Valentine's Day is next week on Feb. 14. According to AOL, the most popular Valentine gift is chocolate.

In fact, The National Confectioners Association says as many as 40 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate are sold each year.

But did you know that February is also American Heart Month? Heart disease is actually the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women.

The good news is that heart disease can often be prevented by making healthy choices. Being aware of your risks and making small, gradual changes for better health can significantly reduce your health risk.

Today, Registered Dietitian Katie Francisco from Mercy Health shares ideas for chocolate treats that are also good for the heart, just in time for Valentine's Day!

Heart Health Tips

Start with knowing your numbers. The BIG 5 include:

  • Total cholesterol
  • HDL or "good" cholesterol
  • Blood pressure
  • Blood sugar
  • Body mass index (BMI)

Ask your health care provider for your numbers to determine your health disease risk.

Limit saturated and trans fats, which can be found in foods like bacon, sausage, full-fat dairy, fried foods and hydrogenated oils.

Eat more heart-healthy omega-3 fats. Good sources include: salmon, tuna, walnuts, canola oil and flaxseeds.

Limit your total fat intake to about 30 percent of your daily calories. For most of us, that equals roughly 50-65 g of fat each day.

Set a goal to eat 20 to 30 g of fiber daily. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans/legumes are the excellent sources of fiber.

Strive for 30 minutes of exercise on most days.

Recipes

No-Bake Chocolate Cherry Oat Bars Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1½ cups rice cereal
  • ½ cup peanut butter
  • ¾ c chopped cacao bittersweet chocolate, or dark chocolate chips
  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 1 cup (about 5 ounces) dried cherries

Instructions

  1. Line 13-by-9-inch baking pan with parchment paper, leaving a bit of paper hang over the sides.
  2. Mix oats and rice cereal in a large bowl.
  3. Melt together peanut butter, chocolate, canola oil and honey in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently.
  4. Pour wet mixture over oat mixture. Stir to combine.
  5. Stir in dried cherries.
  6. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Press to evenly cover the bottom of the pan.
  7. Chill for at least 3 hours. Remove from pan using overhang of paper as handles. Cut into 28 bars. Store in the refrigerator.

Modified from Gretchen F. Brown, RD

Chocolate Raspberry Protein Bites

Ingredients

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • 2 scoops vanilla plant-based protein powder
  • 8 dates, pitted
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1/2 cup freeze-dried raspberries

Directions

  1. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Place the oats, cashews, protein powder, dates & cocoa powder in a food processor and blend until everything is a smooth, floury consistency.
  3. Add the banana, and blend until a thick, slightly sticky dough forms.
  4. Roll into 25 balls and place them on the parchment paper.
  5. Pulse the freeze-dried raspberries in a blender or food processor.
  6. Roll each ball in the raspberry powder, and return to the cookie sheet.
  7. Store in the fridge in a sealed container for up to a week.
  8. Modified from Jenny Sugar, POPSUGAR Fitness

Dark Chocolate Puppy Chow

Ingredients

  • 5 cups whole-grain cereal squares
  • 2 cups dark chocolate chips
  • ⅓ cup smooth natural peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar

Directions

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Place cereal in a large bowl.
  3. Heat chocolate chips in a microwave, stirring frequently, until melted. Add peanut butter and stir to combine. Stir in vanilla.
  4. Pour the mixture over the cereal; gently stir until evenly coated.
  5. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet and spread in an even layer. Refrigerate until the chocolate has hardened, about 30 minutes.
  6. Gently break the puppy chow into bite-size pieces. Sprinkle powdered sugar over the mixture. Toss to coat.
  7. Store at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Modified from Hilary Meyer – eatingwell.com

No Bake Brownie Batter Truffles

Ingredients

  • 1/4 c almond flour (ok to sub all-purpose)
  • 1/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 c chocolate protein powder
  • 3 T Honey
  • 3 T almond butter
  • 6 T almond milk, unsweetened
  • 1/3 cup dark chocolate chips, for melting

Directions

  1. Add all the ingredients to food processor or blender and process on high until fully combined to form a dough. You may need to add a splash of extra milk or a small sprinkle of flour to get the right consistency. The mixture should stick together easily when pressed without being overly sticky.
  2. Roll a heaping tablespoon of the dough between your hands to form individual truffles. Set them aside on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and repeat with the remaining dough.
  3. Melt the chocolate in the microwave stirring periodically to ensure no clumps remain. Using a toothpick, dip each truffle into the melted chocolate. Gently tap the side of the bowl to remove any excess. Place back onto the parchment-lined baking sheet and repeat until all truffles have been coated.
  4. Refrigerate for ~15 minutes, or until the chocolate has set. Store the truffles in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Recipe modified from Amanda @ runningwithspoons.com

Chocolate Greek Yogurt Pancakes

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup plain Greek
  • 1/2 medium, ripe banana
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1 T Flax seed (optional)
  • 1-2 Tbsp unsweetened almond milk
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat a skillet over medium heat and coat it with cooking spray or oil. Make sure that it's very hot before you start cooking your pancakes.
  2. Add all the pancake ingredients to a blender in the order listed and blend on high until the oats have fully broken down and the batter is smooth and frothy, about 1-2 minutes. Allow it to sit for a couple of minutes to thicken up.
  3. Pour the batter straight from the blender onto the skillet until desired size of pancakes is reached and cook until the edges have set and bubbles begin to form on the tops of the pancakes, about 3 minutes. Using a spatula, flip and cook for another 2 minutes. Repeat until all the batter is gone, making sure to coat your skillet again with oil between each batch.
  4. Top with shaved chocolate, mixed berries, nuts, powdered sugar and/or maple syrup and enjoy!

Recipe modified from runningwithspoons.com

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