Heart Health studies pop up on the news from time to time, and sometimes what we hear makes us scratch our heads. I’m sure you’ve heard that red wine is linked to heart health, the same goes for chocolate and coffee…but do these claims hold any water? Let’s take a look.
Chocolate for Heart Health…too good to be true?
Something we keep hearing over and over, is that chocolate is linked to heart health. Past studies have indicated that foods that contain cocoa bean, specifically dark chocolate, are heart healthy, and that people who eat more chocolate have lower rates of heart attack, heart failure, and even death from heart disease. But what do current studies show? In one recent study in Denmark conducted by Harvard University, findings showed that chocolate, predominantly dark chocolate, also protects against another heart condition, called atrial fibrillation (AF), most likely due to the high concentration of flavanols, which may promote healthy blood vessel function. AF affects millions of people in the United States every year, and raises a person’s risk of heart failure, stroke, dementia, and death.
The study included over 55 thousand men and women whose health was monitored over the span of 13 years. Compared with those who ate a one-ounce serving of chocolate less than once per month, men and women who ate one to three servings per month had a 10 percent lower rate of atrial fibrillation; those who ate one serving per week had a 17 percent lower rate. The benefits leveled off with greater amounts of chocolate consumed, with those eating one or more servings per day having a 16 percent lower rate of AF. This suggests that even small amounts of cocoa consumption can have a positive health impact.
But it is also important to note that the heart health benefits of chocolate seemed to lessen in people who ate more than this serving size, due to the saturated fat and sugar content. So the main takeaway is that it’s best to eat in moderation.
Coffee…Good or Bad for the Heart?
Coffee. For some folks, it’s not just a beverage, but a way of life. According to a survey by the National Coffee Association, 83 percent of U.S. adults drink coffee. It helps us start our day, and gives us that afternoon pick-me-up, and sometimes fuels our late nights. What we’ve heard from cardiologists in the past, is that we should limit our coffee intake, because its caffeine could promote the development of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, strokes, and other cardiac events. But, recent studies show something different. Basically, if coffee is consumed in moderation, the high amount of polyphenols, which are antioxidant nutrients that help offset inflammation, can actually help protect us from heart disease.
As it turns out, coffee drinkers are less likely to die from not only heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure, but also from cancer and Alzheimer’s too. In the Nurse’s Health Study, a long-term look at more than 80,000 women showed that there was a reduction in stroke risk among women who drank 2-3 cups of coffee per week (Sinatra, 2017). Additional research has found similar results, regardless of gender. So keep drinking your polyphenol-packed morning cup of joe! Just don’t use too many artificial sweeteners, which may offset the health benefits associated with coffee.
Red Wine…a drink to your heart?
Red wine specifically has been touted as having heart health benefits for years now, among them a reduction in coronary artery disease. Any links between red wine and fewer heart attacks are still not completely understood. Part of the benefit might be related to the fact that the antioxidants in wine may increase levels of HDL (good) cholesterol and protect against cholesterol buildup. This might sounds like great news, but doctors are a little wary of encouraging people to start drinking alcohol, especially if there is a family history of alcohol abuse.
Resveratrol may be the key ingredient in red wine that helps prevent damage to blood vessels, reduces low-density lipoprotein (LDL, bad cholesterol), and prevents blood clots. Some research shows that resveratrol could be linked to a lower risk of inflammation and blood clotting, which can lead to heart disease. But other studies showed no benefits from resveratrol in preventing heart disease. More research is needed. So if you already drink red wine, continue to do so in moderation. As a refresher, moderation means: up to one drink a day for women of all ages, up to one drink a day for men over the age of 65, up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.
As is true with many things in life, moderation is key. So for now, go ahead and enjoy moderate portions of chocolate, red wine, and that morning cup of coffee! But in addition to enjoying moderate amounts of these items, don’t forgot to keep up with that healthy diet and exercise, which truly has the most profound impact on cardiovascular health.