Treats for the Heart
Who doesn’t love a glass of wine or a treat like chocolate after a long day? Many people have heard that eating dark chocolate and drinking red wine in moderation have been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attack; however, a direct cause has not been established. Here’s what you should know about the potential health benefits of antioxidant-rich treats for the heart.
What Are Antioxidants?
The cells in our bodies are continually subjected to damage through a process called oxidation. This can cause a host of problems for the heart, like prompting LDL (“bad”) cholesterol to form artery-clogging plaque. To resist the damage of oxidation, our bodies utilize compounds called antioxidants. Flavonoids are one specific class of antioxidants, which can be found in some of our favorite treats, such as dark chocolate and red wine. Both contain a large amount of specific heart-healthy flavonoids called flavanols—researchers say this compound can lower blood pressure, prevent blood clots, and even improve blood flow.
Dark Chocolate: Antioxidant Powerhouse #1
Dark chocolate has been shown to help improve health and lower the risk of heart disease; one study showed that cocoa beans and dark chocolate had more antioxidant activity, polyphenols, and flavanols than any other fruits tested, including blueberries and açaí berries.
A 100-gram bar of dark chocolate with 70–85% cocoa contains:
- 11 grams of fiber
- 67% of the RDI (Reference Daily Intake) for iron
- 58% of the RDI for magnesium
- 89% of the RDI for copper
- 98% of the RDI for manganese
- It also has plenty of potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and selenium
Although certain types of dark chocolate are highly processed, medical experts report that eating a few one-ounce servings of dark, semi-bitter chocolate (at least 60 percent cocoa solids) each week could provide protection against heart disease and have other heart-healthy benefits. In addition to having lesser antioxidant powers, milk chocolate contains more added sugars, and therefore more calories.
Red Wine: Antioxidant Powerhouse #2
Like dark chocolate, red wine contains a large amount of protective antioxidants. Red wine, in moderation, has long been thought to have heart-healthy benefits. The alcohol and certain substances in wine called antioxidants may help prevent coronary artery disease, the condition that leads to heart attacks.
Antioxidants in red wine called polyphenols may help protect the lining of blood vessels in the heart. The specific compound in red wine is a type of polyphenol called resveratrol—the resveratrol in red wine comes from the skin of purple grapes used to make wine. Because it is fermented with grape skins longer than white wine, it contains more resveratrol. In moderation, consuming red wine may help prevent coronary artery disease, the condition that leads to heart attacks. If you already drink, do so in moderation. According to Mayo Clinic, the healthy quantity for adults means:
- Up to one drink a day for women of all ages.
- Up to one drink a day for men older than age 65.
- Up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger. The limit for men is higher because men generally weigh more than women and have more of the enzyme that metabolizes alcohol.
A drink is defined as:
- 12 ounces (355 milliliters) of beer
- 5 ounces (148 milliliters) of wine
- 1.5 ounces (44 milliliters) of 80-proof distilled spirits
Remember that too much of anything is not healthy, and to consume in moderation, along with a healthy lifestyle including a heart-healthy diet and regular exercise. Studies have found that moderate alcohol consumption may have some health benefits, including raising HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) levels and lowering the risk of diabetes. However, excessive drinking can lead to a host of health risks, including liver damage, obesity, some types of cancer, and stroke, not to mention its negative effect on the heart. The American Heart Association and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute don't recommend that you start drinking alcohol just to prevent heart disease. Alcohol can be addictive and can cause or worsen other health problems.
If you’ve been prescribed medication to treat heart disease, be sure to discuss any dietary changes with your doctor and check out our discounts on both brand-name and generic medicines.