by Keri Glassman
Valentine's Day is approaching, so it's time to get a card, roses, and … your ORAC points?
ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, which is the USDA's method of measuring a food's capacity to fight harmful free radicals in our bodies. Free radicals are linked to heart disease, cancer, neuronal degeneration and aging.
Simply put, ORAC measures a food's antioxidant power. The higher a food's ORAC value, the greater the food's antioxidant-packed punch.
Consider these hot Valentine's Day foods and you'll see with just a little thought you can rack up these points, fight heart disease and aging (among others) and perhaps even boost the romance for the evening.
Best of all, eating antioxidant-rich foods may even increase your chances of having a more romantic evening. Strawberries and chocolate have both been known to boost libido. Consider these other heart-healthy foods known to have the same affect on libido when planning your Valentine's Day dinner: avocado, almonds, asparagus and salmon.
Hopefully, all of these heart-healthy libido-boosting foods will lead to sex, which increases antioxidant levels in the blood. Oxytocin, a hormone released in both men and women after orgasm, through cuddling, and simply by holding hands acts as a soothing antioxidant and may make it easier for people to stick to their diets. Looks like Cupid is really looking out for our hearts!
Dark chocolate: Rich in flavonoids that prevent the buildup of coronary arterial plaque, which can contribute to the development of heart disease, this decadent treat, also boosts your immune system and contains cancer-fighting enzymes. Look for products that have at least 60 percent (70 percent is better) cocoa and list cocoa beans or cocoa liquor as the first ingredient. One ounce has 5,900 ORAC points.
Strawberries: These juicy, heart-shaped berries are a potent source of the antioxidant vitamin C, and keep you satisfied and hydrated with fiber and fluid. The source of their bright red color, compounds called anthocyanins, help to reduce inflammation. Biting into these body-friendly fruits can beautify your smile too: strawberries contain malic acid, which may act as an astringent to remove surface discoloration from your teeth. A 1-cup serving has 5,400 ORAC points.
Cherries: Researchers have found that the anthocyanins in cherries, especially the tart varieties, reduce inflammation and lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels; they pack 3,500 ORAC points per serving.
Red wine: This pourable ORAC powerhouse should be consumed as a "conscious indulgence" and has been shown to help lower LDL, or "bad" cholesterol levels. Sipping the naturally occurring compounds in red wine, called polyphenols, may prevent the formation of toxic plaque that leads to Alzheimer's disease. A 5 oz serving of wine with dinner has 5,700 ORAC points.
Keri Glassman is a nationally-recognized nutrition expert and a contributor for "The Early Show" and WebMD. She is the author of "The O2 Diet: The Cutting Edge, Antioxidant-based Diet that Will Make You Thin and Beautiful"(Rodale, December 2009).