By Dr. Janet Brill
February is Heart Health Month. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and has been since 1900. In fact, way back in 1963, in acknowledgement of the importance of the ongoing fight against cardiovascular disease, the Congress, by Joint Resolution approved a statute on December 30, 1963, as amended (77 Stat. 843; 36 U.S.C. 101), requesting that each serving President issue an annual proclamation designating February as “American Heart Month.”
So in celebration of Heart Health Month, here are two indulgent foods that will surely put a smile on your face. No deprivation here, you can truly love your heart and life by adding in these formerly forbidden foods into your heart-healthy day: dark chocolate and red wine!
Dark chocolate: Food for the Heart and Soul — with a high content of nonfat cocoa solids — is now the new guilt-free super food. The scientific evidence is stacking up linking daily consumption of deep, dark chocolate with phenomenal health benefits. When it comes to choosing chocolate for health, the chocolate must be the flavonoid-rich dark variety. This is because dark chocolate has a much higher percentage of cocoa than milk chocolate and it’s the cocoa that contains most of the flavonoids—plant substances which provide your body with a host of health benefits. Flavonoids work as potent antioxidants to protect us from free radical damage, the process which accelerates aging and promotes chronic illnesses such as heart disease.
Be wary of the kind of chocolate you choose as not all chocolate is created equally. For maximum health benefits, consume dark chocolate or naturally unsweetened dark cocoa powder. The key word here is DARK as the darker the chocolate, the higher the percentage of cocoa, and the more flavonoids it will contain. The problem is that a large amount of cocoa can make the bar taste bitter, so try different products to see what appeals to you. Look out for imposters like white chocolate (zero antioxidants) and hot chocolate mixes (negligible antioxidants). Better to make your own hot chocolate with dark unsweetened cocoa powder, fat free milk or light soy milk and a touch of sweetener. Another chocolate caveat, dark chocolate, while very good for health, is not a low calorie diet food. Eat it by the piece and not the pound, for when it comes to dark chocolate, the devil is truly in the details. It is often loaded with calories, fat and sugar, which is why if you choose to eat a chocolate confection, I suggest you make it no more than an ounce or two of at least 70 percent dark chocolate per day.
Red wine: Drink of the Gods — pair your dark chocolate treat with another sinfully delicious food: a glass of red wine and you have a powerful one-two knockout punch against atherosclerosis—the root cause of most heart attacks and stroke. Studies show that people who drink red wine in moderation—defined as one daily 5-ounce glass for women or two for men—are less likely to suffer a heart attack. Red wine stands apart from all other types of alcoholic beverages in its ability to neutralize heart attack risk due to its collection of powerful antioxidant polyphenols. To tap into wine’s huge cache of powerful polyphenols, be sure to pick red over white. Red wine has ten times the polyphenol content of white wine, because red wine is produced by fermentation of grape juice in the presence of the pulp (skins and seeds), where the polyphenols are produced. (White wine is made by quickly pressing the juice away from the grape solids, hence white wine is merely fermented fruit juice.) Two types of wine shown to top the antioxidant charts are pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon.
One additional advantage of enjoying a glass of wine with dinner is that it encourages you to slow down, relax and truly savor your meal. There is no greater pleasure than to sit down to a leisurely dinner of deliciously fresh whole food, artfully prepared, tempered with a flavorful glass of pinot noir, and shared with friends and family. That’s what this month of love is all about.
One caveat: When it comes to drinking alcohol, it is clearly a case of a double-edged sword. One fact is certain: moderation is the magic word, meaning a little is good, and a lot is not better. Wine is beneficial for your health only in moderation.
Celebrate life this February by making a point to take care of yourself and your heart. Eat healthy, exercise, enjoy yourself and stay forever young at heart—here’s to life!
Thick and Rich European-Style Hot Chocolate Treat
Sometimes on these cold winter days, nothing (and I mean nothing) quite compares to the pleasure of sipping a sinfully rich cup of sweet, hot cocoa by the fireplace. Now this is loving life!
Makes three servings, ~½ cup each
In a large saucepan, combine all ingredients. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a boil. Remove from heat, pour immediately into three mugs and top with fat-free whipped topping and a dash of cocoa powder, if desired.
Nutrition (Per serving):
Calories: 190, Fat: 4 g, Cholesterol: 0 mg, Sodium: 90 mg, Carbohydrate: 31 g, Fiber: 3 g, Sugars: 22 g, Protein: 7 g
Note: one serving provides 25% of the DV for calcium, 15% for iron and 8% for vitamin A.