Ah, February: when the fancies of people everywhere turn to matters of the heart. Your Produce department is here to not only help you stay physically healthy but also to maybe provide a little fun and bridge the gap between what’s good for your literal and figurative heart.

There are a few heart-healthy tricks in the Produce department. There are several ways a good diet can help out: by reducing free radicals, LDL (bad) cholesterol, inflammation, and lowering blood pressure. There are many vitamins, minerals, and other substances that can provide these benefits. These include fiber to lower blood pressure and keep things in good order, antioxidants like phytosterols and carotenoids, cholesterol-lowering substances like phytoestrogens and polyphenols, and all-around good guys like omega-3 fatty acids. Vitamins and minerals play a big part, too. B-complex vitamins help increase the good kind of cholesterol and keep your circulatory system in shape. Vitamins C and E are antioxidants and minerals like magnesium, potassium, and calcium help lower blood pressure. These all work to prevent damage to your heart and make it easier for it to do its job and repair itself when need be. Of course, a healthy, loving relationship can help lower your blood pressure and your stress levels, too!

So what about those other matters of the heart? Romantic foods and aphrodisiacs tend to work in more mysterious ways. Most aphrodisiacs seem to rely upon their resemblance to certain body parts for their powers. Some may indeed increase blood flow and energy or provide general stimulation (usually via caffeine). Of course, maybe it’s just that someone cared enough to make you a nice meal.

Good food is good for you in more ways than one. It’s entirely possible (and maybe preferable) to bring those heart-healthy and romantic aspects together in the same foods. Here’s a look at some of the wonderful dual-purpose delicacies we have for you in our produce department:

Tomatoes
Tomatoes are a New World food and the natives considered tomato seeds to be an aphrodisiac. When the fruit made it to France it became known as “pomme d’amour,” the apple of love. Their juicy round redness inspired an early 20th century slang term for a good-looking woman: a “ripe tomato.” For your heart, they also pack carotenoids, vitamin C, potassium, vitamin B9, and fiber.

Avocados
The avocado is another New World treat that is known to inspire some ardent feelings. It was known to the Aztecs as “ahuacuatl” or “testicle tree.” At one point they were even forbidden by the Catholic church because of their shape. Avocados are also rich in vitamins B6, B9, and potassium to help prevent blood clots and lower blood pressure.

Bananas
You can probably imagine what sexy body part bananas resemble. Some speculate that it was the banana and not the apple that was the problem in the Garden of Eden. They also come with a good helping of potassium, magnesium and B vitamins to keep your racing heart a bit healthier.

Asparagus
Unlike bananas, asparagus might require a little more imagination to get it to “sexy.” However, it’s been regarded as an aphrodisiac for centuries, being served to bridegrooms to help smooth things along. It is also purported to increase oxygen flow to the genito-urinary system and that can’t be all bad. It also contains a whole slew of substances that are good for your heart: several antioxidants, most of the vitamin B complex, calcium, magnesium, fiber, potassium and even zinc, which controls progesterone levels and may be linked to increased libido. This time of year asparagus is expensive but serving up a special dish for your partner can be a turn-on in itself!

Celery
Celery might not be much in the eroticism department but it’s still got the chops. Long and firm, you can fill it with all manner of yummy spreads. Plus it contains androsterone, a hormone naturally produced in males that supposedly stimulates arousal in females. Who knows if the amounts in a stick of celery will get you anywhere, but it can’t hurt to try! Meanwhile, you’re getting a great serving of fiber and all those other heart-healthy goodies, including folic acid (B9) which may help boost sexual pleasure.

Mangoes
If you’re looking for something a bit more, ahem, womanly, don’t worry—we’ve got something for everyone. Mangos and papayas are not only good for you but could be a boost in the romance department. In India, mangoes are sometimes prescribed to boost virility, probably due to their juicy good looks. Plus they are a great source of antioxidants, B-complex vitamins, and fiber.

Papaya
The papaya has the aphrodisiac look down pat. Serve up a papaya half on a bed of frisee and your intentions will be clear. If you’re shy about it you can always claim to be serving it for its fantastic health benefits: an array of anti-oxidants, carotenoids, and minerals.

Garlic
And lastly, for those with different romantic tastes, let’s not forget garlic. The allicin in garlic heats things up by stimulating blood flow. It also reduces heart attack risk, reduces bad cholesterol and lowers blood pressure.

Of course we know romance doesn’t really start in the heart. It starts in the mind where a delicious, thoughtfully prepared meal might help get the ideas rolling. I hope some of these suggestions can help you be heart-healthy in both senses of the word.
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