Thank you Safest Choice™ Pasteurized Eggs for sponsoring this post and thanks to all my readers for supporting the brands that make My Cape Cod Kitchen possible.  As always, all opinions are my own.Mini Crustless Dark Chocolate Cherry Cheesecakes via JennySheaRawn.comFebruary is not only a month to celebrate Valentine’s Day, but it is also American Heart Month, a month to celebrate the health of your heart. Getting regular exercise, practicing stress reduction techniques, not smoking and following a (mostly) plant-based heart-smart diet will help keep your heart in tip-top shape. A heart-smart diet is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, plant oils, low-fat dairy and protein-rich foods (including eggs, fish, beans, legumes and small amounts of lean meats). A heart-smart diet is also low in added sugars, sodium, saturated and trans fats, but can be rich in flavor and nutrition.

Below are 7 nutrient-rich and flavorful heart-smart foods to incorporate into your balanced diet:

  • Beans & Lentils: inexpensive and delicious vegetarian sources of satiating protein. They are rich in both insoluble and soluble fiber to promote healthy digestion and healthy blood cholesterol levels.
  • Walnuts: rich in the plant form of heart-smart omega-3 fatty acids, which have positive anti-inflammatory effects. Consumption of walnuts has been shown to help reduce cardiovascular risk factors. Disclosure: I serve on the health professional board for the California Walnut Board and Commission, but all opinions are my own.
  • Oats: contain satiating and heart-smart soluble fiber, which can help reduce LDL (bad) and total cholesterol.
  • Tart Cherries & Berries: rich in flavonoids, specifically anthocyanins, which may provide cardiovascular benefits and reduce inflammation.
  • Avocados: packed with monounsaturated fats that can help lower LDL cholesterol levels when consumed in moderation.
  • Dark chocolate: rich in flavonoids, plant compounds, which may help increase the flexibility of blood vessels and play a role in cardiovascular health. Choose dark chocolate that has a 70% or greater cacao content for the most benefit and enjoy in small portions.
  • Eggs: an inexpensive and excellent source of protein and, at only 70 calories per egg, pack a ton of nutrition into a small package. Eggs also contain iron, vitamin D, choline and heart smart omega 3’s – and they are low in saturated fat. **And there’s good news about the cholesterol in eggs. The newly released 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans did not include a recommended limit for cholesterol intake (previously the limit was 300mg), though it’s still important to limit foods high in saturated fat (many of which are also high in cholesterol). LDL (bad) cholesterol continues to be linked to heart disease but blood levels of LDL do not relate directly to the cholesterol you eat. Eggs can be part of a heart-smart, balanced eating plan and there is no longer a limit on the number of egg yolks to eat in a week.**

And a heart smart diet doesn’t mean giving up dessert … especially when dark chocolate is involved.

Mini Crustless Dark Chocolate Cherry Cheesecakes via JennySheaRawn.comThese Mini Crustless Dark Chocolate Cherry Cheesecakes are perfect for your loved one(s) this Valentine’s Day and they include 3 of the heart-smart foods above (cherries, dark chocolate and eggs). They combine creamy reduced-fat cream cheese with sweet tart cherries and rich dark cocoa powder. For extra decadence, dark chocolate is shaved on top. And they’re perfectly portioned, so you can enjoy these mini treats minus the guilt.

Find the full recipe over on the Safe Eggs™ site.

Safest Choice™ Eggs are our choice of eggs. They go through an all-natural, gentle warm bath pasteurization that eliminates the risk of Salmonella in eggs without changing the nutrition or flavor. We love them for their nutrition and flavor, but also because you can enjoy them raw, partially cooked or fully cooked. For more information on Safest Choice™ Pasteurized Eggs, to find great recipes and to find a retailer that carries them, visit www.safeeggs.com.

Happy Valentine’s Day to you and yours – and make a little extra time this month to celebrate the health of your heart and the hearts of those you love.