They say the quickest way to someone’s heart is through the stomach, and some foods have always had more romantic connotations than others. But what will your Valentine’s Day menu do for your health? We asked a couple of local experts to give us the pros and cons of some common date foods.
Our Experts: Leslie Anders, MS, RD, CDN, who practices in Hartsdale, and Elizabeth DeRobertis, MS, RD, CDN, CDE, CPT, of Westchester Nutrition Consultants in Harrison
Love It: “A new study has found that one to two glasses of Champagne a week can help ward off age-related memory loss as well as the onset of dementia and other degenerative brain disorders,” DeRobertis says. “Scientists at the University of Reading in Great Britain recently found that Champagne’s phenolic compounds can also improve our spatial memory.”
Love It Not: “Intoxication from Champagne may be more rapid than from drinking wine,” Anders says. “The carbonation enhances absorption.”
Love Them: “Dark chocolate contains theobromine, a chemical that can improve blood flow to the brain and heart, reduce blood pressure, and may increase insulin sensitivity,” Anders says.
Love Them Not: “They’re high in fat and sugar, which equals dense calories; they contain some caffeine, which can affect sleep in caffeine-sensitive individuals; and theobromine is highly toxic for animals.”
Love Them: “As M&Ms are made from real chocolate, they do have some antioxidants in them,” DeRobertis says. “And the plain milk-chocolate variety of M&Ms has far fewer calories than any of its filled counterparts.”
Love Them Not: “Who can eat just a few? A standard-size bag of M&Ms has 240 calories and six grams of saturated fat. Larger bags can be a disaster waiting to happen, with more than 1,000 calories per bag. Go for a fun-size pack, and give yourself access to just 100 calories.” Adds Anders: “Petroleum-based artificial food colorings may have neurotoxic effects.”
Love Them: “Researchers have recently ranked the 50 best antioxidant sources among commonly eaten foods and found strawberries to be quite exceptional,” DeRobertis says. “They looked at common serving sizes for all foods and their total antioxidant capacity; strawberries came in third among all US foods, including spices, seasonings, fruits, and vegetables.”
Love Them Not: “The chocolate will turn this low-calorie snack into a very high-calorie one,” Anders says.
Love Them: “Chilies contain capsaicin, which gives them a strong, spicy, pungent character,” DeRobertis says. “Early laboratory studies on mammals suggest that capsaicin has antibacterial, anti-carcinogenic, analgesic, and anti-diabetic properties. It also may reduce LDL cholesterol levels in obese individuals.”
Love Them Not: “Capsaicin can trigger heartburn/reflux and may be caustic to mucous membranes in some individuals who are ‘novices,’” Anders warns.
Love Them: “Oysters provide the highest concentration of zinc of any food, more than 33 milligrams per serving,” DeRobertis says. “One of the storied historical uses of oysters is as an aphrodisiac. This effect, if true, could be due to oysters’ high zinc content. Zinc is essential for the proper action of testosterone and is a key nutrient in sperm production.”
Love Them Not: “You can get seriously ill and may even die from eating raw oysters contaminated with Vibrio vulnificus, a bacterium commonly found in waters where oysters are cultivated. You can’t tell if an oyster is contaminated by looking at it or by smelling it, nor does the freshness of the oyster mean it is safe from bacteria because it is present in the water where live oysters feed.”