As my youngest daughter was thinking about what to give away with her Valentine’s cards this year (she decided on colorful erasers) it struck me how interesting it is that Americans celebrate Valentine’s Day (the “heart” holiday”) with the very thing that is implicated in heart disease: Sugar!

We have been brainwashed into believing that saturated fat is the enemy – causing high cholesterol, heart attacks, obesity and diabetes. But after the long-term, low-fat American diet “experiment” lead by our government, we are sicker and fatter than ever. I like to call it the “American paradox”; the observation of high heart disease death rates despite a low intake of dietary cholesterol and fat.

The real villain in the heart disease epidemic is sugar. A large study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2014 shows that people with the highest sugar consumption have four times the risk of heart attacks compared to those with the lowest intake. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the maximum amount of added sugar you should eat in a day is 37 grams or 9 tsp for men and 25 grams or 6 tsp for women. It’s an understatement to say that we are way over the limit!

Sugar is ubiquitous. Sugar is added to nearly all processed and packaged foods, including seemingly innocent foods like yogurt, “healthy” granola bars and barbecue sauce! Sugary drinks including soda, juice, sports drinks and sweetened coffee drinks are a major part of the story. A 20-ounce Coca Cola has 65 grams of sugar – that’s 16 teaspoons! Not to be outdone, a Starbucks Caffè Vanilla Frappuccino has 69 grams. What??? And, contrary to public opinion, these aren’t just “empty” calories. The calories from refined sugar cause inflammation, which leads to a host of preventable diseases including obesity, heart disease, diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver.

This Valentine’s Day treat yourself to a few squares of organic, high quality dark chocolate (at least 70%) and know that you are doing something good for your body (think antioxidants!) instead of heading down the path to chronic disease.

Until next time, make every bite count!