Did you know your sweetheart’s gifts of wine and chocolate are good for your heart?
The fact is these traditional Valentine’s Day indulgences may bring sweet rewards for health, within moderation.
“Wine and dark chocolate can be very beneficial for people due to because of their antioxidant properties,” said Dr. Sheila Khianey of Novant Health UVA Health System Prince William Cardiology.
Khianey offered the following tips to enjoy the heart-healthy benefits of these treats during American Heart Month (and beyond).
By the glass
Both red and white wine contain polyphenols and antioxidants that pack a healthy punch. The deeper, darker color of the wine, the more antioxidants it will contain. The polyphenols in wine work to support health in multiple ways.
“The reason why these antioxidants can be so helpful is that they protect our cells and have anti-inflammatory properties,” Khianey noted. “The body absorbs them and they help to soak up damaged free-radicals in our cells, which prevents cell damage and, if our cells are damaged, allows them to heal.”
More on the benefits by the glass
Heart health: Polyphenols in wine, known as resveratrol, help increase blood flow and reduce risk of stroke and heart attack. “With its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, wine can help to stabilize and smooth out plaque in blood vessels to promote blood flow and help the blood vessels stay open,” Khianey said. “This promotes healthy circulation in the body, which is why it can help the heart.”
Young skin: Wine also helps provide anti-aging benefits and rejuvenates the skin. “Polyphenols are known to protect our skin from the damage that UV light can do, which helps keep our skin stay young and elastic,” Khianey said. “It strengthens the collagen in our skin, which promotes skin elasticity and reduces fine lines and wrinkles. There are even some relatively smaller studies showing red wine may help prevent skin cancer lesions.”
Strong bones: “Resveratrol itself can help in the process of treating osteoporosis by stimulating bone-forming cells in the body,” Khianey added.
The rule of thumb to receive the health benefits of wine is one 4- to 5-ounce glass for women, two for men, per day. Drinking more than this amount daily can actually cancel out the health benefits, Khianey said.
“More than one glass a day for women, or two for men, stresses the liver, and you lose the health benefits,” she said. “It puts undue and unwanted stress on the liver, which is not ideal. When drinking in excess, not only do you lose the benefits – your cholesterol, sleep and so many aspects of health can be affected.”
Khianey advised that most studies conducted on the benefits of wine have been done with Caucasian subjects, and the benefits may not always translate across ethnicity. “We are all individuals and our bodies are all unique naturally,” she said. “I don’t recommend to each person that they drink wine as that may or may not help that individual. I would strongly encourage people to consult with their primary care provider or cardiologist.”
Others who may see fewer benefits include those who are prone to headaches or have a tendency to develop allergies. The sulfites or preservatives added to wine can trigger allergies – if this is the case, try opting for an organic wine as they do not contain added sulfites.
If you can’t consume alcohol, try some of nature’s other antioxidant-rich treats. Blueberries, pomegranates, grape seed oil and chocolate are all packed with polyphenols.
By the bar
Chocolate by the bar, truffle or cup remains a traditional Valentine’s Day affair. Rich in antioxidants, chocolate can warm hearts and boost heart health.
As with wine, go dark to enjoy the greatest benefits from the cacao bean. Look for chocolate with 70 percent cacao.
“The antioxidants in chocolate, called flavonoids, promote healthy blood flow and circulation in the body,” Khianey said. “Like those in wine, the polyphenols in chocolate work to reduce inflammation in the body, promote healthy blood flow and protect skin from UV damage.”
Hot chocolate powders made with real cacao also can be enjoyed in 1 teaspoon or tablespoon with milk as a treat. Avoid milk chocolate, however, as you lose the benefits of polyphenols and get the added fat. In addition to its health benefits, chocolate can elevate our mood.
“Chocolate boosts our mood,” Khianey said. “It helps to raise the same hormones that rise when we’re in love. It boosts hormones that help us feel good, and helps reduce cortisol, the stress hormone.”
“Stress raises cortisol which leads to many unhealthy effects in our body including more belly fat,” she said. “By lowering cortisol, chocolate can help us reduce the fat in our middle. It helps us feel younger in that way, helps us reduce blood pressure, avoid wrinkles and stay thinner.”
Studies recommend eating 1 ounce of chocolate every day or at least five days a week. That’s a piece about the size of your thumb.
“It’s all about moderation,” Khianey said. “It’s important to keep that in mind. A lot of us will enjoy one chocolate bar, which is too much.”
Remember, you can’t save up through the week to overindulge on the weekend without increasing the risks.
So be sweet to yourself – enjoy in moderation!