A Valentine’s Day Bonus

Dr. Cindy Haines Health Guide
  • When I think of February, I think of Valentine's Day. Well, okay, I am really thinking about chocolate and that's not really any different than any other month.


    Chocolate conjures up many words: delicious, sinful, rich and...healthy? May not be what immediately springs to mind, but add it to the list.


    You may think that getting chocolate for a Valentine's Day gift is not such a great thing if you are trying to stay fit and eat healthy. But the truth may surprise you: Chocolate has its benefits, if you are careful about the kind of chocolate you pick.


    "So I can chow down on fattening chocolate and it'll be good for me?" Not so fast, gentle reader. In moderation, always the key word, and with careful product selection, we can bring out the best this treat has to offer.

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    In selecting your chocolate, go for the good stuff. Premium dark chocolate is the way to go. Milk and white varieties do not contain the antioxidants associated with dark chocolate and lower quality chocolates may be filled with very unhealthy trans-fatty acids.


    Want more? One bar-sized serving of flavonol-rich dark chocolate daily can help bring your blood pressure down and may also improve your resistance to insulin. What do you mean by "flavonol-rich" you ask? Flavanoids, found in many foods, are natural antioxidants that come from plants.


    A study published in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association followed an equal number of women and men with hypertension, or high blood pressure. The participants were nonsmokers, were not taking any medication for their blood pressure, and did not have diabetes or other existing medical conditions.


    During the first week, the participants stayed away from all chocolate and any foods that were rich in flavonoids. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, half of them ate a 3.5 oz bar of flavonoid-rich dark chocolate per day. The other half ate that much white chocolate. Then they avoided all chocolate for one more week then switched over and ate the other chocolate they had not already gotten. It was found that there was a 12 mmHg drop in systolic pressure (the top number) and a 9 mmHg drop in diastolic pressure (the bottom number) in the group that ate the dark chocolate after 15 days. Nothing happened with the group that ate white chocolate. The dark chocolate group also had a significant decrease in many measures of their resistance to insulin and levels of LDL, or "bad", cholesterol were lowered by about 10 percent. Again, nothing happened in the group who indulged in the white chocolate.


    Now, dark chocolate can taste a little bittersweet and may be an acquired taste. If you like it, it can become a small part of your diet of flavonoid-rich foods, including other things such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. A note of caution: all you're probably hearing is that you can eat chocolate everyday and it's good for you. Well, that's not exactly what I'm saying. I'm not telling you to rush out to your local grocery store and purchase all the dark chocolate you can find. Moderation, moderation, moderation! Just a little serving a day is just fine, but dark chocolate -not milk chocolate- and in a moderate quantity.


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    Another big menu item for Valentine's Day, or the month of February if you will, is red wine. It has been said that a glass of red wine a day can reduce one's risk of heart disease over the course of a few years. As with dark chocolate, red wine contains flavonoids and antioxidants. You have to do more than just drink red wine to reduce your risk of heart disease but enjoying your glass of wine doesn't appear to harm and may even help you out in your efforts.


    According to the American Heart Association, the best known effect of alcohol is a small increase in HDL cholesterol, our "good" cholesterol. It is also suspected that a substance found in alcohol, resveratrol, might keep platelets from sticking together reducing the risk of clotting. Another study suggests that resveratrol may inhibit tumor development in some cancers.


    How much wine should I drink in a day to get these effects, you ask?


    It is generally considered that a 4 or 5 oz glass of wine is equal to one serving. Men could benefit from 1-2 servings per day, while women should only have one serving a day. This is not saying that if you never drink alcohol you should go out and start, or if you drink a little, more is better. Among other issues, drinking heavily for an extended period of time can damage nerve cells, the liver, and the pancreas.


    Again, I'm not saying to go out to your grocery store on the corner and get armfuls of dark chocolate and red wine, just be realistic about it. Have a little bit of dark chocolate and a glass or two of wine, and you'll get plenty of flavonoids and resveratrol. And remember that these beneficial substances are found in many other foods, such as fruits and vegetables. As always, physical exercise and a basic healthy diet are your best bets.


    Gotta go; I see my Valentine has brought me some flavonoids.


    Happy Valentine's Day!

Published On: February 14, 2008