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Are red wine and chocolate really good for your heart?

Vivek Kesara, MD is a family medicine practitioner at Banner Health Center in Chandler. For more information on this topic, talk with your doctor or call Dr. Kesara’s office at (480) 668-1600.

Question: Are red wine and chocolate really good for your heart?

Answer: Red wine and dark chocolate have been thought to be good for the heart because they are rich in protective antioxidants. For example, certain antioxidants have been shown to lower the risk for heart disease by increasing the levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL, known as “good” cholesterol) in the blood and defending the arteries against damage.

The antioxidants considered beneficial in red wine come in a variety of forms, but one called resveratrol has received the most attention. Resveratrol in red wine actually comes from the skin of grapes used to make wine. Because the fermentation process for red wine is longer than for white, red wine contains higher levels of resveratrol. However, eating red or purple grapes or drinking grape juice also provide resveratrol in an alcohol-free format and may be equally beneficial. Other foods that contain resveratrol at varying levels include peanuts, cranberries and blueberries.

Cocoa, the base ingredient in chocolate, contains high levels of flavonoids. The flavanoids in cocoa are called flavanols, and in addition to their antioxidant powers, studies have shown they may contribute to a healthier vascular system by reducing blood pressure and promoting more efficient blood flow to the brain and heart. Dark chocolate generally contains the most flavanols, depending on how it is processed. Other foods that contain flavanols include cranberries, apples, peanuts, onions, tea, and red wine.

While these foods may offer heart-healthy benefits due to their antioxidant content, experts do not recommend that people start drinking alcohol simply to get these antioxidants, nor should people consume large portions of dark chocolate because it is also high in artery-clogging saturated fat. While these foods can be part of a nutritious diet that emphasizes fruits and vegetables and foods that are low in fat and cholesterol, moderation is key.

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