Kids trade cards with candy at school, while adults give each other boxes of chocolate and celebrate with gourmet meals.
How can you indulge in heart-healthy treats while keeping portions in check?
Lori Zanini, Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator, discusses simple strategies to create healthy Valentine’s Day treats and traditions.
Melanie Cole (Host): Chocolate, candy, and other sweets seem to be everywhere we look during the month of February. And as Valentine’s Day approaches, are there any ways to make healthy treats for Valentine’s Day for our kids, for our loved ones, even for ourselves? My guest today is Lori Zanini. She’s a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator based in Los Angeles, where she owns a nutrition consulting firm. Welcome to the show, Lori. Tell us a little bit about Valentine’s Day. What are we doing that’s so wrong, and what can we do to change it up a little and make it fun and sweet and a little decadent and yet healthy all at the same time?
Lori Zanini (Guest): Yes, Melanie, definitely. I’m here today to just talk about how we can make some of these really challenging Valentine’s Day traditions a little bit healthier. I should ask you first. How do you think most Americans celebrate Valentine’s Day every year?
Melanie: Steak and lobster, hollandaise sauce, I don’t know. Chocolates, roses, sitting around. Who knows? It’s something probably along those lines.
Lori: I think all of the above. If we think about whatever our kid’s doing, right? Usually, they’re passing notes, passing candies in their classes. And a lot of the adults, like you said, they’re going to restaurants. They are wining and dining each other and they’re giving chocolates. A lot of it centers around food, and what a lot of my patients ask me is how can I just create things that don’t completely revolve around food. My suggestion is that there’s really just three easy tips that you can do to help manage all of these parties and planning and different strategies. The first thing is to plan. The second is to portion the food. The third is to actually participate in the activity. What I should say first is go ahead and plan out what could you do differently this year around your Valentine’s Day. I always tell people if you plan in advance, you’re much more likely to follow what you’re thinking as opposed to just deciding that day what you’re going to do. A lot of times, people say, okay, well maybe this year, especially Valentine’s Day is going to be on a Saturday, you could go on a hike, you could go to a movie. I hear there’s a very popular movie coming out this Valentine’s Day. All kinds of different activities. But try and make it something that doesn’t revolve around food.
Melanie: That’s always good advice. Even when we’re rewarding our children for things they do well, we’re not supposed to reward them around food. Your first advice is to make a plan, really stick to that plan and try not to make it all revolving around food. What’s next for us?
Lori: Then next, I would say when you are indulging on some of these treats, then look at the portion sizes. You mentioned wine earlier, right? Red wine has actually been considered a heart-healthy thing to consume. But a lot of times, we don’t talk about the portion sizes actually being considered a healthy portion. When we talk about red wine, red wine does contain something called resveratrol, which is an antioxidant that’s found in red grapes. That’s actually very healthy for our heart, but don’t feel like only red wine is the only place where you can find these antioxidants, because they’re also found in peanuts, cranberries, blueberries, even 100 percent grape juice. Portion sizes though for the red wine should be kept to five ounces. I don’t know about you, but I know that my wine glasses hold much more than five ounces. You want to make sure that five ounces is actually how much you pour yourself. And according to the American Heart Association, they recommend, first of all, if you don’t drink, to not start. But if you do consume red wine, you want to do one glass a day for women and up to two glasses a day for men.
Melanie: Okay. The resveratrol in red wine is so good for us, but keep it to that five ounces or one glass a day, maybe make a bottle last for a good couple of days. Not always easy to do, but okay. So we’ve made our plan, we’re not revolving around food. You mentioned getting involved in the activity. What does that mean, Lori?
Lori: Yeah, basically once you plan it out, you really want to take an active stance in what you’re doing and participate. That could mean just really activating your plan and carrying it out. In the planning process, hopefully you know where you’re going, what you’re doing, who you’re going to do it with. Don’t feel like it has to be alone. Definitely, we have a lot of single people or married or with your loved ones. Just engage as many people as possible, because what we know is that when we are planning to do a healthy activity with someone else, we’re much more likely to carry it out. That’s what I mean by participating. It’s just make sure that you’re the one that’s in control, doing all of the activities.
Melanie: That’s really good advice. It’s good advice actually, Lori, for all the times of the year and not just this Valentine’s Day. Now, what do we say to our children or our loved ones when they say, “Well, I really like a box of chocolates. I really like those chocolates this time of the year”?
Lori: Well, I think that’s a great question. When it comes to chocolate, I also go back to the portion stance on it. Look at how much you’re having and what type of chocolate. We know that dark chocolate is preferred because of the health benefits. And actually, it’s been shown to help lower blood pressure and even prevent heart disease, which is the number one killer in our country, according to the Centers for Disease Control. So the right portion of dark chocolate would be about 1 to 3 ounces. And we look for dark chocolate that has only 70 percent cocoa because when it has at least 70 percent, then we know that’s the highest in what we call flavonoids that is also something that works as an antioxidant in our bodies.
Melanie: Okay, so we can have our chocolate. It’s just much better if we have dark chocolate as opposed to milk chocolate or even white chocolate, which is just really bad for us. We can have those. We have to moderate. We can have our little bit of wine. But again, moderation seems to be kind of where you’re going with all of this. We’re allowed to enjoy it, but yet we have to really be involved, make a plan, and moderate.
Lori: Yes, of course. You are exactly right. I think a lot of times, we all know that we should drink and eat in moderation, but oftentimes, when I’m talking to my clients, they don’t really know what moderation really means.So see toyourself, making a plan, portioning out exactly what you’re going to have. And if you have more than what you should have for the day, then like you said, save that wine or have some chocolate the next day. That’s totally fine.
Melanie: What about some creative traditions and things we can do with our children to make them feel special on Valentine’s Day? Because school is now, Lori … turning off the sweets thing, you’re not really allowed to be bringing sweets to school as much anymore. So what can we do for our kids to make them feel special?
Lori: I think one thing as parents that we can do is really just take into account spending quality time with your kids, because sometimes that’s much more valuable than any type of food or gift that we can give them. Taking them outside, going on a bike ride, and creating a special type of environment for them that day. A lot of kids really like just the decorations of Valentine’s Day, so trying to get out all of the decorations and put things together can really be, I think, helpful for creating new habits for the children as well.
Melanie: That’s a great idea is decorations, because that’s fun and colorful, and they can get involved and be creative. And as far as feeding our kids on Valentine’s Day, they don’t need the steak and lobster. Why don’t you give us your best advice in the last minute that we have left, Lori, for creating those healthy Valentine’s Day treats and traditions for our children and our loved ones?
Lori: Yes, Melanie. My best advice for the entire family is to make it a group activity. Like I said, whether it’s with kids, whether it’s with your loved ones, whether it’s with other family members, just know that small changes can really make a big impact, especially on your heart health during Valentine’s Day and every day of the year. Plan out a new tradition that you would like to try. Portion out the indulgencies that you might be looking to consume. Then really just participate as a family and with the other people in your life that you enjoy.
Melanie: That’s great information and great advice from our friends at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. You are listening to Eat Right Radio. For more information, you can go to eatright.org. This is Melanie Cole. Thanks so much for listening, and stay well.