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Could additives in your treats be irritating?

Say "I love you" the right way

How would you like to give your loved ones some hives for Valentine's Day? Or maybe a headache?

That may be exactly what you are doing if you give those little red valentines to your children or certain brands of chocolates to your spouse, according to Jane Hersey, Director of the nonprofit Feingold Association.

"The irony is that certain candies that people give to express affection on Valentine's Day may end up causing health problems for those they love," says Hersey. "This is because many brands of chocolates and other candies are full of troublesome food additives."

So, what's a Valentine to do?

"If you're going to buy candy as a Valentine's Day gift, the first thing to do is to check the ingredient label, in order to make sure that it doesn't contain synthetic food dyes," explains Hersey. "These dyes are listed in color/number combinations, such as Red 40, Yellow 5, or Blue 1."

READ MORE: How has Valentine's Day changed since you had a baby?

"This is especially vital when it comes to children, because studies have shown that certain artificial food colors can trigger behavior and attention problems in sensitive kids," she says.

When British researchers from Southampton University studied the effects of artificial food dyes on three-year-olds, they concluded in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, "These findings suggest that significant changes in children's hyperactive behavior could be produced by the removal of artificial colorings and sodium benzoate from their diet."

Instead of giving children the little red valentine candies, Hersey suggests buying them natural chocolates and other candies, which can be found at all types of stores, including supermarkets, health food stores, natural food markets, and specialty stores.

"The Feingold Association helps people find lots of natural treats, such as chocolate covered cashews, chocolate mint patties, peanut butter kisses, peanut butter cups, lollipops, jellybeans, and gummi bears," says Hersey. "Most kids prefer these delicious candies to those little 'fake' hearts anyway!"

"And if you want to give children other colored treats, a little creativity can go a long way," she says. For example, instead of serving children red cookies on a white plate, she suggests putting white cookies on a red plate, and instead of giving them red or pink drinks, she suggests pouring all-natural drinks, such as pure fruit juices, into brightly colored glasses.

READ MORE: Healthy recipes to replace the chocolate on Valentine's Day!

According to Hersey, children are not the only ones who react to synthetic food colors, and behavioral/learning difficulties are not the only problems these additives can trigger.

"Eating synthetic food dyes can lead to a variety of health problems in adults as well," she says.

"Red 40 is suspected of causing cancerous tumors in test animals," says Hersey. "Yellow 5 has been reported to trigger asthma, hives and behavioral problems, and Yellow 6 can bring on anaphylactic reactions, hives, respiratory problems and abdominal pain. Yet all of these chemicals are still very common in candy and other foods!"

Hersey also advises anyone planning to buy a box of Valentine chocolates to make sure that it does not contain artificial flavorings, such as vanillin (imitation vanilla).

"Watch out for chocolates with vanillin, which can trigger headaches in sensitive people -- a sure-fire way to ruin Valentine's Day!" says Hersey. "In fact, some people who blame headaches on a chocolate allergy may just be reacting to the vanillin found in many brands of chocolates."

"There are plenty of delicious natural chocolates available that won't give your Valentine a nasty headache. And don't let yourself be fooled by the price, because some of the most expensive chocolates contain fake vanilla, while many less expensive ones use the real thing."

"Another idea is to make your own natural chocolates, which is surprisingly simple to do," says Hersey. "A gift of homemade chocolates makes quite an impression!"

Hersey also encourages people to consider non-food gifts for Valentine's Day, since this not only means avoiding harmful additives but also skipping unnecessary calories. Her suggestions include:

1. Roses. Roses have long been a symbol of love. If a dozen roses are too pricey, consider a half-dozen -- or a single rose in a bud vase.

2. Book of love poetry. Your special someone is sure to be touched by this gift, and reading love poems together adds a romantic glow to any evening.

3. Gift card for a health spa. Most people appreciate the chance to pamper themselves with a massage or sauna. Consider getting two, so that you can go together!

"If people follow these simple suggestions, they and their loved ones can have a happy AND healthy Valentine's Day. Otherwise, they may be giving their Valentines more than they bargained for!"

The Feingold Association researches brand name foods and provides members with information about which foods are free of synthetic food colorings, artificial flavorings, and certain preservatives. Its Foodlists contain thousands of acceptable brand name products and its newsletter, Pure Facts, provides updates ten times a year. For more information, visit www.feingold.org.