When you think of “health food”, what comes to mind? The ubiquitous head of kale? Quinoa, perhaps? Anti-oxidant loaded blueberries? Personally, my idea of the perfect after 50 health foods are red wine and dark chocolate!
Deep and fruity, redolent of berries, aromatic red wine and velvety, decadently rich dark chocolate. Are they just the food of the Gods or heart-healthy?
The belief in benefits to red wine consumption dates back to the ancient Egyptians but really caught on in popular culture after an historic event in November, 1991: the 60 Minutes story on “The French Paradox.” The concept was based on the work of Bordeaux scientist Serge Renaud (perhaps part of the wine lobby?) which showed that although the French diet was high in fat and dairy (washed down with red wine), the French had a low occurrence of cardiovascular disease compared to those consuming a Western diet. Not only that, the French seemed to be maintaining their weight better than the Yanks, despite their diet. Before you could say Cabernet, please, sales of red wine shot up over 44% from previous years.
This idea has continued to proliferate based primarily on the believed benefits of resveratrol in three areas:
- Protection from heart attack by reducing inflammation and oxidation of LDL and sticky platelets
- Protecting nerve cells from damage and plaque buildup leading to Alzheimers
- Preventing insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes
Since finding that dark chocolate, too, contains resveratrol, the two have been inextricably linked as health foods. Be still my heart! Two of my favorite things in life, practically major food groups, are good for me!
A recent clue that this was not just the stuff of fantasies came out of Cleveland Clinic in 2012. Their study found that ”red wine and dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 70% or more contain resveratrol which had been found to lower blood sugar. Further, red wine is a source of catechins which aids “good” cholesterol.”
By May 2014, later research was saying “not so fast.” New studies at Johns Hopkins found that the benefits of resveratrol, that lovely anti-oxidant in your zinfandel or truffle, were somewhat exaggerated. This feels like déjà vu to me, yet another instance of medical science screwing with our heads as when they drove women to distraction with the “HRT is good for you”/”Oh, maybe it will kill you” findings. Clearly there are many chocoholics and winos out there in the medical profession because studies keep looking for justification to satisfy our urges for the dark, delicious stuff and a little vin rouge without guilt.
Anti-oxidants aside, dark chocolate also contain flavanols (which positively influence lower blood pressure, improved blood flow to the brain and heart and better clotting), caffeine, a stimulant and serotonin which boosts mood and increases sexual desire and responsiveness making it a veritable Love Drug. Not bad for a little square of Godiva.
Not long ago, an acquaintance from the gym invited me to Xocai presentation. This company sells a dark, high anti-oxidant chocolate marketed as Healthy Chocolate. They have extrapolated the virtues of chocolate to a skin care line too. I listened to this presentation and tasted the chocolate but the emphasis was clearly on making money through referral marketing as opposed to giving heavy research into the product itself. Major red flag for me, not to mention the $100 price tag on a month supply of chocolate. I’ll stick with my Trade Joe’s Pound Plus 72% for $4.99
They are not the only company to suggest a link between reserveratrol and anti –aging. The French skin care line Caudalie produces the Vinexpert Firming Serum that “deeply restructures the skin so it regains its firmness and elasticity…..wrinkles reduced, skin is re-densified.” And the hook: “Instant firming effect.” Yours for $89.
There are also capsules available with concentrated doses of reseveratrol and cocoa flavanols. So you can take these compounds in capsule form orally or apply them topically; but why would you when you can just drink and devour your way to health and youth?
I know which option I’m picking!
While supplements and vegetables can provide the meritsof reseveratrol , flavanols and even serotonin, they can never match the pure pleasure of sipping a glass of red and savoring a dark chocolate.