When visiting San Diego, I had the opportunity to take a nutrition course called “Dark Chocolate, Red Wine and Heart Healthy Eating.” The class outlined the benefits of dark chocolate, red wine and what you can do to promote a healthy heart including controlling your blood sugar, cholesterol and fat intake.
There is a strong movement in the scientific community that connects poor blood sugar control with heart disease. There has been a substantial proportion of heart disease events in individuals with “normal” cholesterol levels. Studies show that poor blood sugar control leads to inflammation in the heart which in turn damages blood vessels – creating plaque which causes heart attacks and strokes. To keep optimal blood sugar levels and reduce inflammation, calories from sugar should be only 20% of your daily caloric intake. Reducing refined carbohydrates such as pasta, breads, potatoes and rice will also lower your sugar intake. (These foods turn into sugar when digested.) Eating foods rich in antioxidants such has colorful fruits and vegetables will help you reduce inflammation.
Cholesterol is an important factor in maintaining a healthy heart. Small oxidized LDL cholesterol particles can damage blood vessels and cause inflammation. (Large particle LDL cholesterol does not damage arteries-an individual can be tested to determine particle size.) Saturated fats and trans (hydrogenated) fats raise small particle LDL cholesterol. To avoid these fats, avoid animal meat, rich desserts and aged cheese. However, not all fats are harmful. Nuts, seeds, and avocados are very nutritious, since they contain mono-unsaturated fats. Virgin olive oil served cold is very healthy.
So, how can dark chocolate and red wine promote a healthy heart? The flavonoids (type of antioxidant) in dark chocolate protects the heart by reducing blood vessel inflammation. It increases HDL (the “good” cholesterol”) and improves blood flow, thereby reducing blood clotting in the heart and brain. The milk in milk chocolate reduces the benefit of the chocolate to minimal. The more bitter the chocolate, the better. Look for dark chocolate that is 70-85% cocoa. Limit your dark chocolate serving size to 1.3 ounces daily.
Red, full bodied wine contains flavanoids that protect the heart. Additionally, the resveratrol in red wine increases nitric oxide levels which improves blood flow through blood vessels. All you need is 1-2 glasses of red wine a day.
By incorporating dark chocolate and red wine into your heart healthy diet, you will see an improvement in your heart health while having a lot more fun!