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NUTRITION: Celebrate Valentine's Day with healthy strawberries

Bonnie Brost

Consider the strawberry as a special treat this Valentine's Day.

Strawberries are red, sweet and heart-shaped. They're perfect as the fruit of love and one of the best fruits for our hearts. Strawberries are also a symbol of Venus, the Roman goddess of love. And fresh strawberries in the dead of winter are a treat to appreciate.

Not only does February host Valentine's Day, it also has been declared American Heart Month by the American Heart Association. So why not consider a heart-healthy gift such as strawberries for those you love?

The health benefits of strawberries include improved eye health, better brain function, relief from high blood pressure and decreased risk of cardiovascular diseases. Their polyphenolic and antioxidant content improves our immune system, prevents various types of cancers and reduces the signs of premature aging.

Strawberries are high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. These nutrients include vitamin C, folate, potassium, manganese, dietary fiber and magnesium.

The potassium and magnesium in strawberries improve heart health by lowering blood pressure and improving the electrical system of the heart and its functioning.

Eye health improves when we consume more antioxidants such as the flavonoids, phenolic phytochemicals and ellagic acid found in strawberries. They also help to reduce the presence of free radicals in our body that can cause dry eyes, macular degeneration and increased susceptibility to infections.

A one-cup serving of strawberries has about 150 percent of our daily requirement for vitamin C, which boosts the immune system. Vitamin C also helps to neutralize free radicals, the harmful byproducts of cellular metabolism responsible for mutating the DNA of healthy cells into cancerous cells and other diseases, including heart disease.

Strawberries supply iodine and potassium that help improve the functioning of the brain, which also benefits from fewer free radicals. Potassium has been linked to improved cognitive function because it increases blood flow to the brain. High levels of potassium seem to strengthen memory and recall in test-taking.

While we can't find locally grown strawberries in February, it's worth paying a little more a special treat on Valentine's Day. Try making a popular gift — chocolate-covered strawberries — with heart-healthy dark chocolate that's at least 60 percent cocoa. Or serve cut strawberries flavored with a chocolate-flavored balsamic vinaigrette and a dollop of Greek yogurt.

Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar

3 medium or large fresh strawberries, hulled and cut in half

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar or Chocolate Espresso Balsamic Vinegar**

¼ teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon low-fat vanilla Greek yogurt

Arrange cut strawberries on a small plate or bowl. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with sugar. Let sit for 15-60 minutes for flavors to blend. Top with vanilla Greek yogurt.

** Chocolate Espresso Balsamic Vinegar is available in The Market in the Fitger's Complex in Duluth.

Nutrition Facts: Servings: 1; calories, 30; total fat, 0 grams; saturated fat, 0 grams; cholesterol, 1 milligram; sodium, 8 milligrams; potassium, 60 milligrams; carbohydrates, 6 grams; fiber, 1 gram; total sugars, 4 grams; added sugar, 1 gram; protein, 2 grams.

Chocolate-covered Strawberries

6 ounces of dark chocolate (60% cacao or higher), chips or squares, chopped

1 pound fresh strawberries with stems (about 20), washed and dried very well

Place chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Using 50 percent power, melt in microwave for one minute. Remove and stir. Return to microwave at 50 percent power for 15-30 second intervals over another minute, stirring until smooth.

Hold each strawberry by stem, dip fruit into the dark chocolate, lift and twist slightly, letting any excess chocolate drip back into the bowl. Place strawberry on a sheet of wax paper or parchment paper. Repeat with the rest of the strawberries. Let the chocolate set for about 30 minutes.

Nutrition Facts (calculated with Ghirardelli 60 percent cacao chocolate chips): Servings: 20; serving size, 1 strawberry; calories, 40; total fat, 2 grams; saturated fat, 1 gram; cholesterol, 0 milligrams; sodium, 0 milligrams; potassium, 20 milligrams; carbohydrates, 4 grams; fiber, 1 gram; protein, 1 gram.

Bonnie Brost is a licensed and registered dietitian in the Wellness Program at the Essentia Health St. Mary's Heart & Vascular Center in Duluth. Contact her at bonnie.brost@essentiahealth.org.

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