Happy Valentines Day! -by Yasmin Ballingall

Valentine’s Day was first recorded as a celebration in the Middle Ages, honouring Saint Valentine of Rome who is said to have performed secret weddings for Christian soldiers who were forbidden to marry.

Now though, February 14th represents an appreciation of all forms of love; between a couple, as well as amongst family, friends and all of the other formative people in our lives- however great a role they played. There is the amicable love of a neighbour you’ve exchanged years of ‘hello’s’, the gestures of kindness acted for and by perfect strangers- which may be as small as a smile. Everyone has the chance to experience love. To quote my favourite film of all time: ‘Love actually is all around us’ (said in a Hugh Grant voice).

So, amongst the barrage of online relationship gurus and dating apps, take a step back- focus on those you care about- and before anyone, focus on yourself. You don’t need a special someone, you are that special someone.

Self-love is a measurement of self-worth and pours into our thoughts, feelings and actions. Everything that we are comes from how much love we give ourselves. We are often so caught up in the immediate and near-future moments, or stuck on past hardships, that we neglect thought for our core happiness- the ultimate reason for anything we do.

If you indulge in anything today, please let it be a bit of mindfulness and self-appreciation. That might be doing something that makes you happy: a walk, a cup of tea, an online shop. It might be thinking: reading a book, writing a diary-entry, listening to a podcast. Even better would be not thinking: practice some yoga and meditation, stare at the view outside your window for no other reason than to be outside of yourself for a moment.

An integral part of mental well-being is also physical well-being. It is so important to fuel yourself with a nutritious, varied diet to keep the blood flowing and the mind thinking.

As much as we like to think around this time that the heart needs to be filled with love, it actually needs a few more elements to keep ticking!  Heart disease is the greatest cause of death not only in the UK, but in the world. It is vital we focus on maintaining a lower cholesterol, improving blood pressure and reducing stress levels. Here are some factors and food sources known to be good for the heart:

  • Fibrous fruits, veg, grains and legumes reduce the cholesterol absorption from food- so aim for 35-40 grams of fibre per day.
  • Fruit and veg will also get you towards your daily potassium intake recommendation. A banana might be the first to come to mind when thinking about potassium, and although a good option, the overlooked white potato actually has around twice the amount per typical serving! This is great for regulating blood pressure.
  • Garlic may not be the most Valentines friendly, but research show it may lower blood pressure and the risk of blood clots by reducing the plaque build-up in your arteries (atherosclerosis) due to an antioxidant called ‘allicin’.
  • Green tea also helps prevent atherosclerosis: containing antioxidants such as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) which can also boost metabolism. Green tea may lower LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol and raise HDL (High-density lipoprotein) which helps to remove other forms of cholesterol from the bloodstream. So, grab a mug of the green stuff and feel the cleanse.
  • Blood clots are also associated with an amino acid called ‘homocysteine’. Folic acid (or Vitamin B9) helps to regulate homocysteine. Folic acid can be found in legumes such as broccoli, asparagus and brussels sprouts.
  • Oily fish high in Omega-3 fatty acids support a healthy functioning heart by helping to lower blood pressure. There are plenty of Omega-3 supplements and vegan versions out there, as our bodies don’t naturally produce these types of fatty acids.
  • Oily fish is also a good source of Vitamin D which helps to regulate blood pressure. As with Omega-3, many of us don’t get our sufficient Vitamin D dose, so supplements may be a smart choice too.

Okay, if Romcoms have taught us anything, it’s that we don’t always want what’s good for us- I’m looking at you Sandy Olsson and Danny Zuko. But if you’re looking for a food version of the ‘T-birds’ in the form of a T-bone steak, then maybe consider the list of nutrients above, and see how many of those you are ticking. If you want to give yourself and your loved ones some TLC, a main such as: Salmon fillet with garlic buttered asparagus and baby potatoes, collard greens and lemon herb couscous would be a complete meal for heart health- full of omega-3, vitamin B, C, D, K, B9, fibre, potassium and much more. If that isn’t self-love, I don’t know what is!

If fish isn’t for you, maybe consider the many plant-based alternatives. I’m talking cauliflower, mushroom, tofu… even watermelon steak! Be creative this Valentines and leave the grease in a big steak to Greese lightning instead. ‘Food & Wine’ have some perfect ideas: https://www.foodandwine.com/cooking-techniques/5-vegetarian-steaks

Albeit, it’s good to treat yourself- and there are plenty of recipes I would recommend. Red wine and dark chocolate are famous fuel for endorphins. Other examples are strawberries, oranges and grapes. You see where I’m going with this… fruit and chocolate fondu! You’re guaranteed to be full of happy hormones.

Another healthier chocolate fix is choccy chia pudding. Chia seeds are a great little superfood especially for vegans: being high in protein, fibre, antioxidants and even more omega-3 than the aforementioned salmon! It’s also perfect for those with a nut allergy or gluten-intolerance as a replacement for the glutenous rice in similar type desserts such as rice pudding.

‘FeelGoodFoodie’ has a yummy chocolate chia pudding recipe which you can check out here: https://feelgoodfoodie.net/recipe/coconut-chocolate-chia-pudding/

My favourite way to make chia pudding is with coconut milk (a fridge-carton type), a dash of vanilla syrup or extract, satsuma segments, and dark chocolate shavings on top! The dark choc and satsuma combo is a real marriage of tangy sweetness, offset by the refreshing coconut milk. This healthy dessert takes only minutes to prepare and stores well in the fridge for a week. Have a play around with the flavour combos and see if you can become converted to the goodness of chia!

Many people find baking meditative. Though not strictly ‘baked’, I made a vegan date rice crispy slice topped with vegan milk chocolate. Full of fibre, monounsaturated fats, omega-3 and anti-oxidants- dates and almond butter are a marriage Saint Valentine would be proud of!

This recipe is super easy. Simply blend 1 cup of pitted dates with ¾ cup of nut butter (I used almond) and a tsp of vanilla extract and heat in a pan until soft. Afterward, stir in the rice crispies and press into a lined baking tray and top with melted chocolate (to take it to the next level). Refrigerate for around 30 minutes, slice up and tuck in! Chewy, nutty and caramelly- they make a perfect gift for snicker’s fans too.

*Almond butter is quite thin, but if you find your paste is too thick, you can add 1 tbsp of maple syrup- for that added sweetness. Don’t make my previous mistake and add water, because you will end up with rice soggies instead of crispies.

So, that’s my wrap up for food-love this Feb 14th. Remember to think about mental wellbeing for yourself and those around you. Consider your heart (beyond romance) and look at ways to support it functioning healthily. Treating yourself/ and your partner doesn’t have to be with red meat- there are plenty of great recipes for fish dishes, and plant-based alternatives which will ultimately make you feel better in the long-run. However, you don’t need to chuck your gifted milk-tray and blossom hill in the bin; treating yourself can also include alcohol and chocolate! I hope I have shown that you can benefit from a bit of both. At MetMunch, we discuss how important it is to #treat yourself in this myth-busting zine: https://metmunch.com/health/self-compassion/treat-yourself-zine/

Remember that compassion is contagious. Look after yourself and your loved ones mentally and physically- on this day and every other. Happy Valentines!