A reader recently asked me about the health benefits of red wine and chocolate. I immediately thought that, with the holidays, this would be a perfect question to answer.
Like any food or drink, we might know by now that sometimes a little is good, too much is not. Let’s start with red wine, the drink of choice for many on a dark, cold winter night. I’m not a red wine drinker as a rule, but there is something about the snow falling outside, a fire going and a dark, rich glass of wine with a plate of dark chocolates that feels just like the right thing to be indulging in.
But, is the indulgence worth it?
If you know me by now, you definitely know that I love the health benefits of delicious, real food. Anything that I can eat or drink that also is beneficial to my health is pure gold.
First, the good news: both chocolate and red wine are full of antioxidants, those powerhouse compounds found in foods known to help prevent heart disease, fight certain cancers and other inflammatory conditions in our bodies. The star antioxidant in red wine is resveratrol, found in the skins of grapes and the stars of the cocoa world are three flavonoids (more compounds found in certain foods) called cathecin, epicathecin, and procyanidins, I feel comfortable grouping red wine and chocolate together because so far, most of their big benefits lead back to the same thing – heart health.
Some studies have shown that resveratrol and the flavonoids in chocolate reduce the risk of heart disease by raising HDL cholesterol (your good cholesterol), reducing blood clotting and reducing overall inflammation in your body. In recent studies, moderate red wine drinkers, and people who drank cocoa daily seemed to have lower heart disease risk than non-users.
This could be very good news if you love chocolate and wine.
But, before we start breaking out the spirits and lava cakes, we need to consider what some of these studies really mean.
The media loves nothing more than to take snippets of studies and blow them up into big news stories (anyone remember the hype about butter being back? For the well researched counter argument read this). Can you blame them? They are in the business of selling news. The takeaway: when something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Here’s the deal: resveratrol seems to be protective. Flavanoids do too. Alcohol and chocolate? Not so much. We know that alcohol consumption from any type of alcohol can have many detrimental effects on your body including weight gain, fatty liver disease, and an increase in certain cancers. Chocolate on its own is high in calories, full of fat and, and if it is not unsweetened, full of sugar.
Am I killing your holiday fun yet?
I don’t mean to be a holiday scrooge. There is a way that you can definitely enjoy a glass of wine, enjoy chocolate, and even get the health benefits of these two:
Drink In Moderation. That word always alludes me. What, exactly, is moderation to you? To the people who have conducted studies, alcohol in moderation is one glass of wine a day for women and two glasses a day for men. Chocolate would be an ounce (a square) of dark (70% of more) chocolate. Milk chocolate does not count and white chocolate is not even chocolate. You can add unsweetened cocoa powder to smoothies, you can drink hot cocoa made with unsweetened cocoa powder and a dash of maple syrup. Consider the calories when indulging in either. They can add up.
Be Mindful With Your Treats. All food is meant to be enjoyed and there is a place and time for everything. If you decide to treat yourself with red wine or chocolate, come at it with full awareness and make the decision to fully enjoy them. Wine and chocolate are treats. We can certainly live without them. Or we can decide to indulge every once in a while.
Where Else Can I Find These Nutritious Compounds? We don’t necessarily need to become wine drinkers or chocolate lovers to get the benefits. The flavanols found in chocolate are also found in green and black tea, apples, cherries, apricots, raspberries and blackberries. Resveratrol is found in large amounts in blueberries, peanuts and red grapes. I eat berries everyday in my oatmeal and drink tea daily too. I feel confident that I am getting my fair share of these amazing compounds without drinking wine or eating chocolate.
Feel free to drink a really good glass of red wine this winter while nibbling on some artisan dark chocolate. Just do it in moderation. And happy holidays!