Valentine's Day Gifts Offer Health Benefits | News | Loyola Medicine
Thursday, February 12, 2015

Valentine's Day favorites can offer serious health benefits

Dark chocolate, red wine and strawberries can protect your sweetheart’s heart

MAYWOOD, Ill. (February 9, 2015) – Will the spoils of celebrating Valentine’s Day sabotage your New Year’s health and fitness resolutions?

No, says a registered dietitian at Loyola University Health System.

"Many common favorite Valentine’s Day indulgences have amazing health benefits that are supported by research," says Kim Sasso, RD, who regularly counsels patients on achieving better nutrition and also weight loss, at the Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery & Bariatric Care. "Dark chocolate, in particular, is rich in a group of antioxidants called flavanols, which may help lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting and lower LDL cholesterol." LDL cholesterol is the "bad" cholesterol that collects in the walls of blood vessels. The most beneficial dark chocolate has 70 percent or higher cocoa content so  read the labels to make sure the cocoa level is high enough, says Sasso.

Other foods rich in flavanols include wine, tea, fruits and vegetables. "Why not offer your sweetheart a fresh, juicy strawberry swirled in dark chocolate?" asks Sasso. "It’s a gift of love that is also good for heart health." Strawberries are also excellent sources of vitamin C, fiber, folic acid, manganese and potassium. 

Berries also contain significant amounts of phytonutrients and flavonoids called anythocyanins. “Anythocyanins reduce the risk of coronary disease and protect against inflammation, cancer and heart disease,” says the nutritionist. 

And what about that glass of wine or flute of bubbly? "More research than ever is being done on the many cardio-protective benefits of alcohol," says Sasso. "Red wine especially has been found to contain procyanidins, which protect against heart disease."

Red wine also reduces the risk of colon cancer by 45 percent according to a study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology. 

"As with everything, be mindful of portion-size and aim for moderation," says Sasso, who also specializes in healthy weight loss. "People like to demonize sweets and libations, but some actually do have positive health benefits."

Sasso regularly breaks down the health effects of food as she counsels health-concerned patients in the Chicago area. The Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery & Bariatric Care is designated as a Level 1 facility under the Bariatric Surgery Center Network (BSCN) Accreditation Program of the American College of Surgeons (ACS).  To achieve this accreditation, Loyola had to meet a number of rigorous institutional performance measures.

Since the center’s opening in 2012, a multidisciplinary team of bariatric-certified professionals including surgeons, psychologists, dietitians, exercise physiologists  and physicians has cared for hundreds of men, women and children.

Surgical procedures offered by Loyola include laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding, Roux-en-Y gastric bypass and laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy.

Free informational sessions and more can be found at or by calling (800) 355-0416. 

About Loyola Medicine and Trinity Health

Loyola Medicine, a member of Trinity Health, is a quaternary care system based in the western suburbs of Chicago that includes Loyola University Medical Center (LUMC), Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, MacNeal Hospital and convenient locations offering primary and specialty care services from 1,877 physicians throughout Cook, Will and DuPage counties. LUMC is a 547-licensed-bed hospital in Maywood that includes the William G. and Mary A. Ryan Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine, the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, a Level 1 trauma center, Illinois's largest burn center, a certified comprehensive stroke center and a children’s hospital. Having delivered compassionate care for over 50 years, Loyola also trains the next generation of caregivers through its teaching affiliation with Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine and Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing. Gottlieb is a 247-licensed-bed community hospital in Melrose Park with 150 physician offices, an adult day care program, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, the Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park. MacNeal Hospital is a 374-bed teaching hospital in Berwyn with advanced inpatient and outpatient medical, surgical and psychiatric services, advanced diagnostics and treatments. MacNeal has a 12-bed acute rehabilitation unit, a 25-bed inpatient skilled nursing facility, and a 68-bed behavioral health program and community clinics. MacNeal has provided quality, patient-centered care to the near west suburbs since 1919.

Trinity Health is one of the largest multi-institutional Catholic healthcare systems in the nation, serving diverse communities that include more than 30 million people across 22 states. Trinity Health includes 94 hospitals, as well as 109 continuing care locations that include PACE programs, senior living facilities and home care and hospice services. Its continuing care programs provide nearly 2.5 million visits annually. Based in Livonia, Mich., and with annual operating revenues of $18.3 billion and assets of $26.2 billion, the organization returns $1.1 billion to its communities annually in the form of charity care and other community benefit programs. Trinity employs about 133,000 colleagues, including 7,800 employed physicians and clinicians. Committed to those who are poor and underserved in its communities, Trinity is known for its focus on the country's aging population. As a single, unified ministry, the organization is the innovator of Senior Emergency Departments, the largest not-for-profit provider of home health care services—ranked by number of visits—in the nation, as well as the nation’s leading provider of PACE (Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly) based on the number of available programs.