It is no coincidence that Valentine’s Day falls in the middle of American Heart Month, a time to raise awareness about heart disease and how it can be prevented. Dr. Sabrina Falquier, an internal medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, believes the timing couldn’t be better.
Along with practicing medicine, Dr. Falquier is a home cook who creates a link not only between food and health, but also between food and love. Quality nutrition and delicious plant-forward meals are good for the heart in more than one way.
“When I think of love and sharing, it is about sharing a moment, about being seen by someone you love,” she says. “Food incorporates this in so many ways, from deciding what to cook, the gathering of ingredients, cooking the meal, choosing how to place it on the plate, and how to set the table. It is the combination of the gift of love and good health on a plate, and I relish in the moment fully.”
Dr. Falquier is a fan of the Mediterranean style of eating. Studies have found that following a Mediterranean diet, which was recently named the best overall diet by U.S. News and World Report, contributes to a lower risk of death from heart disease and cancer, as well as a reduced incidence of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.
This popular way of eating promotes a diet of primarily plant-based foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. Butter is replaced with healthy fats, such as olive oil, and herbs and spices are used to flavor food instead of salt.
Dr. Falquier also believes the health benefits of the Mediterranean lifestyle go beyond food. She encourages her patients to take a cue from those who live in the region.
“The cultures that are the healthiest also include a positive experience around food,” she says. “Food and mealtimes are revered. Stopping life to eat and surrounding your table with others to share a meal makes a big difference. Your mind-body connection is activated and you take in the meal not just as calories, but rather as satisfying nourishment and social connection, both of which have a tremendous effect on overall health.”
Other lifestyle choices also can improve your heart health. Dr. Falquier recommends the following ways to care for your own heart, as well as show loved ones you care about them by staying healthy and setting a good example:
- Move your body. The CDC recommends at least 30 minutes of brisk walking five days a week (or an equivalent) and strength training using all major muscle groups — upper body, abdomen, back and legs — two days per week. Movement can also be incorporated into your daily activities, such as walking to do errands or to a neighborhood restaurant, rather than driving.
- Practice mindfulness. Studies show that mindfulness can lead to good heart health and help prevent cardiovascular events in people with existing heart issues. Be in the moment, no matter what the activity is — eating, exercising, working or playing with your kids — to experience less stress and a enjoy a greater sense of life satisfaction.
- Make connections. Valentine’s Day is the holiday when you are encouraged to connect with those your love, yet every day can be such an opportunity, even in simple ways. In fact, studies show that social connection can be a greater determinant of health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure. Call — rather than text — a friend, meet someone for coffee, say hello to a colleague passing in the hall or give a loved one a quick hug as you head out the door.
Of course, making someone a delicious, heart-healthy Mediterranean meal is an excellent way to connect. Share the love by preparing Dr. Falquier’s recipe for roasted salmon with roasted red pepper coulis.
Find more recipes and nutrition advice from Dr. Falquier on Instagram.