Are chocolate and wine actually good for my heart?

Posted by Dayne Hudson in Wellness

Estimated reading time: 5mins

Are chocolate and wine actually good for my heart?

Chocolate and wine for heart health

The aforementioned review aimed for a definitive answer on how wine and chocolate impact cardiovascular health, with a particular focus on atherosclerosis (hardening or thickening of the arteries).

It was an intervention study, meaning it didn't merely observe data and draw a conclusion, but rather investigated direct exposure; just the sort of science we like in our inbox.

So, what is it in chocolate and alcohol that might make it so special?

The review found it's the phenolic compounds that contain active ingredients, characterised by anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiplatelet (stepping cells in the blood from clotting) properties.

And the other goodies that might be cardioprotective are compounds such as esters, amines, biogenic amines, amino acids, fatty acids, mineral ingredients, and vitamins.

And like a lot of things in our fridge or in the supermarket aisle; chocolate and wine can be bad in high doses. But of course, when consumed in the correct amounts, are beneficial for our heart health.

So, what did the researchers report?

"...consumption of chocolate and wine was positively associated with the beneficial outcomes associated with the cardiovascular system."

And how much?

The data suggests the beneficial doses are 30–50 g and 130/250 mL for chocolate and wine, respectively, for both sexes.

Wine and Chocolate

Well, there we go! Now we should just rip out the picnic blanket, break off some chocolate, and consume it knowing it's doing us really well, right?

Well, it's not quite that simple.

Because when this was assessed by what's called the GRADE scale, it wasn't solidified. The GRADE scale is a framework for developing and presenting summaries of evidence and provides a systematic approach for making clinical practice recommendations.

But also, there were other factors at play that determined the results: age, sex, body weight, and the presence of additional medical conditions.

But in the end, the researchers concluded:

"...there is abundant evidence to prove the beneficial impact of consuming both products on cardiovascular health, however, some evidence still remains controversial."

They then recommend well-designed and longer studies to determine for certain just how chocolate and wine affect our heart health.

How you can help prevent heart disease

Cardiovascular diseases still kill more of us than anything else on earth.

Risk factors for cardiovascular diseases include:

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • High cholesterol
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Family history of early cardiovascular disease
  • Physical inactivity
Exercise regularly to help fight heart disease
Exercise regularly to help fight heart disease.

So really, whilst chocolate and wine can form part of a healthy diet, it's obviously not anything we'd consume just for the benefit of our heart.

There are other more important things like ensuring we're keeping fat accumulation at bay, not smoking, and maintaining a consistent and healthy weight via following a consistent balance of daily macronutrients.

One who doesn't drink wine would not be advised to start for any heart benefits, as losing weight, for example, is inherently cardioprotective and a better preventative strategy.

The other issue here is the number of calories in alcohol, aka ethanol: 7 calories per gram.

This can really creep up if you're having too much of it! The same is obviously true of chocolate.

But carbohydrates can easily be substituted for wine to a small degree as part of a fat loss diet. For example, a glass of wine has roughly 83 calories, which is approximately 20 grams of carbohydrates.

So swapping out 20 grams of carbohydrates at any time of the day, for a glass of wine, is how to make this work. And two glasses of wine per day (which should be the maximum!) means you need to swap out 40 grams of carbohydrates a day.

The problems come about when people don't do the swapping and just the adding: more wine finds its way into their daily diet, without any adjustments to their daily calorie intake.

Chocolate and wine is beneficial for the heart, but only in low doses, and more research is ultimately needed for solid recommendations)
Chocolate and wine is beneficial for the heart, but only in low doses, and more research is ultimately needed for solid recommendations)

Or worse still, MORE calories from daily meals (bigger lunches and dinners) are introduced. Add that to the fact that our metabolisms slow as we get older, and you have a recipe for weight gain!

The bottom line on chocolate and wine

Whilst research does show that chocolate and alcohol is good for our heart, it isn't ultimately backed by a systematic approach for making clinical practice recommendations. More research is needed to ultimately solidify the statement, but as yet, the evidence is still "abundant".

The latest review into this states that 30–50 g and 130/250 mL for chocolate and wine, respectively, is good for both sexes. But if you don't consume wine already, it's not a good idea to start for the sake of potential cardioprotective benefits. Stick to maintaining and/or losing weight, not smoking and exercising regularly for better heart health.

References:

  1. Sperkowska B, Murawska J, Przybylska A, et al. Cardiovascular Effects of Chocolate and Wine-Narrative Review. Nutrients. 2021;13(12):4269. Published 2021 Nov 26. doi:10.3390/nu13124269
  2. Lusis AJ. Atherosclerosis. Nature. 2000;407(6801):233-241. doi:10.1038/35025203
  3. Iqbal AM, Lopez RA, Hai O. Antiplatelet Medications. [Updated 2021 Oct 7]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537062/ 
  4. Guyatt GH, Oxman AD, Kunz R, Vist GE, Falck-Ytter Y, Schunemann HJ. What is "quality of evidence" and why is it important to clinicians? BMJ (Clinical research ed). 2008;336(7651):995-8.
  5. Teissedre, P.L.; Stockley, C.; Boban, M.; Gambert, P.; Alba, M.O.; Flesh, M.; Ruf, J.C. The effects of wine consumption on cardiovascular disease and associated risk factors: A narrative review. Oeno One 2018, 50, 67–79.
    Bittner, V. The New 2019 AHA/ACC Guideline on the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease. Circulation 2020, 2402–2404.
  6. Ades PA, Savage PD. Potential benefits of weight loss in coronary heart disease. Prog Cardiovasc Dis. 2014 Jan-Feb;56(4):448-56. doi: 10.1016/j.pcad.2013.09.009. Epub 2013 Oct 9. PMID: 24438737.
  7. Sayon-Orea C, Martinez-Gonzalez MA, Bes-Rastrollo M. Alcohol consumption and body weight: a systematic review. Nutr Rev. 2011 Aug;69(8):419-31. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2011.00403.x. PMID: 21790610.
  8. Shimokata H, Kuzuya F. [Aging, basal metabolic rate, and nutrition]. Nihon Ronen IgakkaiZasshi. 1993 Jul;30(7):572-6. Japanese. doi: 10.3143/geriatrics.30.572. PMID: 8361073.
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