Valentine's Day: Good for the Heart
Chocolate, red wine, and other expressions of love can be good for you.
The stuff of Valentine's Day may be good for the heart, in more
ways than one. Chocolate, red wine, and expressions of love could not only make
thumpers go pitter-patter in romantic fashion, they could also lead to better
According to a growing amount of research, chocolate, red wine,
and love can play a role in keeping the blood flowing throughout the body.
Experts do not always agree on how these elements boost cardiovascular fitness,
nor do they always recommend them as tools for disease prevention. But it's
clear that a little of each isn't too bad -- in moderation.
The Sweet Stuff
Many people see chocolate as a guilty pleasure. How many
dieters have felt they've committed a sin upon indulging in the cocoa delight?
How many mothers have warned their children against eating too much, lest they
There's no doubt chocolate can contribute to weight gain and
tooth decay, but now researchers are finding it can do good things for the body
"It seems a component in cocoa -- flavonoids -- can be
heart healthful," says Susan Moores, RD, a spokeswoman for the American
Dietetic Association (ADA). She says flavonoids are antioxidants, known to
protect against free radicals in the body. Free radicals are suspected of
damaging arteries and triggering buildup of plaque (fatty substances) in the
wall of blood vessels, which can lead to atherosclerosis.
Antioxidants can also help lower the level of "bad"
cholesterol (LDL), and increase the amount of "good" cholesterol (HDL).
This antioxidant effect is apparently greater in dark chocolate, because it has
more cocoa beans, a natural source of flavonoids.
The flavonoids in dark chocolate may also improve the health of
the endothelium (the lining in arteries and veins), says Joe Vinson, professor
of chemistry at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania.
In one study, he says people with one risk factor for heart
disease (i.e. high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides) drank
a single 6-ounce glass of cocoa, rich in flavonoids. From that one drink,
researchers reportedly found a significant improvement in the flexibility of
Studies can be misleading, though, says Vinson, as researchers
typically give subjects high doses of cocoa. "We don't know if lower doses
work," he says.
In the same vein, health experts warn against eating too much
chocolate as it is usually packed with calories and saturated fat.
If you indulge yourself or a loved one in the cocoa treat, eat
a small amount. Cynthia Sass, RD, spokeswoman for the ADA, recommends buying
more expensive chocolate, but less of it. "With rich chocolate, it doesn't
take much to be satisfied," she says, noting that people who take time to
savor, and let the candy melt in their mouth, tend to be more content with