by Alison Brinker, RD, LD
The media often provides information about how some foods we generally think are not good choices may actually be good for us, such as chocolate and red wine. Be aware, too much of anything is not a good idea. I will try to clarify the benefits of chocolate and wine and how to work these into a meal plan.
Flavanols are found in foods such as chocolate, red wine, grape juice, red grapes and tea. Flavanols are thought to help limit damage to the cells in our body from environmental contaminants such as pollution, pesticides and cigarette smoke. Flavanols may also play a part in reducing inflammation in the body, reduce the likelihood of platelets adhering and/or clotting in our blood vessels and improve blood flow.
The flavanols in red grapes, red wine, red grape juice may help increase levels of HDL (high density lipoprotein or “good” cholesterol) and consequently decrease the risk of heart disease. One 5-ounce glass of wine per day is all that is recommended for any potential benefit without increasing the risk of problems associated with too much alcohol consumption. If choosing red wine, a dry wine will have less impact on glucose levels than a sweet wine. It is also important to remember that a serving of fresh red grapes (about 17 grapes = 15 grams carbohydrate) or a serving of 100% juice red grape juice (4 ounce = 15 grams carb) can offer the same flavanols and benefits as the red wine. You are also getting fiber from the fresh grapes that is not found in juice or wine. Sometimes alcohol is not recommended because of certain medications.
Tea (unsweetened) is a free beverage that is also a source of flavanols. It is thought that 2 cups per day may reduce total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoproteins or “bad” cholesterol) and reduce risk of heart disease and stroke. Iced tea is lower in flavanols that hot tea. Steeping tea as long as possible increases the flavanol content. Green or black tea has higher flavanol content than other types of tea.
Chocolate also contains flavanols and may help improve blood flow and lower blood pressure. However, like grape juice and fresh grapes it can impact glucose numbers significantly. The greatest amounts of flavanols are found in nonfat cocoa solids. Dutch cocoa is actually significantly lower in flavanol content. The best sources are natural or unsweetened cocoa powder. Add a tablespoon to unsweetened vanilla yogurt as part of a healthy snack. Unsweetened baking chocolate is also a good source as well as dark or semisweet chocolate. As with any food, check the label for serving size and carbohydrate content to determine the amount that will fit into your meal plan.
While chocolate can provide health benefits, tea, red grapes and grape products can too reinforcing that variety is one of the most important aspects of staying healthy.