Sometimes you want to bring a gift. Not a big fat oh-you-shouldn’t-have present — just a little something satisfying for a holiday gift: Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day.
If you’re a health conscious gift giver, or if your gift receiver has concerns about heart health, a beautiful basket filled with heart-healthy foods — and a little bit of fun — can be just the thing. Putting heart-smart foods in a special package can make the choices seem even more delicious.
With a little inspiration, you can make (or purchase) a healthy foods gift basket and customize it with something fun that only you and your friend will “get.” Like a theme corkscrew or some dark chocolate for a heart-healthy red wine gift basket. Okay, maybe that one is fudging a bit. But you get the idea.
Need something for an active outdoorsy type? Get some fun GORP or trail mix, add some fun refrigerator magnets that remind you of an adventure you shared or would like to do together. Grab a pair of colorful shoe laces for those favorite old hiking boots. And toss the lot into a fabulous pack basket.
Make Your Own Heart Smart Food Basket
For starters, here are my themed suggestions for combinations of foods that work great in a basket, or mix them up to create your own. You can also check for heart-healthy food suggestions on the American Heart Association website.
FRUITS AND VEGGIES
Red grapefruit or navel oranges
raw, roasted or dark chocolate-covered Almonds
Black or green tea
BREAKFAST IN BED
Low sugar granola bars with fruit and nuts
Old-fashioned peanut butter
All-fruit jam or preserves
Whole wheat pasta or brown rice
extra-virgin olive oil
Pasta sauce with roasted garlic
Garlic Flavored Pistachios
Tamari roasted pumpkin seeds
Plain or chocolate-covered sunflower seeds
The Science Behind Heart Healthy Foods
As the popular Peanuts character Charlie Brown once lamented, “Nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter quite like unrequited love.” Then again, nothing improves the taste like knowing it can actually help your heart.
When you think about it, some of the richest most decadent and seductive foods are also heart-smart, making them the ultimate–if not quite requited–expressions of love.
Whether you’re sharing American Heart Month with your true Valentine or eating your heart out in despair, treat your heart with the following fare:
Known as love apples in some languages, the luscious red tomato packs a low-cal cornucopia of heart-healthy nutrients, including the antioxidant vitamins A and C and the minerals potassium, iron, and phosphorous.
Fiber is known to protect against cardiovascular disease, and a tomato has as much fiber as a slice of whole-wheat bread. Tomatoes are also loaded with lycopene, the antioxidant that gives them their red color and many disease fighting properties.
To get the most lycopene, try eating your tomatoes cooked in a little olive oil or as a pasta sauce.
Research shows eating five or more fruits and vegetables a day provides significant protection against heart disease. Blueberries are no exception.
Each beautiful berry carries its fair share of antioxidants, bioflavonoids, and beta-carotene to protect against heart disease and high cholesterol.
Try baking blueberries into high-fiber bran muffins or toss them on top of whole grain breakfast cereal.
Fresh squeezed, pealed, or sliced, the antioxidant powers of red grapefruit can lower your bad (LDL) cholesterol by 15 percent and your triglycerides by 17 percent, according to studies.
While the lighter varieties also have health properties, researchers found that eating red grapefruit has an even better effect on lipid levels, especially triglycerides. Keeping these under control is vital to reducing your risk of heart disease.
The high fiber content in pumpkin seeds has been shown to lower blood pressure and bad (LDL) cholesterol. All seeds have their share of fat, but fiber is a friend to anyone trying to lose weight.
That means pumpkin seeds win the triple crown for beating three heart disease risk factors in one tasty handful. They’re also high in heart-healthy linoleic acid and the minerals potassium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, selenium, and chromium. Try them as a healthly on-the-go snack.
Whether you eat them raw, roasted, or in nut butters, you’ll get all the benefits that come with heart-healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids. These good fats raise good (HDL) cholesterol and lower triglycerides.
Nuts also contain heart-healthy fiber, folate and vitamins E and B. Recent research on walnuts found they also contain melatonin, a compound that protects against free radical damage. Other research suggests higher nut and peanut butter consumption may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Try sprinkling a few peanuts, walnuts, or pistachios on top of salads or eat them as a healthy between-meal snack to curb appetite.
The Food and Drug Administration allows the makers of olive oil to claim on labels that a daily serving (2 tablespoons) may reduce heart disease risk. The American Heart Association says switching to olive oil in place of saturated fats can help lower your cholesterol level.
What more can we say? It’s unanimous.
As with nuts, the monounsaturated fats in olive oil prevent oxidation of bad (LDL) cholesterol, reducing the risk of plaque buildup.
A little olive oil tastes great in a pesto, sprinkled on pasta, or mixed into salad dressings.
The omega-3 fatty acids in salmon (and also lake trout, herring, sardines, and albacore tuna) give fatty fish its famous reputation for fighting heart disease.
Omega-3s help your heart by lowering bad (LDL) cholesterol and triglyceride levels. It may also lower blood pressure and inflammation.
Serving fresh pink salmon also adds a healthy dose of festive color to any Valentine’s Day meal.
In many parts of the world, ginger has long been used as a folk remedy. Now, research confirms it as a health food.
Ginger has been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce heart palpitations. This versatile spice plays a part in many favorite family recipes, such as ginger snaps, ginger tea, pickled ginger, gingerbread men, and ginger chicken and yams, to name a few.
Can garlic really be a food for lovers? The American Dietetic Association (ADA) says yes, especially for lovers concerned abut heart disease.
Along with other health benefits, eating garlic regularly may help control blood pressure and prevent blood clots.
For romantic reasons, the ADA also suggests you rub a little salt or lemon juice on your hands after handling garlic to remove the odor. And you can freshen breath by chewing a piece of parsley or sipping ginger tea.
It isn’t just green tea that helps your heart. Drinking black tea has been shown to reduce blood platelet activation and lower your levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which may reduce your risk of heart disease.
Drinking tea regularly may also quench inflammation, another great way to reduce heart disease risk.
Drinking tea is relaxing served hot and refreshing served over ice–either way wins hearts.
What better way to toast happy healthy hearts than with a glass of ruby red wine.
A flavanoid called resveratrol gets applause for red wine’s heart-healthy reputation. Research shows it may relax blood vessels and protect against inflammation and oxidative stress. It may also lower bad (LDL) cholesterol, and boost good (HDL) cholesterol.
Of course, the American Heart Association warns that the alcohol in red wine may also raise blood pressure, so enjoy it in moderation.
Cheer’s to your health!