Valentines Day the Right Way
Classic Gifts Can Be Healthy
Although it is true you can die of a broken heart, this article's focus is on ways to enjoy the romantic holiday with an eye to opulence, indulgence and physical (in addition to emotional) well-being.
Valentine's day is supposed to be a day to let the one you love (romantically) know that you love, desire and need them. The modern interpretations of these sentiments are flowers, candy, chocolates and other "romantic" gifts. But is it possible to combine these into a healthy Valentine's day?
For thousands of years, numerous cultures have cultivated and given flowers. We give flowers to each other as signs of affection. Many find them attractive (visually and scent) despite knowing they will eventually wither. Flowers are healthy. Clinical trials have shown they have immediate and long-term effects on emotional reactions, moods, social behaviours and even memory in women and men. Simply put, we like receiving gifts of flowers and it makes us feel better emotionally, both when we receive or give them, and for days after.
Candy is a bit of a double edged sword. While there are certainly many healthy (or somewhat healthy) varieties, almost everyone buys the not-so or not even close-to-healthy kind. The unhealthy versions are loaded with sugar, fat, artificial colours, artificial flavours and chemicals we can't spell or pronounce. Not to mention the massive amounts of calories. The healthy variety (found in health food stores) usually have no artificial ingredients, are lower in sugar (sometimes they use organic) and have less fat. The good part is they taste almost the same as the unhealthy variety.
The grand-daddy of all valentine’s treats has to be chocolate. Who doesn't love getting a gift of chocolate? When most people think of chocolate they think of it as indulgent, possibly opulent and definitely unhealthy. Most grocery store chocolate is just that. It is laden with sugar, chemicals, fat and who knows what else. The good news is that these bad chocolates are easily replaced with something just as (and in many cases more) delicious,without harmful ingredients. If you choose wisely, they can actually be healthy.
First off, you need to switch stores. Your garden variety convenience or grocery store won't cater to this market so you need to go to a food (or health food) store where healthy and organic options are the norm, not the exception.
Now to choose the product. Cocoa reigns supreme here. The higher the cocoa content the better. Chocolate is full of nutrients such as vitamins A, B1, B2, D, and E, but the majority of chocolate's health benefits come from its antioxidant flavonoids. The higher the content of nonfat cocoa solids a chocolate product contains, the more antioxidants it tends to have, and the healthier it is. Chocolate with a cocoa content over 70% is the bare minimum to be considered potentially healthy. Milk chocolate and white chocolate can't be made with this high a cocoa content, so dark is the only way to go.
All chocolate products contain some fat, but that's OK. Cacao itself contains a little fat. But most of it is stearic acid and palmitic acid-- which does not increase cholesterol. The other fat in cocoa is monounsaturated fat (considered a healthy fat). All too often manufacturers add other types of fat to improve creaminess. These include milk fat and vegetable oils in addition to cocoa. If the chocolate contains fat ingredients other than cocoa butter, then it most likely is unhealthy. Put it down and walk away.
Good chocolate should be dark and strong-flavoured with a slightly to very bitter taste (based on cocoa content) and have a flavour that lingers. If you are weary of pure dark chocolate, you can find many good chocolates with nuts, fruits, seeds, spices and added natural flavours to reduce the intensity.
You might ask, is it really worth going through this effort? I say yes because good chocolate has been shown in studies to reduce blood pressure, reduce bad cholesterol, improve insulin sensitivity, improve arterial blood flow, reduce risk of heart attack and improve your mood and sensations of pleasure. So by giving good chocolate from the heart you can improve the recipient's heart and make them happier.
This year you can give joy and health while being romantic but don't forget the card!
Joel Thuna, MH, is a master herbalist with over 30 years of experience. Dr. Claude Gallant holds a PhD in Microbiology.