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Love and romance are in the air. It’s once again time for Valentine’s Day, the holiday where we set time aside to express to someone that we love and care about them. The most common traditions are to give flowers and heart-shaped boxes of chocolate, extravagant desserts and wines, or other forms of lavish treats to another person. We’ve all taken a single bite out of a dozen of the confections from the heart-shaped box, just to see what the flavor was. This year let’s change things up. There is no greater way to express love and care for someone than to prioritize their health. So, let’s forgo the heart candies for some healthier Valentine’s Day treats that are just as sweet, just as passionate, and just as romantic.

Valentine’s Day: A Brief History

Why do we give each other cards and candies on Valentine’s Day? Of course, as a gesture of our feelings, but where did that gesture come from?

Historians are at odds with one another about the real origin of Valentine’s Day. Saint Valentine, it’s believed, could be one of three people with the same name. In the time of ancient Rome, there were several Valentines that had undermined the law in favor of love. These legendary figures had performed unlawful (at the time) marriages, freed tortured prisoners, and promoted love, compassion, and romance by writing letters. Hence, the reason why we still write valentines to this day.

The holiday itself is a combination of cultures, merging Pagan and Christian traditions together, celebrating fertility and marriage. Today, the holiday is celebrated all over the world, with the tradition of offering small tokens of affection starting in the late 17th century. Heart-shaped chocolate and candy would later appear in the mid-19th century.

Valentine’s Day Candy

Valentine’s Day puts the sweet in sweetheart. An estimated 86 percent of Americans bought candies and chocolate for their loved ones in 2021. Lesley Stockton and Haley Sprankle for the New York Times, reviewed the most popular brands of assorted chocolate boxes, ranking them as they went. Conducting a blind taste of 25 brands, the authors’ choice was Recchiuti Confections Black Box, which retails for around $50 and contains 16 pieces of candy. One Recchiuti Confections Black Box serving is four pieces, with a nutritional value of 230 calories and 11 grams of sugar. In truth, it seems like a wonderful gift.

The nutritional value for assorted boxes of chocolate range considerably. It mostly depends on the size and variety of the box. In addition, there is different nutritional values for milk and dark chocolate. The danger from assorted boxes of chocolate is the added sugar, from the filling inside. Solid milk or dark chocolate has an easy to calculate nutritional value; but with additives like nougat, caramel, fruit, or nuts the nutritional value becomes harder to quantify.

It then becomes a toss-up of how healthy or unhealthy your Valentine’s Day ends up. A pound of chocolate is almost 2,500 calories and over 200 grams of sugar. Some Valentine’s Day chocolate boxes available on the shelf weigh in at around five pounds, with a truly astronomical calorie and sugar count.

Healthier Valentine’s Day Treats

It is both easy and unrealistic to just say, “don’t eat sweets.” True, avoiding sweets all together is the healthiest option, but expressing your affection with a rare, sweet treat can be fun and romantic. A healthy compromise is to be smart about our sweets. Have the delicious chocolate, by make room for it nutritionally in your day.

Alternatively, you can avoid the mass-produced Valentine’s Day confections, like chocolate or candies, in favor of a homemade treat. Instead of fruit-filled chocolate, try chocolate-dipped fruit. The natural sugar from the fruit is a healthier option for our bodies, and it lets portion out the chocolate, and the added sugars more easily. Plus, it can be a fun and romantic activity to either surprise or share with your partner.

That’s one example out of many. A good rule of thumb to live by is natural is always best. By switching up the traditional store-bought goods, we can have an incredible Valentine’s Day while staying healthier.

The Sweet Choice

We tell our loved ones that we care for them every day, but Valentine’s Day is a special moment. Health and romance share some important qualities.

For example, for both long term health and love, spontaneity is important but so is commitment. Seeking healthier Valentine’s Day treats helps find that balance. If you opt for the delicious, store-bought candies than make sure to demonstrate moderation, and keep nutrition in mind. If you opt for homemade, then make sure you prioritize natural sugar over added sugar.

And if you know that this Valentine’s Day is going to go all out, then plan for it in your nutritional schedule. Health is a journey, so make sure you’re as clean as possible so you can afford that celebratory dessert or bottle of wine. That’s the balance that will promote both kinds of heart health, the physical health, and the emotion health.

The Council for Retirement is working to promote healthier habits among seniors, so that they can enjoy their retirements — and happy Valentine’s Days — for years to come.