HOW TO: Be smart about Valentine's Day treats

Feb 6 2012 - 4:32pm

Along with flowers and jewelry, sugar is a go-to gift for Valentine's Day. Whether you're giving candy to a sweetheart or indulging your own sweet tooth, follow these tips from registered dietitian Karen Ansel, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

Steer toward chocolate. The cocoa in chocolate contains heart-healthy antioxidants called flavonols that help lower blood pressure and relax blood vessels. Popular alternatives such as Sweet Tarts, Red Hots and gummy candies, on the other hand, are like eating pure sugar with no benefits.

Go dark ... Skip milk chocolate and pick the darkest chocolate possible to get more flavonols. Bars with a higher percent of cocoa in their ingredient lists generally are the best; many brands have about 50 percent, but some offer more than 80 percent.

... and nutty. Along with dark chocolate, treats that contain nuts tend to deliver the biggest benefits where heart health is concerned. Avoid chocolates filled with creams, which are high in fat, or with "fruit" fillings that likely don't feature any real fruit -- just extra sugar.

Control portions. Stick to one or two pieces of chocolate, max, and pay attention to serving sizes on larger bars. "Just because chocolate is good for you doesn't mean you can go hog wild, because the fat and calories still add up," Ansel warns.

Combine chocolate and fruit. For treats that are good for your heart and better for your waistline, melt dark chocolate and drizzle it over strawberries, pineapple, kiwis or another favorite fruit. You'll get an extra dose of antioxidants.

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