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Red wine and dark chocolate have become the universal standard for Valentine’s Day. While they are associated with romance, they may have health benefits as well. When consumed in moderation, they may contribute to heart health.

Even with potential health benefits, however, moderation is key. And the possible benefits do not extend to white wine and milk chocolate. If that’s your preference, it may be time to turn to the dark side. 

Red wine, dark chocolate and your health

The protective antioxidants that have been found in both red wine and dark chocolate are the reason they are perceived to have heart benefits. 

These antioxidants have been shown to lower the risk of heart disease. They increase the levels of high density lipoproteins (known also as HDL, or good cholesterol) in the blood and can also defend arteries from being damaged.

Red wine antioxidants

The skin from grapes contains one of red wine’s best antioxidants, resveratrol. Red wine requires a longer fermentation process than white wine, which means it ends up with higher levels of resveratrol.

An important component to keep in mind is moderation, even with the perceived benefits, according to Dr. Martha Gulati, physician executive director for Banner University Medicine Heart Institute and chief of cardiology at the University of Arizona College Medicine.

“When it comes to alcohol, moderation means less than one drink per day for women, and two or less drinks per day for men. If you have hypertension, you may even be told not to drink alcohol, because it can raise your blood pressure,” Gulati said. 

Resveratrol can also be found in red or purple grapes, but drinking grape juice does not carry the same benefits due to the added sugar. Eating grapes may not be as enjoyable as drinking wine or eating chocolate, but it’s good to know and practice.

Dark chocolate antioxidants

Cocoa, the base ingredient in chocolate, contains high levels of flavonoids. Flavonoids are plant pigments that contain nutrients and are found in most fruits and vegetables.

The flavonoids in cocoa, called flavanols, have shown that they may contribute to a healthier vascular system. These helpful antioxidants reduce blood pressure and also promote efficient blood flow to the brain and heart.

“Find dark chocolate that is 80 percent cocoa or more. That means less milk and less sugar and more of the beneficial parts of chocolate,” Gulati said. “Buy something good so that you enjoy it, but eat it in small quantities.”

Depending on how it’s processed, dark chocolate generally contains the most flavanols, but it can also be found in foods like cranberries, apples, peanuts, onions, tea and red wine. 

Some foods are known and proven to offer heart benefits, but some researchers still question whether or not red wine is heart healthy. Even if it is, drinking wine shouldn’t be seen as a main method for keeping your body healthy.

“The advice most people are willing to take is related to wine and alcohol. Personally, I wish they would take the advice to get the flu shot or eat better with the same gusto,” Gulati said. 

Solely drinking alcohol to consume antioxidants is not a recommended route to take. Consuming large portions of dark chocolate all at once is also not recommended because of artery-clogging saturated fat. These foods should make occasional appearances in a balanced diet filled with fruits, vegetables and other foods low in fat and cholesterol.

With Valentine’s Day coming up, there’s no reason to feel guilty about indulging in some dark chocolate and red wine. But they should be consumed in moderation, not as a daily habit. 

Nutrition Heart Health
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