Valentine's Day: Good for the Heart
Chocolate, red wine, and other expressions of love can be good for you.
The Sweet Stuff continued...
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
Wining and dining has long been a Valentine's Day tradition for
sweethearts, and now there may be more reason to clink glasses.
For people who drink a moderate amount of red wine, there's a
heart health benefit. Research has shown that the flavonoids in red wine --
originally from grape skins -- have an antioxidant effect, may raise good
cholesterol levels and may help prevent blood clotting in vessels.
Other, more controversial findings reveal that not just red
wine, but moderate amounts of alcohol in general, wards against cardiovascular
"Alcohol has a blood-thinning effect, and that was what was
found to be effective against stroke and heart disease," says Sass.
Yet the studies on different types of alcohol have been small,
and don't show as much effect on increasing good cholesterol, says Holly Novak,
MD, director of prevention and women's health at Prairie Cardiovascular in
Additionally, Vinson says alcohol can also produce free
radicals, which are bad for the liver, counteracting any antioxidant benefits.
The only exception, he says, is red wine in moderation.
All the health professionals interviewed by WebMD warn against
excessive drinking, or encouraging nondrinkers to start drinking. Alcohol
consumption can raise the risk of liver problems, high blood pressure, obesity,
breast cancer, suicide, and accidents.
Women of childbearing age are also encouraged not to drink, as
alcohol can harm the growth and development of an unborn child. By the time
women who drink heavily find out they're pregnant "the damage could already
be done," says Sass, who recommends sparkling grape juice, or dark-red
grape juice with sparkling water as alternatives to red wine.
For people that choose to drink alcohol, the American Heart
Association (AHA) recommends one to two drinks per day for men, and one drink
for women. A drink is equivalent to 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, 1.5
ounces of 80-proof spirits, or 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits.
Overall, experts don't recommend red wine or any other alcohol
as a first line of defense against heart disease.