Red Wine and Dark Chocolate: Valentine’s Day For the Heart

ImageIt’s Valentines Day and many of you will be giving chocolate, wine and maybe even a bouquet of flowers thrown in for good measure.  Today’s “In the Cart” segment provides you with specific chocolate and wine recommendations, why they might be a good gift for the heart, from the heart, and how much you need to enjoy or limit to get health benefits.

The GIft of Chocolate

Flavanols are a type of antioxidant found in dark chocolate.  Antioxidants neutralize the free radicals that a cell produces as it performs work in the body.  Other free radicals come from the sun, smoking and pollution.  Without antioxidants, free radicals cause damage to cells and increase your risk for heart disease, cancer, aging in general and dementia.

What type of chocolate has the highest flavanol content?  Most of the research leans towards dark chocolate because it has the highest percentage of cocoa solids and therefore the most flavanols.  Look on the label for the percentage of cocoa.  The goal is to choose those chocolates with 60% cocoa or higher.  According to the USDA’s figures, dark chocolate has four times they amount of flavonoids of milk chocolate.  Note that United States labeling requirements only require 15% cocoa solids to qualify for dark chocolate and as a result weakening the flavanol content.  European countries require 30% cocoa solids just to qualify as a milk chocolate.

Why is it good for me?  Antioxidants like those found in dark chocolate have been found to potentially reduce blood pressure, improve blood flow, making blood less sticky, and preventing the bad, LDL cholesterol from oxidizing on blood vessel walls causing plaque build up.

How much chocolate should you eat?  The doses and frequency used in research are all over the place.  However most suggest “moderation” in the quantity of a 1-ounce serving a couple of times a week.

  • 3 Ghiradelli squares
  • 6 Hershey’s Kisses
  • 2 Tablespoons of Hershey’s hot cocoa
  • Unfortunately, my favorite, white chocolate has the cocoa solids removed during processing and as a result does not contain the heart healthy flavanols.

The other advantage of choosing dark chocolate is that it is typically lower in sugar and therefore calories per ounce than milk chocolate bars.  You also may be less apt to mindlessly pop wedges of dark chocolate in your mouth.  I do recommend that you limit your chocolate intake because of its high fat and saturated fat, sugar content.  It’s not going to help you lose weight.

What if I don’t like chocolate?  Other flavanol rich foods include green tea, berries, the skin of apples and red wine.

The Gift of Red Wine

Resveratrol is another type of antioxidant that is found in the skins of red grapes.  In addition to fighting free radicals, reducing inflammation, and lowering bad, LDL cholesterol, it may also increase the levels of good, HDL cholesterol further protecting the arteries against plaque build up.

How much wine should I drink?  The research is clearer on amount and frequency when it comes to wine, than what we found with chocolate. Women should limit their red wine to one, 5 ounce serving per day and men should limit their wine to two, 5-ounce servings per day.  Enjoying wine beyond these limits on a regular basis leads to an increased incidence of high blood pressure, depression, heart disease, cancer, liver disease and addiction.

What if I don’t like wine?  If you don’t like wine try grape juice as a non-alcoholic heart healthy alternative.

Bottom Line: Dark chocolate and red wine have great health benefits when consumed in moderation.  However more is not better and in the absence of regular exercise, a healthy diet, adequate rest, proper stress management and regular annual visits to your physician.

Categories: Nutrition & Wellness

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