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Coffee And Chocolate: Valentine's Day Treats For The Heart

02/12/2016 01:09 EST | Updated 02/12/2017 05:12 EST
divya_/Flickr

Valentine's Day is right around the corner. Wondering what to get your special someone? No need to stress. It's bad for the heart! Not only is February love month, it's Heart Month.

Your gift doesn't have to be expensive or over-the-top. Nothing says you care more than homemade food or a warming beverage.

Why not set up a surprise coffee and dessert date at home?

There's something romantic about staying in and brewing your own coffee, especially when it's freezing cold outside. Added bonus: you can cuddle up and stay toasty rather than fighting for space at your local coffee shop.

Taking the time to prepare something to enjoy together shows you want to nourish the one you're with... especially when it's a treat with a healthy twist! Feature antioxidant-rich ingredients such as coffee and chocolate, and their heart (and taste buds) will thank you.

Try some of my romantic and healthy recipes that are heart-warming, have heart health benefits... and maybe some other benefits, too.

3 Romantic Recipes Featuring Coffee, Chocolate or Both:

1. Sugar-Free Café Mocha

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(Photo credit: Melitta. Used with permission).

2. 5 Minute Lighter Tiramisu

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(Photo credit: Bottega via Flickr).

3. Vegan Chocolate-Covered Strawberries

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(Photo credit: lePhotography via Flickr).

Coffee + chocolate = a match made in heaven!

Health Benefits of Coffee

Love at First Sip

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(Photo credit: Lara604 via Flickr).

Nothing stimulates the body -- and conversation -- like a cup of coffee. Drinking coffee is linked to a lower risk of death from all causes and may help prevent type 2 diabetes, stroke, and prostate and liver cancers. It also shows potential in improving brain power and preventing depression and Parkinson's disease. If you're looking for more of a short-term benefit, coffee improves mental performance and athletic performance.

How's that for romance?

How Much Coffee is Too Much?

That's a pretty personal question. Is it too soon to have THE conversation? You know the one... about whether your main squeeze is a slow or fast caffeine metabolizer? Not to worry. Perhaps you can go for nutrigenomics testing on your next date!

Yes, there is actually a gene that determines whether your body breaks down caffeine slowly or quickly. If you are a "fast metabolizer", you may have heart health benefits from drinking 2 to 4 cups of coffee each day. If you're a "slow metabolizer" you should have less than that for heart health. If you're interested, there are dietitians across Canada who do this test, myself included!

If you're under 55, be sure to keep your caffeinated java intake to less than 4 cups a day. (And I'm not talking about a cup being a venti. One cup is 8 ounces or roughly 250 mL). Research suggests more than 4 cups a day could increase risk of dying. Not sexy.

If you're worried about your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, put down the French press and opt for filtered coffee such as Melitta. The filter actually removes the cafestol, the compound responsible for increasing cholesterol levels.

Health Benefits of Chocolate

Love at First Bite

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(Photo credit: Korona Lacasse via Flickr).

Chocolate is popular for a reason. It has been shown to boost levels of serotonin and endorphins in the brain, chemicals that improve mood and pleasure. No wonder it's Valentine's Day's unofficial food!

Cocoa's bitter taste comes from its flavanols, which research suggests may give chocolate its heart health benefits. Flavonols are types of antioxidants that help protect healthy cells from damage caused by free radicals. Gram for gram, cocoa is one of the highest food sources of antioxidants. Two tablespoons of cocoa powder have more antioxidant activity than 3 cups of green tea or 1 cup of blueberries.

Flavanols may help protect the heart and blood vessels. They reduce blood pressure, make blood platelets less likely to clot, and improve blood flow to the heart and brain, lowering the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Eating one ounce (28 grams) of dark chocolate (70% cocoa or higher) 4 times a week may help lower blood pressure and improve functioning of blood vessels. Research on the link between flavanols in chocolate and preventing cancer is underway, but is still in the early stages.

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(Photo credit: Alex Crick via Flickr).

When choosing a chocolate bar, go for 70% dark chocolate. Dark chocolate contains more flavanols than milk chocolate because it's made with more cocoa. Also, the milk binds to the flavanols so they can't be absorbed by your body as well. Read the ingredients to make sure cocoa butter is the main type of fat rather than ones that have partially-hydrogenated or hydrogenated oils on the label.

Processing cocoa using methods such as fermentation and roasting reduces its bitterness but also causes some of the flavanols to be lost. To get the most flavanols, choose raw cacao or cocoa powder that has not undergone Dutch processing (adding ingredients to cocoa to reduce its acidity). Look for products that do not have "cocoa processed with alkali" on the ingredient label.

How are you celebrating Valentine's Day and Heart Month? Share on Facebook at 80 Twenty Nutrition.

Disclosure: I received a gift basket from Melitta and taste-tested their coffee. All opinions and recipes in this post are 100% my own.

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