Media Contact: Keith O’Connor, Keith.O’Connor@baystatehealth.org, 413-794-7656
SPRINGFIELD – If you’re looking to make this Valentine’s Day a little healthier when it comes to gift giving, consider a box of chocolates that is all dark, not milk or white, a nice bottle of red wine, and flowers, that is, if your Valentine isn’t allergic to them.
February is also American Heart Month and the American Heart Association recommends that 30% or less of the calories you consume should come from fat and 7% from saturated fat.
“It’s no secret that research studies promoted in the news over the years have shown that dark chocolate can provide nutritional benefits and that red wine can be heart healthy,” said registered dietitian Sheila Sullivan RD, a clinical dietitian in the department of Food and Nutrition Services at Baystate Medical Center.
And some doctors agree, too.
“Various studies over the years have shown that eating as little as a quarter of an ounce of chocolate each day may lower your risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke. But, to maximize the benefits, the chocolate should be dark,” said Dr. Gregory Giugliano, associate director, Cardiac Catheterization and Research, in the Heart and Vascular Program at Baystate Medical Center.
“Studies have also long suggested that drinking wine, specifically red wines, in moderation may play a role in preventing heart disease,” added Dr. Giugliano.
But, that doesn’t give you a license to gobble down as much dark chocolate, which is higher in calories, or drink as much wine (a typical five ounce glass of red wine averages about 125 calories), as you want.
“When it comes to eating chocolate, we’re talking an amount a day that is equal to one small Easter egg,” said Sullivan. “While for wine drinkers, it means an average of one five-ounce glass a day for women and two for men.”
The Baystate registered dietitian noted dark chocolate contains flavonoids that come from extracts of the cocoa bean, and chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa gives your body more of these antioxidants which may contribute to heart health.
“The saturated fat in chocolate does not raise serum cholesterol levels. This is an exception to the rule regarding how saturated fat raises blood cholesterol,” Sullivan said.
Oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat in cocoa, is also the beneficial fat found in olive oil. And, certain chemicals can be found in chocolate that decrease the risk of sugar damage to teeth.
Chocolate was considered a “miracle food” in the 17th century. Many Europeans praised its benefits as “comforting the liver, aiding digestion, stimulating the kidneys, treating anemia, tuberculosis, fever and gout, and strengthening the heart and relieving pain.”
While chocolate is not a “health food,” it can be consumed in small amounts and be “guilt free.” As always, moderation is the key, noted Sullivan.
“We’re not talking about splurging on three of your favorite Milky Way bars, even if they’re the dark chocolate variety,” said Sullivan, “and be sure the chocolate you have is not replacing other foods that have a higher nutritional value.”
Also, be sure that you are eating the right type of chocolate. The most popular chocolate candy bars found at the grocery counter contain very little cocoa. Most scientists in their research refer to chocolate that is at least 70 percent or more cocoa mass and contain healthy flavinols.
Like chocolate, red wine has also been used for medicinal purposes dating back to around 450 B.C., when Hippocrates, often referred to as the “father of Western medicine,” prescribed red wine to his “patients” for what ailed them from diarrhea to fever. He also believed in its benefits as a general nutritional supplement and disinfectant for wounds.
Similar to chocolate, red wine contains antioxidants, such as flavonoids, which help protect the lining of blood vessels in the heart. And, studies have shown that when it comes to cholesterol, alcohol increases “good” cholesterol (HDL), helps prevent blood clots, and also helps against artery damage caused by “bad” cholesterol (LDL).
“I don’t think you’ll find any cardiologist telling a patient to begin raising their glass, especially if they’re not already a drinker, to help prevent heart disease. Too much alcohol can also be harmful, leading to high blood pressure, heart failure, some cancers, liver disease and other problems. But many won’t discourage someone from enjoying a glass of red wine if it’s already part of their daily routine,” said Dr. Giugliano.
But, there’s more to heart health than just eating a bit of chocolate and a sip of wine.
“Being heart healthy is all about lifestyle and controlling your risk factors by quitting smoking, decreasing your weight and lowering your cholesterol. You also need to keep your blood pressure in check, eat a healthy diet and exercise more,” said Dr. Giugliano.
For more information on the Heart and Vascular Program at Baystate Medical Center, visit www.baystatehealth.org/bhvp.