Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Valentine's Day means Healthy Indulgence! Wine & Chocolate!

I tend to be a beer drinker but hey, Valentine’s Day is this month and your gal might appreciate sharing good bottle of wine.  So go ahead and indulge, once I arm you with some nutrition facts of course, as I have done my best to cut through all the anecdotal, bro-science out there!
               Make no mistake - I am in no way a wine connoisseur, so brand selection is on you.  And if you currently don’t drink alcohol the medical experts all still say the health benefits associated with moderate wine consumption are not enough reason to start drinking.  Now that I got those two disclaimers out of the way, let’s get on with it!


               Wine consumed in moderation, (1 glass a day for a woman and 2 glasses a day for a man), is widely accepted as good for us and linked to longevity in many cultures.  Alcohol in general, has LDL-cholesterol (‘bad’-cholesterol), lowering properties, and is a vasodilator – dilates your blood vessels, thereby lowering blood pressure – and is relaxing.  This means that alcohol in moderation is heart-healthy for a person currently in good health with no liver problems!  Wine adds in another tier of health because it is so rich in plant-polyphenols from grapes, the most noteworthy being resveratrol.  The high polyphenol content comes from the grape-skins, and since the grapes are fermented longest for red wine, not only does red wine contain more resveratrol content, but it is also lower in sugar.  (Remember, alcohol is NOT sugar.)  All polyphenols are also antioxidants as well, which mean they bind to free-radicals and repair oxidation damage.  Oxidation is a normal metabolic process of all oxygen breathing mammals, and it’s free-radical byproducts are also normal.  In fact, our bodies are very much equipped to handle all oxidative damage and repair, if we just get out of own way, and actually, consuming too many anti-oxidant supplements will actually prohibit proper post-workout repair and adaptation.  Also, the jury is still out in the efficacy of consuming resveratrol in supplement form, so for now you’re better off obtaining it through whole-foods, grapes and wine.  You can also drink grape juice, but your Valentine might not be as stoked if you show up with a bottle of grape juice instead of a nice Merlot.  Plus, grape juice has way more sugar content than wine does, per serving – just sayin!
This article was originally written by me for Four EL magazine, FEB 14 issue



I have limited editorial space as well as your valuable time at stake here, and honestly I found so much anecdotal, snake-oil, hype out there on the benefits of resveratrol and how it is linked to everything from anti-aging to treating type-2 diabetes.  Some of it may be true, but most probably not.  The bottom line is, you can’t really drink enough red wine to reap the claimed benefits of resveratrol without damaging your liver from the alcohol, and you can’t drink enough grape juice without sky-rocketing your insulin levels from too much fructose, and the jury is still out on taking resveratrol supplements.  So instead of focusing on resveratrol, please just enjoy your 2 glasses of wine for all the other myriad of health, social and romance reasons, just like healthy cultures have been doing together for centuries.  And there are many of us out there, including myself who are allergic to red wine and therefore have to stick to white wine or beer.  White wine has nearly all the same health benefits and only slightly lower resveratrol content and we saw a few issues back that beer is also full of anti-oxidants, so you’re covered!


               What’s not to love about chocolate right?  Well pretty much I have nothing bad to say about chocolate - as long as it is real cocoa you are eating!  That means ‘dark’ chocolate is key, not milk chocolate.  Dark chocolate is the only form, (other than bitter chocolate and raw cacao of course), that has high enough pure cocoa content to make it beneficial to your health.  Milk chocolate is simply candy, while dark chocolate is a true super-food!   But don’t worry, dark chocolate still tastes amazing.  Go for at least 60% cocoa content or higher, for maximum heart-healthy benefits.  There are several ingredients in cocoa that make it a super food.  It has high Arginine content, which is a non-essential amino acid that is good for blood vessel health because it increases Nitric Oxide, or NO, which then causes the vessels to dilate or expand and makes the vessel’s endothelial lining more slippery, thereby lowering blood pressure and shielding from plaque accumulation.  Dark chocolate also has lots of alkaloids such as theobromine, phenethylamine, and caffeine, which assist in thermogenesis and fat-burning and increasing serotonin levels, improving mood.  The cocoa-butter content helps increase HDL-cholesterol, the good kind of cholesterol, because it is a plant-based fat.  And finally, cocoa is rich in anti-oxidants, which as we already mentioned, bind to free-radicals, counteract oxidation, and help prevent oxidation of the bad, LDL-cholesterol, so it won’t stick to the vessel walls.  Remember again, that dark chocolate is lower in sugar content, than milk chocolate, so that is one more reason to stick with dark.  Also, consider trying raw cacao nibs, which are even healthier because the cacao has not been roasted yet and no sugar has been added.  Raw nibs give amazing crunchy texture when sprinkled into your granola, oatmeal, smoothie or ice cream, and you can’t even taste their bitterness.

               Natural Blood-Thinners

               Besides their high anti-oxidant content from plant-phenols, we can see that the main heart health benefit from red wine and chocolate is that when consumed in moderation, they are blood thinners and vasodilators.  This is actually something to keep in mind if you are the type who also eats raw nuts and nut butters, cold-water fish, olive oil, and takes an essential fatty acid supplement, EFA.  Because these all combine into a cumulative, blood-thinning effect, which is in most cases better for your health, but it also means you need to be careful when taking aspirin or other pharmaceutical, blood-thinning drugs.  You could increase your risk of hemorrhage.  But for most of, us go ahead and indulge on occasion, and the rest of the time, include moderate wine consumption and dark chocolate as part of your every day diet.      


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