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Chocolate, Wine and Valentine's Day

Next to flowers and jewelry, chocolate is a staple gift on Valentine's Day. Although much of Valentine's day is all about marketing (if you love someone/something - say it daily), chocolate has history as a love food. 

According to a Smithsonian article, "passion for chocolate is well-rooted in Mesoamerican history. It was a highly-prized luxury item among Mayan and Aztec upper class elites, who were known to savor a drink that combined roasted cacao beans with cornmeal, vanilla, honey and chilies. Cacao beans were as valuable a commodity as gold, and gold, and were even used to pay taxes levied by Aztec rulers.
By the early 1600s, the vogue for chocolate had swept across Europe. In London, chocolate houses began to rival coffee houses as social gathering spots. One shop opened on Gracechurch Street in 1657 advertising chocolate as “a West Indian drink (which) cures and preserves the body of many diseases." In France, Madame de Sevigne wrote about enormous chocolate consumption throughout the court at Versailles in 1671; Louis IV drank it daily and Madame du Barry was said to use chocolate mixed with amber to stimulate her lovers.

When Marie Antoinette married Louis XVI in 1770, she brought her personal chocolate maker to Versailles. The official “Chocolate Maker to the Queen” created such recipes as “chocolate mixed with orchid bulb for strength, chocolate with orange blossom to calm the nerves, or chocolate with sweet almond milk to aid the digestion.” "

Here's the entire article if you'd like to read more: Click Here

In honor of Valentine's Day, I dug through my blog archives to search for a live video segment that I did with News4Jax in 2012. However, it looks like the segment link is no longer available BUT I still have the blog. So for your reading pleasure, here is a summary of the live TV segment.

Is red wine part of the Heart Wise eating plan?
If you already consume alcohol (beer, wine, spirits) occasionally, alcohol in moderation may play a role in heart health to help increase good cholesterol, reduce clots and help prevent damage to the lining of the arteries.

What are the heart healthy benefits?
The benefits may come from polyphenols or antioxidants, specifically resveratrol, which is a naturally occurring non-alcoholic plant based substance which appears to protect against artery damage. It may also slow the progression of neurological degenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease. Much of the "alcohol" research is done on red wine but there may be health benefits with other types of alcohol as well. We need to keep in mind that a lot of resveratrol research is done on animals and the amount of resveratrol given to the animals would be similar to an extremely excessive amount of daily wine.

Red vs. white wine?
The higher resveratrol content comes from the skin of red grapes which are fermented longer than white grapes. In white wine, the skin is removed before fermentation. Also, wine in cooler climates may have more resveratrol. Both have the same number of calories.

Do other foods contain similar health benefits?
Peanuts, blueberries, grapes and cranberries all contain resveratrol. For a healthy cardiovascular system I encourage people to eat real food for the other nutritional benefits (vitamins, minerals, fiber, etc.) - which are also much better for your liver and stomach. 

What are the negative effects of drinking?
Life can be stressful and exhausting. Alcohol can be addictive and absused. When used as a coping mechanism, alcohol consumption can become excessive and obsessive. Alcohol may worsen health problems like hypertension, hyperlipidemia/high triglycerides, liver damage, obesity, certain types of cancer, accidents and weaken heart muscles. It can also negatively affect restful sleep and athletic performance. Pregnant women should not drink during pregnancy and individuals at risk for breast cancer should discuss with primary physician regarding alcohol consumption because alcohol may raise estrogen levels and tumor progression. Wine is also a trigger for migraines, either from the tannins and histamins or from the sulfites. If you are currently struggling with mental health issues and using alcohol as a coping mechanism, reach out to a professional for health. 

Take away message:
If you already drink alcohol, do so in moderation. If you don't drink, you don't need to start. Because you can’t drink your way to good health, make sure to prioritize a real-food, balanced diet to support your nutritional needs. 
  • Moderate drinking: 2 drinks/day for men and 1 drink/day for women.
    (Men can generally drink more because of a larger body frame and more enzymes to help metabolize alcohol)
  • 1 drink = 12 ounces beer, 5 ounces wine, 1.5 ounces 80-proof distilled spirits.
  • 5 ounces of wine is ~120 calories. 1 bottle of wine = ~ 480 calories.
  • Alcohol is a little more concentrated with calories (7 calories per gram in wine vs 4 calories per gram in carbohydrates) so don't let it be viewed as a "recovery" drink or carb replacement in an active diet.


Is Dark Chocolate part of a healthy diet?
All the chocolate lovers can take a breath of relief. Dark chocolate can be part of a healthy diet.

Is all chocolate the same?
When it comes to chocolate, you have many options. There's Hershey's, Butterfingers, M&Ms and twix at one end of the spectrum to 90% cacao (pronounced kacow) or cocoa. To choose the most "nutrient dense" option, you want to look for cacao – with an A before the O (not the other way around). Cacao refers to the bean itself - particularly in an unprocessed form. The cocoa (with an O before the A) is more processed due to the addition of other ingredients.
The percentage of cacao on a label refers to the percentage of ingredients by weight in that product that come from the chocolate liquor, cocoa powder and cocoa butter (see definitions below). In general, the higher the percentage, the more intense the flavor. In the US, cacao standards require that milk chocolate have at least 10% chocolate liquor, semi sweet and bittersweet have at least 35 percent. A higher % also means less added sugar. 75% cacao dark chocolate has about 25% sugar whereas 65% has about 35%. Unsweetened baking chocolate is 100% cacao and is very bitter.

Definitions of chocolate ingredients:
(definitions found via the internet)
  • Cacao: Refers to the bean, which is the source of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter and cocoa powder.
  • Chocolate Liquor: Produced by grinding the center of bean, called the nib, to a smooth, liquid state. Chocolate liquor is also called chocolate, unsweetened chocolate, baking chocolate, bitter chocolate, cocoa solids, cocoa mass, cacao mass and cocoa paste.
  • Cocoa Butter: The fat naturally present in cacao beans that melts at body temperature and gives chocolate its unique mouthfeel.
  • Cocoa or Cocoa Powder: The product made by pressing most of the cocoa butter out of the cocoa bean and grinding the rest to a powder. Under U.S. regulations, “cocoa” and “cocoa powder” can be used synonymously.

What are the health benefits of dark chocolate?
Believe it or not, there are many health benefits of eating dark chocolate. Research shows that eating up to 1.5 ounces a day of dark chocolate may help lower blood pressure by improving blood flow due to the polyphenols helping the body form nitric oxide. Dark chocolate may also help with arteriosclerosis and reduce risk for stroke....but this doesn’t mean that after you eat a loaded hamburger that you will clean up the cardiovascular system with a chunk of chocolate ;) Also, since chocolate appears to improve blood flow, it may improve cognitive function to help with thinking and memory. It may also help with tooth enamel - who knew?

Chocolate also contains chemical compounds that make you feel good, similar to the hormones and endorphins released when you fall in love. Maybe that’s why so many people crave chocolate (or love to eat it on Valentine's Day)!
Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants and flavonoids which not only help to protect the immune system and cardiovascular system but may reduce free radical damage to cells and may help with the aging process. Also, dark chocolate may help with insulin resistance for better glucose control. Dark chocolate also contains high concentrations of potassium, copper, magnesium and iron.

Take away message:
I recommend around 85% cacao but if that’s too bitter, try 65-70%. I encourage you to support small businesses that have good farming/fair trade practices. Keep in mind that a 1.5 ounce bar of dark chocolate contains 27 mg of caffeine. Also, depending on storage, handling and processing of the cacao bean, the % of cacao doesn't always mean that you are receiving a full amount of flavonoids (many of the heart-healthy nutrients may have been destroyed or removed).
Because chocolate does contains fat, a little bit can go a long way. Savour your chocolate - let it melt in your mouth, don't chew it. Portion control by choosing individual wrapped pieces or break into .5 ounce servings.