Happy Val-ALT-tines Day

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Are you dreading the smooshy Valentine’s day cards, the over-the-top flowers that Mary’s Tom will send to her desk at work, the elaborate stories of proposals made on a bed of rose petals in a 7* hotel in Paris?

Me too!

I’ve never been a Valentine’s Day fan – It could be because I don’t buy into the blatant commercialism and the pressure it puts on couples to buy unnecessary and pithy gifts, which they exchange while cramped into a two-seater in overpriced restaurants with a table turnover of 45 minutes.

Or it could be because I was never, ever the recipient of a Valentine’s Day card (real or prank) as an impressionable young teenager, while my sister got presents and cards in double-digits…

Let’s just say it’s a little from column B, and a lot from column A!

So I’ve decided to write an alternative Valentine’s blog, which will shine that heart-shaped spotlight internally and help you show yourself some love. By focusing on the foods that are good for your heart, and for the other organs too.

Funnily enough, a lot of the foods that are good for us actually look like the body parts they benefit.

For the day that’s in it, let’s start with the heart.

If you squint your eyes and hold it far enough away, a halved-tomato does kinda resemble a heart. Tomatoes are a nutrient-rich food in general, but what makes them so beneficial for our hearts is a substance called “lycopene”. This naturally occurring chemical can help to prevent hardening of the arteries, reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, and reduce the risk of stroke. Here’s a lovely Caprese recipe salad that would work well as an appetizer. http://ourbestbites.com/2013/07/bite-sized-caprese-appetizers/

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Next, we’ll look at the stomach (as it may feel queasy from the extreme love-bombing over the next few days).

You may already know that ginger (the fragrant root plant, not the be-freckled natives) is a great stomach-settler. “Have a brandy and ginger ale” was a regular mantra for treating upset tummies in our house growing up.

Now for the science bit… The ginger root contains a number of chemicals, but two, gingerols and shogaols, in particular, are the most important when it comes to stomach upset as they relax the intestinal track. So if you’re feeling nauseous, have motion or morning sickness or feel a bit ropey after the night before, make yourself a soothing home-made ginger tea http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-12468/the-best-homemade-ginger-tea-ever.html.

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Next is my favourite, as I think this is the one that most resembles it’s body part. And it’s walnuts for the brain! Walnuts are high in monounsaturated fats, which include omega-3 fatty acids that are associated with improved memory and brain function. Even more interesting, research shows that low omega-3 intake can be linked to depression and cognitive degeneration. And by eating just a handful of walnuts regularly can help with your mood and also support the grey brain cells. As if that wasn’t enough reason to rock the walnut, they are known to raise melatonin levels too, which can bring relief from sleeplessness and insomnia. Here’s a lovely curry recipe that uses walnuts https://www.walnuts.org/cooking-with-walnuts/recipes/curried-walnut-chicken2/.

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We’re now going to focus on the eyes, as you may have tried to claw them out rather than watch the LIVE TINDER episode of the Ray D’Arcy show this weekend. We’ve probably all heard that carrots are good for your eyesight – “eat up your carrots and you’ll be able to see in the dark”. But this old-wives-tale does hold some truth. While a bowl of carrots won’t give you night vision, the considerable amount of beta-carotene in carrots assists the body with Vitamin A production, which prevents cataracts. So grab a bag of rabbit nibbles and a coriander plant, and whip yourself up a hearty and eye-wateringly tasty bowl of soup. http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/7003/carrot-and-coriander-soup

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Finally, we’re going to look at the pancreas and how eating sweet potatoes can have a really positive effect on this organ. An unknown foodstuff in our house until I saw a Friends episode where Monica cooks “yams”, and I had to go to the cabinet in the hall, take out an encyclopaedia and look it up (ok, they’re not exactly the same thing but close enough).

These days, any self-respecting foodie or healthy-eating enthusiast keeps them as a staple and a great alternative to regular old spuds. Studies have shown that sweet potatoes can help stabilize blood sugar levels as they have a low glycaemic load. They’re also high in vitamin A, vitamin C, fibre, antioxidants and manganese, which supports endocrine health. Here’s a simple recipe for sweet potato chips (a relatively healthy option) – you can use Rapeseed oil instead of canola oil http://www.eatingwell.com/recipe/249209/oven-sweet-potato-fries/

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So there you have it. You can serve yourself a guilt-free, slap-up meal this Tuesday, sitting in front of the telly with your favourite Netflix show and comfy blanket.

I know that’s what I’ll be doing.

Happy Val-ALT-tine’s day, y’all!

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