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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 14, 2008

SHAPE UP
Sweet ideas to romance your honey

By Charles Stuart Platkin

Valentine's Day is here, which means chocolates, gifts and an assortment of other goodies. Below is a collection of odds and ends to help you and your partner have a healthy, enhanced celebration.

CHOCOLATE: BOTTOM LINE

Is chocolate good for you? Hmm, not the way you probably eat it - with all kinds of added ingredients, including loads of sugar (and fat) to compensate for the bitterness of cocoa and to enhance the flavor. Yes, chocolate has flavanols, but the truth is that almost all plant foods in their natural states have antioxidants that can help fight off free radicals. And most health professionals argue that the high calories of chocolate offset any potential health gain. Dark chocolate with a high cocoa content, such as 70 percent (it tells you on the package), is the most likely to offer the heart-health benefits you're looking for. But you should still eat it as a treat, not medicine.

Here are a few chocolate gifts that are lower in calories.

Metromint Chocolate Mint Water just pure water, cocoa essence and real mint nothing else. And it has no calories. (www.metromint.com)

Vitalicious VitaMuffin Hearts - 12 deep-chocolate heart-shaped muffins that are only 100 calories each. (www.vitalicious.com)

Gayle's Miracles Perfect Chocolate Truffles created by a nutritionist, each truffle is only 30 calories. (www.gaylesmiracles.com)

ALTERNATIVE GIFTS FOR HEALTHY LIVING

Do your Valentine's Day gifts always have to be flowers or chocolate? Here are a few other ideas:

Massage: Find a licensed massage therapist in your area by checking the state licensing board. Then pick your style: Swedish, sports, deep tissue, shiatsu, Thai, etc.

Spa day or spa getaway: Check out www.Spafinder.com, which lists 4,000 spas.

E-mail a free heart-healthy booklet: Send your girlfriend, wife or the woman you love The Healthy Heart Handbook for Women, published by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. It includes statistics, quizzes and charts, and it's free: www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/other/hhw/hdbk_wmn.pdf.

Personal trainer sessions: Give a 10-pack of one-on-one sessions with a trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise, the American College of Sports Medicine or the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

Gym membership for two: Couples who work out together help one another stay motivated, so they tend to lose more weight and stay healthier.

Cook a healthful, romantic dinner: Pick a menu, buy the ingredients, prepare the meal and create the setting - all very fun, romantic and bonding.

HOW MANY CALORIES DOES SEX BURN?

Here are a few popular Valentine's Day treats and how much sex (or walking) it would take to burn them off (in minutes). You just might be surprised by the amount you would need to do.

CHOCOLATE-DIPPED STRAWBERRIES

Amount: 1

Calories: 45

Walk: 12 minutes

Sexual activity (vigorous effort): 25 minutes

Sexual activity (moderate effort): 29 minutes

Sexual activity (passive, light effort, kissing, hugging): 38 minutes

RUSSELL STOVER DARK TRUFFLE

Amount: 1

Calories: 80

Walk: 21 minutes

Sexual activity (vigorous): 45 minutes

Sexual activity (moderate): 52 minutes

Sexual activity (passive): 68 minutes

HERSHEY'S ALMOND KISS

Amount: 1

Calories: 25

Walk: 6 minutes

Sexual activity (vigorous ): 14 minutes

Sexual activity (moderate): 16 minutes

Sexual activity (passive): 21 minutes

CHOCOLATE-COVERED CHERRIES

Amount: 1

Calories: 55

Walk: 14 minutes

Sexual activity (vigorous): 31 minutes

Sexual activity (moderate): 36 minutes

Sexual activity (passive): 47 minutes

GODIVA CHOCOLATE LIQUEUR

Amount: 2 ounces

Calories: 90

Walk: 23 minutes

Sexual activity (vigorous ): 51 minutes

Sexual activity (moderate): 59 minutes

Sexual activity (passive): 77 minutes

CHOCOLATE MARTINI

Amount: 6 ounces

Calories: 360

Walk: 93 minutes

Sexual activity (vigorous): 203 minutes

Sexual activity (moderate): 235 minutes

Sexual activity (passive): 306 minutes

RUSSELL STOVER BUTTERNUT CRUNCH

Amount: 1

Calories: 200

Walk: 52 minutes

Sexual activity (vigorous): 113 minutes

Sexual activity (moderate): 131 minutes

Sexual activity (passive): 170 minutes

CAVIAR

Amount: 2 tablespoons

Calories: 80

Walk: 21 minutes

Sexual activity (vigorous): 45 minutes

Sexual activity (moderate): 52 minutes

Sexual activity (passive): 68 minutes

CHAMPAGNE

Amount: 3 glasses

Calories: 315

Walk: 81 minutes

Sexual activity (vigorous): 178 minutes

Sexual activity (moderate): 206 minutes

Sexual activity (passive): 268 minutes

HEART-SHAPED BOX

Amount: 8 candies

Calories: 600

Walk: 155 minutes

Sexual activity (vigorous): 339 Minutes

Sexual activity (moderate): 392 minutes

Sexual activity (passive): 511 minutes

TAKE A HEALTHY-HEART TEST

It's American Heart Month, so do something for your heart and take this test.

Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital studied blood samples from almost 25,000 women ages 45 and older to see what risk factors led to heart attack or stroke more than 10 years later. From this, the researchers developed the Reynolds Risk Score. It measures traditional risk factors like age, smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol. To take the test, go to www.reynoldsriskscore.org and make sure you know your systolic blood pressure (the "top" number), total cholesterol, HDL ("good" cholesterol) and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein scores.

EXERCISE MORE

If you're looking to increase your "love" factor, get out there and exercise more. There's convincing research to indicate that exercise and increased physical activity improve your sex life.

For instance, an article appearing in the Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality reported that those who exercise often feel better about themselves, believe that they're more sexually attractive, and enjoy sex more. And another article in the Annals of Internal Medicine associates physical activity with a lower risk for erectile dysfunction. It all makes sense because when you exercise, you feel better and have more self-confidence, and that translates to increased satisfaction.

HAVE GOOD SCENTS

Researcher Dr. Alan Hirsch, director of The Smell & Taste Treatment & Research Foundation in Chicago, has found that the combined odors of lavender and pumpkin pie had the greatest positive effect on sexual arousal in men, increasing it by 40 percent. The next most effective was a combination of black licorice and doughnuts, which increased arousal by 31.5 percent.

As for women - get this - Good & Plenty candy (sugar-coated licorice) and cucumber increased arousal by 13 percent, and lavender and pumpkin pie by 11 percent. Stay away from charcoal barbecue meat and cherries, which decrease a woman's desire by 14 percent and 19 percent respectively.

WHAT ABOUT APHRODISIACS?

"Food and sex are the two things humans need for survival. But they also help us to tune into sensuality - the pleasures of stimulating our senses with sights, tastes, smells, sounds and touch," says Amy Reiley, author of "Fork Me, Spoon Me: The Sensual Cookbook" (Life of Reiley, 2006). However, not all food fits the bill. "Look for foods that have fragrant spices, creamy consistency and visual allure. Really heat things up by serving finger foods, feed a bite to your lover and let the seduction begin," says Diane Brown, author of "The Seduction Cookbook" (Innova Publishing, 2005).

Chilies, curries and other spicy foods have been known as somewhat effective aphrodisiacs because of the body's reaction, which includes increased heart rate and sweating.

Other edibles that make the "love connection" include ginseng, figs and oysters - apparently, because they resemble genitalia. And there's always chocolate, which contains phenylethylamine, a chemical linked to mood enhancement and increased energy.

According to Reiley, the most promising of the bunch: oysters. They are a "great source of zinc (good for blood flow) and lean protein. Also evidence that they have the potential to raise sexual hormone levels. Chili peppers raise body temp, flush cheeks, make lips swell and look seductive. Ginger also raises body temp, makes lips swell, tongue tingle and aids in digestion."

Charles Stuart Platkin is a nutrition and public-health advocate, and author of "Breaking the FAT Pattern" (Plume, 2006). Sign up for the free Diet Detective newsletter at www.dietdetective.com.