What you and your partner can do for each other and for better health
Daniela Ginta, MSc
Come February, many of us rush to buy things to prove our affection to our partners. But what if, instead, you gift each other better health and a long-lasting togetherness?
When we say “I do” we merge homes, bank accounts, and friends, too. But what about our health? A recent study observed that couples who live in the same home environment also tend to “copy” each other. This may explain why, when one partner has a chronic disease such as hypertension, diabetes, or dyslipidemia (high cholesterol), their spouse is at risk of having (or developing) the same diseases. According to the same study, though, women are more likely to seek medical care then men.
If your partner has high blood pressure, start by reducing the amount of salt in your food, says Carla Centola, a Vancouver-based registered dietitian. Be aware of hidden salt (even in sweet foods) and opt for more home-cooked meals where you have better control. Forgo the salt altogether, and use a mix of spices and herbs, Centola suggests, to enhance the flavour. Your taste buds may need time to adjust, though, so start gradually by lowering the salt content, rather than cutting it out all at once. If you or your spouse has type 2 diabetes, include more whole grains in your diet. “It’s one of the easiest changes you can make,” says Centola. “It still allows you to eat a lot of the foods that you love, and many restaurants now offer whole grains too.” Add nuts and seeds to your diet for heart-healthy fats, protein, and fibre. They also provide minerals and antioxidants, and their nutrient density makes you feel satisfied, which reduces the problem of overeating.
Choose more plant-based dishes when dining out and get in the habit of recreating these dishes at home, together. “Cooking together is a great place to start, and it’s also fun to experiment,” says Centola. “Not everything you cook will be an instant favourite, but that’s how you learn.” Replace some meat in your diet with meatless protein options such as beans, lentils, and whole grains. Red and processed meat consumption, and frying or grilling meat, is associated with a higher incidence of chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and colon cancer in both men and women. “You can still obtain all essential amino acids by using a variety of plant proteins but with the bonus of some heart-healthy fats, fibre, and much lower levels of saturated fats, which can be damaging for our arteries in excess amounts,” says Centola.
Eating enough fibre helps you and your Valentine keep your digestion regular; it also helps reduce cholesterol and control blood sugar. And don’t forget your microbiomes—those friendly bugs rely on you to feed them (fibre) so they can, in turn, keep you both healthy. You want to make sure your diets include both soluble and insoluble fibre. Do this by eating plenty of greens, legumes, and other vegetables. This also helps keep your microbiome “garden” flourishing and reduce the risk of chronic health conditions such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and colon cancer. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water. “Whenever you add fibre into your diet, be sure to increase your fluid intake to avoid constipation,” says Centola.
Treat yourself and your partner to better, wholesome desserts by avoiding simple carbohydrates such as refined white flour and added sugar. Again, taste buds need time to adjust. “Start gradually,” says Centola. Add one less teaspoon of sugar in your coffee and eat half your usual amount of dessert. Also, she says, “make sure you’re getting enough protein, fibre, and healthy fats in your regular diet; they help regulate appetite and contribute to satiety.”
The German language has an expression that literally means “love goes through the stomach, ” a poetic suggestion that love and cooking <do> intersect. In other words, the way we eat is influenced by more than what’s on our plate. Stress, physical activity levels, and our socializing habits, including at home, affect our eating habits. Devote time and effort to resolving marital conflict. After all, the endocrine, immune, and cardiovascular systems are all affected when you’re not getting along well with your partner. Bottom line: just get started. The very act of moving forward together with an attitude of constructive change will give you momentum. Positive changes along the way will motivate you and your Valentine to carry on together toward achieving better health.
Your heart loves good fatty acids such as omega-3s from, for example, flaxseeds, fish oil, or walnuts, and (in healthy balance with omega-3s) omega-6s from, for example, safflower oil, pecans, and sunflower seeds.
Preliminary research has shown that hawthorn berry extract may help reduce atherosclerosis and regulate blood lipids levels.
Research shows garlic may help lower total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol, as well as blood pressure, and inhibit platelet aggregation (blood platelets that clump together, potentially leading to clots).
Try these simple, but fun, ideas to get you and your Valentine moving.