February is packed with thoughts of Valentine's Day and selecting the perfect gifts. But what better gift is there than a healthy heart? February is also Heart Health Month, a time to show your heart some love through nutritional awareness. Almond Board of California, Modesto says there's no better way to celebrate than by grabbing a daily handful of delicious, crunchy almonds as a heart-smart snack -- especially on National Almond Day, February 16.
"Heart Health Month is a time to be more aware of heart-healthy habits, and snacking on a daily handful of almonds is an easy way to start," says Cynthia Sass, R.D., author of the New York Times bestselling book "Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches" (HarperCollins, 2010). "Almonds are a gift that keeps on giving -- in the short term they give you great flavor and a toasty crunch, and over time they can play a role in heart health."
And almonds' perfect mate? Sass recommends pairing crunchy almonds with smooth dark chocolate, an indulgent and heart-smart couple that provides a kick of antioxidants. Here are other last-minute gift ideas for Valentine's Day:
Add sliced almonds and dried cherries to homemade chocolate chip cookies for unique flavor and crunch Gift chocolate-covered almonds in a vintage mason jar, sealed with wax paper and a red ribbon. Make homemade fudge. Top each piece with two almonds, forming the shape of a heart.
Consumers are savvy to the nut's leading heart-healthy status, particularly when compared to other nuts. According to a 2011 consumer survey, consumers select almonds most often -- over 40% -- as 'the nut that is a good snack and helps my heart," which is a significant 29% ahead of other nuts. The same consumer survey showed that men are particularly interested in almonds heart-healthy attributes such as being completely cholesterol-free.
Two decades of research to date has been recognized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) showing almonds' nutrient profile supports healthy heart functions, with more studies undertaken to support these findings every year. According to the FDA, "Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, such as almonds, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease."
In addition, every ounce of California Almonds -- about 23 -- contains 3.5 grams of fiber, 6 grams of protein, 13 grams of "good," or unsaturated, fat and only one gram of saturated fat. Almonds are rich in vitamin E and an excellent source of magnesium and manganese. When compared ounce for ounce, almonds are the tree nut highest in protein, fiber, calcium, riboflavin and niacin.
For nutrition information and heart-smart recipes for Valentine's Day, National Almond Day and beyond, visit www.AlmondBoard.com.