Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Red or white ... and how dark for your Valentine?

By Marsha N. Woolery

Valentine's Day is the day for lovers, and love involves the heart. So, when we are in love, it is of utmost importance to take steps to take care of our heart and that of the loved one.
Research has shown that persons in France have less heart disease and it is claimed that the link is the high consumption of wine, especially red wine. How is this possible, and can non-French people have similar benefits?
Red wine has antioxidants such as resveratrol and flavonoids and alcohol that help to prevent heart disease by increasing the 'good' cholesterol (HDL), lowering 'bad' cholesterol (LDL), preventing blood clots and reducing damage to the arteries. Antioxidants get rid of free radicals that damage cells and cause heart disease and certain types of cancer.
Red wine has more resveratrol than white wine because during the making of red wine, the skin of the grapes is a part of the fermentation process, whereas it is not in the making of white wine. Resveratrol is found in the skin of the grapes. Resveratrol is also found in peanuts, cranberries and blueberries, and eating these foods and consuming red or purple grapes and drinking grape juice is a natural way of getting resveratrol.
Alcohol, which is formed during the fermentation of the grape juice with or without the skin, also increases HDL cholesterol, lowers LDL cholesterol and prevents artery damage that is caused by high LDL cholesterol levels. The consumption of too much alcohol increases the risk of high blood pressure, liver damage, obesity, certain types of cancer, accidents and weakens heart muscles.
Chocolate is made from cocoa beans and comes in various flavours - milk, white or dark - depending on the level of processing and the amount of sugar, cream, vanilla and, other ingredients such as spices that are added. Cocoa beans are high in the antioxidant, flavanol, which is a type of flavonoid. During the processing of chocolate, flavanol is lost. Therefore, the darker the chocolate (less processing), the more flavanol and white chocolate that are made from cocoa butter, sugar, milk and no cocoa solids (that give the chocolate its brown colour) has little or no flavonoids. The fat in chocolate is oleic acid (which is a monounsaturated fatty acid), stearic and palmitic acids. Monounsaturated fatty acid is also found in olive oil.
Flavonoids improve the blood flow to the brain and heart and lower LDL cholesterol. Flavanols are also found in peanuts, cranberries, onion, tea and red wine. Dark semi-sweet chocolates are high in flavonoids and low in sugar, unlike milk chocolate that is high in sugar and fat (cream and milk solids).
So in order to preserve the love that now exists in the heart, choose a healthy Valentine's Day gift. Here are some suggestions:
  • Fruit basket with berries and peanuts;
  • Non-alcoholic wine, red or purple grape juice;
  • Dark chocolates with or without nuts and without extra ingredients that add calories and fat.
Choose wines that are made in and are from cooler temperatures because they have higher amounts of resveratrol. Wine should be sipped slowly to ensure that resveratrol gets to the bloodstream.
Here's to you and your Valentine's heart health!
Marsha N. Woolery is a registered dietitian/nutritionist in private practice and adjunct lecturer at Northern Caribbean University; email: