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Nine ways to make Valentine's Day the  healthiest holiday of the year


Valentine's Day is meant to celebrate the ones you love — but several of the holiday's traditions benefit your body, mind and overall well-being. In fact, if you and your loved ones celebrate strategically, Valentine's Day might just be the healthiest holiday of the year. Here are tips for a happy, healthy Valentine's Day by Dr. Christy Valentine, who specializes in pediatrics and internal medicine and founded Valentine Medical Center.

Eat dark chocolate. Flavonoids are antioxidants that help repair damage from environmental toxins and reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke. The cocoa in chocolate is rich in flavonoids, and dark chocolate contains the highest concentration, especially when compared to the more popular Valentine's treat, milk chocolate. Go to the "dark" side this year.

Drink red wine. Red wine contains resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant found in grape skins. Studies show resveratrol may help protect the lining of blood vessels, reduce "bad" cholesterol, prevent blood clots and avoid conditions like obesity and diabetes.

Savor a home-cooked meal. Cooking Valentine's dinner at home is an excellent way to control the quality and amount you eat, plus it's a great activity for two. Prepare a balanced meal with protein, vegetables and whole grains. Avoid prepackaged mixes that may contain a lot of sodium, and add spice using ingredients like fresh hot peppers. Skip traditional holiday treats and opt for a fruit dessert instead.

If dining out, look for menu offerings of a lean filet or seafood entree, Ask for fruits or vegetables as your side. Lean meats are excellent sources of protein and iron, which help maintain strong muscles and red blood cells. Seafood is low in saturated fat and often high in omega-3 fatty acids, which lower blood pressure, decrease inflammation and improve memory.

Share a dish and drink moderately. Nothing ruins a romantic evening like overeating or drinking too much. If you go out to dinner, consider ordering one entree to share. Many restaurant servings are enough for two, and splitting will keep you from feeling bloated after. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation — about one drink per hour. Excessive alcohol use increases the risk of exacerbating many health conditions.

Consider a non-edible gift. Anything from jewelry to a heartfelt poem is the kind of gift your valentine will cherish for years to come.

Try something new. Quality time is one of the most meaningful gifts. Plan a date to try an activity you want to do but keep putting off. Aim for something that encourages physical activity, like a walking tour of the French Quarter or kayaking on Bayou St. John. Or ask a date to volunteer with you: Giving to charity is a healthy habit that boosts your mood and reduces stress.

Get intimate. People are social beings, and as such we thrive when we feel an intimate connection to another, whether physically or emotionally. Intimacy encourages the release of endorphins, our bodies' natural "feel good" hormone, which supports overall wellness.

Stop to smell the flowers. The aroma of fresh flowers can encourage mental relaxation for you and your loved ones. Typically, roses are the flowers of choice, but lavender also is a calming aroma for the occasion. This Valentine's Day, create a tranquil environment for the two of you to help reduce stress and maintain low anxiety levels.

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