SPRINGFIELD – Thoughts of Valentine’s Day conjure up visions of heart shaped boxes if chocolate and romantic dinners accompanied by a good bottle of wine. But affairs of the heart on the popular lover’s holiday can also mean giving your Valentine a little gift of health.
“It’s no secret that research studies reported in the news 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.
“So, 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 don’t forget the flowers,” she added.
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
less than 10% from saturated fat.
“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. Other studies have also long suggested that drinking wine, specifically red wines, in moderation may play a role in preventing heart disease,” said Dr. Gregory Giugliano, associate director, Cardiac Catheterization and Research, in the Heart and Vascular Program at Baystate Medical Center.
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. 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.
“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.
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).
“When it comes to eating chocolate, we’re talking an amount a day that is equal to one small Easter egg. While for wine drinkers, it means an average of one five-ounce glass a day for women and two for men,” said Sullivan, who noted dark chocolate is higher in calories and that a typical five-ounce glass of wine equals 125 calories.
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.
“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.
For more information on the Heart and Vascular Program at Baystate Medical Center, visit www.baystatehealth.org/bhvp.