intakes of vitamin K can lower risk for cardiovascular diseases related to atherosclerosis. To bolster the absorption of fat-soluble vitamin K, pair supplements with a fat source such as a spoonful of flaxseed oil, which supplies heart-friendly omega-3 fats.
Beat the bloat
Although a plant-heavy diet is good for your heart, it often goes hand in hand with some not-so-good digestive side effects like bloating and gas. While these unfortunate byproducts generally subside with time, there are a few ways to accelerate their decline.
Simmer dried beans and lentils with epazote, a dried herb native to Central America that can reduce the gas many people experience when eating legumes. Try adding 2 tsp to a large pot of beans.
Sipping a steamy mug of ginger tea may work wonders when you’re feeling like the Michelin Man after a hearty plant-based meal. Compounds in ginger can stimulate the body’s gut juices that aid in digestion. You can also find ginger in capsules, chews, extracts, and more.
Feeling puffed-up? Try flavoring more of your meals with mint. Oils in peppermint, including menthol, can help relax your GI muscles to relieve spasms that cause discomfort and your stomach to bloat. Like ginger, consuming mint post-meal can be a good idea.
Crunch on a few fennel seeds; the Mediterranean import has a long tradition of being used to provide a degree of relief from digestive woes like bloating and cramping. This is why many Indian restaurants offer fennel seeds after your meal. If that’s not for you, you can find fennel in various forms, including chews, capsules, extracts, and teas.
Your heart loves good fatty acids such as omega-3s from, for example, flaxseeds, fish oil, or walnuts, and (in healthy balance with omega-3s) omega-6s from, for example, safflower oil, pecans, and sunflower seeds.
Preliminary research has shown that hawthorn berry extract may help reduce atherosclerosis and regulate blood lipids levels.
Research shows garlic may help lower total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol, as well as blood pressure, and inhibit platelet aggregation (blood platelets that clump together, potentially leading to clots).