NATIONAL Heart Month conveniently includes Valentine’s Day; shiny red hearts, fluffy pink hearts, chocolate hearts, shortbread hearts – the symbol of love is everywhere.

Yet whilst we’re busy declaring our love to some lucky other, we are often neglecting to love our own hearts. In the UK, someone dies of a heart attack every three minutes and an estimated seven million people are living with a cardiovascular disease such as coronary heart disease, stroke or atrial fibrillation.

One of the biggest modifiable risk factors for heart disease is diet. With every food choice we make, we can decide to feed and nourish our heart, or make life very difficult for it, until it can cope no more.

Dietary statistics are almost as alarming as the heart disease figures: only a quarter of UK adults manage to eat the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables each day, and for children, the number is one in five.

This all sounds quite depressing and I’m an optimist so let’s turn it around...

Firstly, let’s get away from the idea that we have to fit three vegetables and two fruits into the day: these foods are meant to form the bulk of what we eat, they are not add-ons to be squeezed in around sandwiches, crisps and cakes. There are so many different ways we can include fruits and veggies, we just need to think about them differently.

Baby leaf spinach for example, is packed with magnesium, potassium and B-vitamins, making it an ideal heart-healthy food. It can be juiced, steamed, stirred into scrambled eggs, added to stews or blended into a homemade smoothie – five suggestions for use already. If you’re not sure about the smoothie, try blending together a small banana, handful of baby spinach, dessert spoon of almond butter and whichever type of milk you like. Trust me, it’s delicious.

Greens in general are loaded with magnesium, a key mineral for heart health. It regulates smooth muscle function and helps produce energy. The heart and all our blood vessels are made up of smooth muscle fibres which move and work constantly, so it is easy to understand the necessity of magnesium.

Other important nutrients include vitamin C, vitamin E, bioflavonoids and zinc – the antioxidant nutrients. These vitamins and minerals protect cells in the circulatory system from damage and inflammation and help keep blood flowing smoothly. Bioflavonoids occur naturally alongside vitamin C as they work together, synergistically. In an orange for example, vitamin C is found in the flesh and bioflavonoids in the pith. Bioflavonoids enhance the strength and integrity of tiny blood vessel walls, allowing blood to efficiently deliver oxygen to all our cells.

Eating a rainbow coloured selection of fruits and vegetables means you get a wide spectrum of these antioxidant nutrients. Purple berries contain different antioxidants to red peppers for instance. This is one of the best ways to show your heart some love – give yourself a rainbow of foods each and every day.

- Sally Duffin is a nutritional therapist and writer based in Holgate, York.