February, the month of love (and snow, if you live in Canada). There are a few things that go hand-in-hand with Valentine’s Day: chocolate, red wine, lingerie, and the list goes on. Because I’m focusing on nutrition for the article, I’ll skip the lingerie…though, as a fitness trainer, I can’t deny the value lingerie adds given its connection to physical activity.
In recent years, there has been a lot of good press on both red wine and chocolate. I’ll briefly highlight some of the key reasons why these items are gaining acclaim, as well as touch on how to make sure you’re actually getting a benefit from including them in your diet.
Cacao flavonoids have been shown to have an impressive anti-oxidant capacity. As such, they can help prevent cellular damage that can result from oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can have a negative impact on various aspects of health and it has been suggested that cacao-rich diets may reduce diabetes-induced cataract formation as well as periodontitis. This seems to be related to the fact that consumption of small doses of dark chocolate may actually reduce levels of inflammation. Not to mention, the therapeutic properties of chocolate have been proclaimed to help lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
Research on health benefits associated with chocolate consumption continues to mount and I have yet to meet a person that is upset with this trend! However, like everything in life, nothing is black and white. What I mean is, not all chocolate is created equal. A trip down the snack-isle in your local grocery store will expose you to all kinds of chocolates. However, what I’m referring to is dark chocolate. Dark chocolate is rich in polyphenols, which appear to play a major role in the various benefits discussed above. Studies will vary on what is considered to be the “minimum” amount of cacao (raw, unroasted, unprocessed, unsweetened chocolate) content to be considered “healthy”, but I’d suggest looking to a source that is at least 75% cacao. The lower the cacao content and the greater the sugar and milk ingredients, the fewer the health benefits. Also, don’t forget that chocolate is relatively high in fat, so too much snacking can pack in a lot of extra calories.
Another big “health” trend is red wine. It’s good for your heart, right? This is kind of a half-truth. It’s true in that there are compounds found in red wine that have great therapeutic properties. It’s not so true in that the amount of wine you would need to drink to gain those benefits would make for a perpetual hangover…not to mention the ridiculous amounts of extra calories you would be consuming.
One component of red wine that has been shown to have a tremendous amount of health benefit is resveratrol. Sadly, you would have to consume at least three bottles of red wine per day to reach therapeutic levels of resveratrol. Resveratrol supports cardiovascular health by promoting healthy platelet activity (prevents abnormal clot formation), normal blood vessel relaxation (healthy blood pressure), and providing anti-oxidant support for LDL cholesterol particles (which, when oxidized, can contribute to atherosclerosis). It has also been shown to support healthy cell function by promoting apoptosis (programmed cell death) in unhealthy cells and normal function of the SIRT-1 gene, which promotes calorie restriction and fat metabolism, linked to longer life-span, as well as healthy mitochondrial function and energy expenditure.
Just like with chocolate, not all resveratrol is created equal. When seeking out a supplement, it as been suggested by the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University that trans-resveratrol may have a higher bioavailability than other forms.
So the bottom line is enjoy your vino…but in moderation. If you enjoy a glass of wine with dinner or over a good conversation, I don’t see anything wrong with that. But I’d advocate that you keep your alcohol intake to under seven servings per week for females, or under 14 servings per week for males, to keep the rest of your body running smoothly. It’s worth looking into a good resveratrol supplement if you’re hoping to gain the health benefits red wine can provide, especially if you’re not keen on polishing off three bottles per day!