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Nutritious Nuggets For Your Valentine

Whatever your choice, I hope you have a loving, rewarding Valentine’s Day.

For this Valentine’s Day issue I thought I’d treat you to some ideas that you can give your loved one(s) that won’t break their nutritional banks and still leave you smelling like a rose.

First, there’s the all-time favourite: chocolate. Two things need to be considered here: first, the chocolate should be dark, with a minimum of 72 per cent cocoa, and second, watch out for chocolates (as opposed to chocolate) since often they not only don’t have the 72 per cent cocoa, their first ingredient might be sugar and the fat they contain is frequently hydrogenated. The antioxidant content is what dark chocolate is mostly good for, as well as the impact on serotonin (a feel-good chemical) levels in the brain and its content of stearic acid (a “good” saturated fat).

The next possibility is: nuts. A handful of nuts is a nutritional bonus and you can’t beat a mixture of walnuts, pecans, almonds and pistachios. If you’re buying a commercially prepared mixture, watch out for the salt content. There are some fine, low-salt nut combinations out there, preferably dry roasted. Not only are nuts rich in antioxidants, but they also deliver an important dose of protein, fibre and various vitamins and minerals.

My next recommendation is a tricky one, since your loved one would have to like them in the first place. The third choice is: oysters! Whether fresh, canned or smoked, oysters are low in calories, high in protein, contain omega-3 fatty acids, and are loaded with zinc. The oyster’s reputation as an aphrodisiac actually stems from its zinc content.

Berries, of course, are high on everyone’s list of nutritious, low-calorie treats, but you could get double points by getting the chocolate-covered ones. There are chocolate-covered blueberries, chocolate-covered cranberries and chocolate-dipped strawberries, to name a few.

You might also consider a fresh fruit basket. Companies now exist that do spectacular things with fruit and even your local supermarket may do up some pretty fancy fruit baskets. Or, you could save big bucks and do one up yourself.

For cheese lovers the next selection is obvious: a selection of fine Canadian cheeses. Cheese has gotten a bum rap in the past, many being convinced that cheese was somehow related to heart disease. Calorie-wise it makes sense not to eat a pound of cheese at one sitting, but in moderation, research has shown that cheese eaters have a lower incidence of heart disease, hypertension and certain forms of cancer. It’s thought that cheese’s content of conjugated linoleic acid plus its various minerals might be responsible, but the important thing for Valentine’s Day is to serve up an impressive platter accompanied by whole-grain crackers, some fresh and/or dried fruit and, of course, the appropriate wine to accompany it.

Finally, I’m going to go out on a limb and recommend a mixture of roasted cruciferous vegetables as a gift. I know, it stretches the imagination that even a nutrition nut would be overwhelmed by such a display of affection, but this is a nutrition column and I have to go with what I know best. If you don’t want to give this gift of love to a special, significant other, then give it to yourself as a reward for all the good you do. Vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale are teeming with nutrients and are especially rich in indoles, which are thought by many experts to have anti-cancer activity.

Whatever your choice, I hope you have a loving, rewarding Valentine’s Day. I LOVE writing this column and wish you all a generous helping of the joy that love can bring, whether it’s from a mate, a child, a parent, a sibling or a good friend.

Helen Bishop MacDonald is a consulting nutritionist in the agricultural industry.

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