Chocolate, wine grab the headlines

466095583With Valentine’s Day approaching, I am wondering about the so-called health benefits of chocolate and wine. I hear a lot about that this time of year, but I’m skeptical. Is there any truth to the hype?

Actually, there is evidence that compounds in chocolate, wine and other foods have properties that may help fight against a wide range of diseases. But if you use that as an excuse to overindulge, you could be doing yourself more harm than good.

These compounds, called flavonoids, are produced by plants.  It’s important to know that there are many different kinds of flavonoids.

The latest headlines on flavonoids and health focused on diabetes. A study published in theJournal of Nutrition combed through data from nearly 2,000 women in the United Kingdom who had completed a food questionnaire, which researchers examined for evidence of consumption of two types of flavonoids, anthocyanins and flavones. The women were also tested for blood glucose, insulin resistance and inflammation, which, when chronic, is associated with diabetes, as well as cancer, depression, heart disease, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.

The women with the highest consumption of flavones and anthocyanins had lower risks of insulin resistance and inflammation, and better blood sugar regulation.

Interestingly, media stories that covered the study claimed that chocolate was among the foods offering these benefits. It’s true that chocolate, especially dark chocolate, contains flavonoids, but it isn’t a good source of either anthocyanins or flavones. While those flavonoids might be helpful, it’s important to note that chocolate was not examined in this particular study.

Although both flavones and anthocyanins are contained in many plant-based foods, flavones are found primarily in herbs and vegetables such as parsley, thyme, oregano, chili peppers, celery and citrus peel, and anthocyanins are found primarily in berries, red grapes, wine, red cabbage, and other red- or blue-colored fruits and vegetables.

The best guidance? Enjoy your chocolate and wine, but only in moderation, since these foods are also high in calories and sugar. Put your main focus on including a wide range of fruits, vegetables and other plant-based foods in your diet to get benefits related to flavones, anthocyanins and related compounds.

Don’t overindulge on wine, chocolate

160374805With Valentine’s Day approaching, can you tell me more about the health benefits of chocolate and red wine?

First, a word of caution: Don’t let positive news about foods and beverages that you enjoy give you an excuse to go on a bender. While there is some promising research on dark chocolate and red wine, overindulging on them would undermine the possibility of reaping benefits.

With that said, you might want to take a look at a Chow Line column from last year, “Jury still out on chocolate’s benefits,” online at The bottom line: Flavonoids in very dark chocolate may improve the function of blood vessels, but the sugar and saturated fat it contains could cause other problems for the cardiovascular system. So, enjoy dark chocolate, but do so in moderation.

The same can be said of red wine. Scientists have known for years that consuming alchohol in moderation appears to be associated with 25 to 40 percent less risk of heart attack, ischemic stroke (the type caused by a blood clot), peripheral vascular disease, sudden cardiac death and death from all cardiovascular causes.

“In moderation” means no more than two drinks per day for men, and one drink per day for women. And “a drink” equates to 12 to 14 grams of alcohol — what you get from 1.5 ounces of hard liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of beer.

Many people believe red wine offers additional health benefits over other types of alcohol, but research says that’s an iffy proposition.

Much attention has focused on a polyphenol in red wine called resveratrol, which comes from the skins of grapes. Since red wine is fermented with grape skins longer than white wine is, red wine contains more resveratrol. And some research indicates resveratrol could reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and possibly offer other benefits. But other studies find no additional benefits of red wine over other types of alcohol. And besides, you can also get resveratrol from eating grapes (with skins, of course) or drinking grape juice.

Experts agree that too much alcohol is never a good thing. In addition to the damage it can cause the heart and liver, and the increased risk of cancer associated with too much alcohol, there’s that little problem of empty calories: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced the results of a study that showed U.S. adults consume an average of almost 100 calories per day from alcoholic beverages. That can add up to extra pounds very quickly.

Don’t let all this put a damper on your Valentine’s Day. You can still enjoy red wine and dark chocolate. As with almost everything in nutrition, though, just don’t overindulge.