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Extension Experts Recommend Moderation for Valentine’s Day, Discuss Healthy Programs

Consumers are expected to purchase more than 58 million pounds, and spend more than $345 million on chocolate for Valentine’s Day, according to the Nielsen Company.

Meantime, while Cooperative Extension Nutrition Experts in Maricopa County say some dark chocolate is fine for your valentine, they’re also sharing other healthy ideas via nutrition lessons and food demonstrations, in time for the holiday.

“All year long we advocate the benefits of healthy eating and physical activity.  This month we’re sharing healthy ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day," says Anne Cimarelli-Stears, a registered dietitian, and senior Health Educator for Maricopa County Cooperative Extension’s SNAP-Ed Program.

The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Maricopa County’s SNAP-Ed program is funded by a competitive grant through a partnership between the Arizona Nutrition Network (AzNN) and the Arizona Department of Health Services's Bureau of USDA Nutrition Programs which partners with the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension.

The goal is nutrition and physical activity education for people who are eligible for SNAP – or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - formerly the Food Stamp Program. 

“We partner with schools to educate children, and we train teachers, to be able to bring nutrition and physical activity into their classrooms, and we also work with parent programs, or go to community centers and senior centers with nutritional and physical activity messaging,” says Traci Armstrong Florian, Assistant Agent, Family, Consumer, and Health Sciences, in Maricopa County.

Those activities fulfill the ‘SNAP-Ed’ program mission, as well as Cooperative Extension’s mission of bringing education to the community, Armstrong Florian says.

“Our Cooperative Extension offices are in every county in Arizona, and although each office can vary on what is offered based on the needs of the people in the county, we provide information and education to the average person in Maricopa County who may never have the opportunity to step foot on the University of Arizona campus in Tucson,” Armstrong Florian says. 

“The residents of Arizona receive the benefits of research being done," she says.

So, what’s the research saying this Valentine’s Day, about that favorite treat, chocolate?

“Research is still in progress,” Cimarelli-Stears says.  “Here’s what we know so far.  Cacao from the cocoa bean is rich in antioxidants including flavanols – which contribute to the bitter flavor of dark chocolate.  Flavanols appear to have protective effects on the cardiovascular system.”

“Research indicates that eating a moderate amount of dark chocolate a couple of times a week may help some prevent heart diseases. Remember that chocolate can contain a lot of fat and sugar, so moderation is key.  A moderate amount of chocolate would be a 1-ounce piece.  Your selection should be a dark chocolate containing at least 70% cacao. The typical American diet already contains many sweets.  If you are going to add dark chocolate, be sure to eat it in place of your usual treats,” Cimarelli-Stears says.

In addition to chocolate this valentine’s day, how about a little wine for your valentine?  Key word:  "little".

“Antioxidants in red wine, including the polyphenol resveratrol, may protect against heart disease, cancer, and other diseases.  No one recommends that a person start drinking wine just to prevent heart disease. The current U.S. Dietary Guidelines advise if alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation and only by adults of legal drinking age - limiting alcohol to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. Whether to have a glass of red wine or not, would depend on an individual’s health and should be discussed with his or her physician,” Cimarelli-Stears says.

Other ideas and tips from the SNAP-Ed Team for Valentine’s Day:

  • Substitute the chocolate - Eat other flavanol-rich foods such as cranberries, peanuts, and onions. 
  • Substitute the wine - Eat other resveratrol containing foods, such as purple and red grapes, pistachios, peanuts, cranberries and mulberries.
  • Make edible hearts - Cut softer fresh fruit and vegetables, like melons, cucumbers and avocados, into shapes with heart-shaped cookie cutters.
  • Make pear hearts - Lay one canned pear half (packed in 100% juice or water) cut-side down on a pretty plate.  Make a small notch on the larger end of the pear so it resembles a heart.  Garnish with fresh red berries. 
  • Make seed cakes with your family - Prepare a thick slurry of shredded paper and a little beet juice in a blender.  Add vegetable seeds.  Use cookie cutters to shape the mixture into small seed cake hearts.  Give as gifts, or keep, to plant when dry.
  • Get physical - Take your sweetheart salsa dancing, or on a romantic moonlit paddleboat ride.  Invent your own game of cupids’ arrow tag to play with your children. Show your neighborhood some love, by planting a community garden, or grooming a bike path. 

Click here, for more healthy ideas, recipes, tips, and resources, and to learn more about what’s going on with Cooperative Extension's nutrition programs in Maricopa County.