Forget romance

Maybe instead of munching on chocolates for Valentine’s Day, feast on some heart-heathier red-colored fruits and veggies.

Valentine’s Day is often considered a “Hallmark Holiday,” a day for card, chocolate and jewelry makers, florists and restaurants to get people, namely men, to spend money.

But increasingly health advocates are using it to market good habits.

The most visible and appropriate in recent years is the American Heart Association, which with its trademark red color and hearts, dovetails well with the annual celebration of love.

In fact, the tie between the heart association and February is far from anything new. President Lyndon Baines Johnson declared February as American Heart Month in 1964.

President Barack Obama recently reiterated the importance of heart health in a federal declaration, noting that “cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure, is responsible for one out of every three deaths.

“It is the No. 1 killer of American women and men, and it is a leading cause of serious illness and disability,” said Obama, noting that nearly half of all Americans have at least one major risk factor, many don’t know it, and others are slow to act upon warning signs.

“That is why it is important to understand the risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as obesity, inactivity and diabetes, and to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control,” Obama wrote. “By maintaining a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and not smoking, you can control risk factors and help protect your heart.

“During American Heart Month, as we honor their memories, let us recommit to improving our heart health and continuing the fight against this deadly disease, for ourselves and our families.”

More recently, the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology also got in on the Valentine’s bandwagon, using it as an awareness campaign to avoid allergy-inducing gifts, including chocolates, flowers, nuts, shellfish, perfumes and jewelry (likely of the less expensive kind).

“Chocolates and flowers are lovely, but not if they cause an allergic response,” says Dr. James Sublett, president of the ACAAI.

The college says that while most people are aware of the threat posed by peanut allergy, other common food allergens include eggs, milk, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy. Those who are baking or cooking for Valentine’s Day need to keep that in mind.

Dr. Thomas B. Harper III of Charleston Allergy & Asthma says while people with food allergies should be cautious with food prepared outside of the house every day, not just holidays, it does call for extra vigilance.

“With any holiday, there is always a lot of baking and cooking, but Halloween is typically the most dangerous for food-allergic children and Valentine’s Day is often that holiday for adults,” says Harper. “The tendency for people on Valentine’s Day is to honor those we love by giving them chocolates and candies; however, that individual may have a life-threatening food allergy.”

Harper says most chocolates and candies have nuts, tree nuts, egg and milk as ingredients and those contents are not always clearly identified on food labels.

He adds that celebrating Valentine’s Day with children can be difficult, just as it is when parents send them out trick-or-treating for Halloween.

“Speak with their teachers before their classroom celebration to remind them of your child’s food allergies, prepare safe snacks for their friends and classmates, encourage the teacher to have the classroom bring in non-candy items, such as stickers, Dollar Tree toys, or hand make Valentine’s.

Harper says other allergy triggers may be fragrances, pollens, even jewelry.

“If your loved one happens to be an asthmatic, be careful with strong odors and pollens, such as perfumes or flowers. Often these can be irritants and cause asthma and allergy attacks. Although jewelry is usually a hit on Valentine’s Day, nickel allergy, a common skin allergy, is often found in plated gold and silver, stainless steel, chrome and fashion jewelry,” says Harper.

The ACAAI adds that some plants produce very little or no pollen, including roses, begonias, daffodils, geraniums, crocus, columbine, clematis and cactus.

The college also notes that some people with food or medication allergies can suffer an allergic reaction when kissing others who have the allergens in their mouth. To prevent this “kissing allergy,” the non-allergic partner should brush his or her teeth, rinse his or her mouth, and avoid the offending food for 16 to 24 hours before any smooching, the allergy group advised.

And finally, the oral health crowd is weighing in on Valentine’s Day.

According to a new survey by :DentalPlans, bad breath and other oral health issues are one of the top three dating “deal breakers.”

In fact, dental dilemmas were superseded only by having an “insanely jealous ex” and “being unemployed” as the top reasons to break off a budding romance.

The survey was conducted by Infosurv Research for :DentalPlans, the largest dental savings plan, between Jan. 5 and 7 and included 1,233 respondents, yielding data with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percent.

The survey found that about six in 10 people think that women are “the champions” when it comes to taking care of their teeth.

When it came to kissing, 29 percent of women are significantly more likely to plant their first kiss of the day on their significant other before rolling out of bed in the morning.

And 24 percent of people in relationships are most likely to kiss before rolling out of bed.

When it comes to delivering difficult personal hygiene and appearance information, such as telling partners that they should whiten their teeth, up to 12 percent more women are more comfortable giving feedback than men.

But both genders were equally at ease about telling someone that they have bad breath or have something stuck in their teeth.

Reach David Quick at 937-5516.