Can candy be a healthy Valentine's Day snack? Experts share how to have a healthy holiday.

Remember that giddy feeling waking up on Valentine’s Day in middle school? For students, "love day" is often an excuse to wear pink and red, stock up on candy and chocolate, spend the afternoon on heart-shaped crafts and pass out dollar-store Valentine’s Day cards. If you were lucky, maybe your crush would drop one on your desk.

Valentine’s Day gets a lot more serious as we age. And a holiday marked by the exchange of chocolate and candy may feel daunting to those with health goals. Whether you’re a cynic or a lover, here’s how to celebrate and enjoy yourself with a healthy mindset.

What is the healthiest candy?

Unfortunately, candy isn’t healthy. It doesn’t provide much, if any, nutritional value. But that doesn't mean it doesn't have a place in a healthy diet.

If you’re looking for the healthiest option, complex candies like Peanut M&Ms are the best choice, Rose Britt, a registered dietitian with Top Nutrition Coaching, previously told USA TODAY. With multiple components, like peanuts, you’re getting a bit more nutritional substance than just corn syrup.

If you want to get technical, a serving of Peanut M&Ms contains a little less than 1 gram of fiber, 2 grams of protein and 9 grams of sugar. A similar-sized serving of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups contains around the same nutritional value but a touch more added sugar. Snickers bars contain no fiber, 1 gram of protein and 9 grams of added sugar, according to nutrition labels.

“It’s not a whole balance, but it will give us a little more sense of fullness compared to our more traditional, straight-sugar type candies,” Britt said.

If nuts aren’t your thing and you’re looking for a more sugary sweet, try Smarties, which contain just 25 calories and 6 grams of sugar. For comparison, Sour Patch Kids contain 110 calories and 24 grams of sugar in one serving.

But Britt doesn’t recommend counting the grams of sugar in pieces of candy – not in general, nor on candy-filled holidays like Valentine's Day. Counting calories often causes long-term harm and creates an unhealthy relationship with food. If you want to have a piece of candy, let yourself indulge.

What is the healthiest chocolate?

The healthiest kind of chocolate is dark chocolate, registered dietitian Danielle Crumble Smith previously told USA TODAY. It’s rich in antioxidants and contains fiber and minerals like iron, magnesium and phosphorus. It also contains flavonoids or phytonutrients, which are naturally occurring compounds that help to lower inflammation, blood pressure and cholesterol levels and protect from cardiovascular disease.

Consuming 85% cocoa dark chocolate also has a prebiotic effect and the potential to improve mood, a 2022 study in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry found.

Dark chocolate contains a higher percentage of cacao. Generally, the darker the chocolate, the less sugar and more antioxidants there are.

On the other hand, milk chocolate is a safer choice when it comes to lead and cadmium levels because it has fewer cocoa solids. A Consumer Reports investigation found some popular brands of dark chocolate contain “concerning levels” of lead or cadmium, including Hershey’s, Trader Joe’s, Lindt, Lily’s, Godiva, Dove and Hu. Exposure is linked to health issues like immune system suppression, reproductive issues and hypertension. For children and pregnant people, heavy metal exposure can damage the brain and nervous system, causing developmental delays and learning and behavior problems.

When opting for dark chocolate, Crumble Smith recommends researching the company and brand to make sure the chocolate has been third-party tested.

Which dark chocolate is safe? These brands may contain lead or cadmium

How to have a healthy Valentine’s Day

Did you get a sweet treat from your Valentine? You deserve to eat it.

Britt advises against labeling foods as “junk” or “bad,” especially for parents who can easily influence their kids’ relationships with food.

“We can set ourselves up for that binging behavior if we internalize the shame of ‘I ate this bad candy so now I’m a bad person,’” Britt said.

Approach eating with curiosity, compassion and context, registered dietitian Kat Benson told USA TODAY. What do you want this food to do for you in terms of taste, feel and nutrition? How do you want it to serve you in the context of your day?

That “context” piece comes into play at mealtime. Treats are delicious and may satisfy our taste buds, but licensed dietitian nutritionist Abra Pappa reminds her patients that cookies and candy are not meals. It’s important any time of year to eat three full meals filled with the three major macronutrients (protein, fat and complex carbohydrates).

“If you’re eating well-balanced meals, then we naturally have an easier time balancing out the sweets,” Pappa said.

Make sure you eat a nutritious plate before sharing a drink with your sweetheart as well. This spreads out the absorption of alcohol over time so you can avoid feeling dizzy or uncoordinated. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women.

If wine is your drink of choice, dietitians recommend a dry white wine because it has less sugar and alcohol. If you’re into cocktails, start with a clear spirit like vodka, gin, tequila or rum and look for a cocktail that only has two to three ingredients. Fresh squeezed citrus and soda water are especially good low-sugar mixers to avoid a hangover, experts previously told USA TODAY.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Looking for healthy Valentine's Day treats? Experts share tips.