Myth or fact? Wine, chocolate good for heart health


You may have heard the saying – or even propagated it yourself – ‘Have a glass of wine! It’s good for your heart!’ There’s a similar theory about dark chocolate.

But, is this just a way to justify an indulgence or is there some science to really support these statements?

Mary Mosquera, RD, is a cardiac rehabilitation dietitian at Ohio State Outpatient Care Upper Arlington. She is occasionally asked about the merits of wine or chocolate for heart health.

Bottom line: The science isn’t conclusive, but the research on red wine benefits is less convincing than it is for dark chocolate.

“Everyone is looking for that magic bullet: a certain food they can eat an unlimited amount of to make all their problems go away,” says Mosquera. “Unfortunately, I know it’s boring, but protecting your health through diet is really about balance and moderation.”

Are there health benefits to drinking wine?

Mosquera explains most of the studies regarding red wine and your heart focus on resveratrol, a naturally occurring compound in plants that contains antioxidant properties. She says most studies that show any heart health benefits are based on the effects of hundreds of milligrams of resveratrol, which shows that resveratrol can decrease inflammation and improve vascular health. But a typical glass of wine is likely to contain less than a milligram of resveratrol, not hundreds.

The theory of red wine being good for your heart may be more tied to the overall lifestyle. For example, moderate wine drinking is typical of a Mediterranean diet. Such a diet is also high in fruits and vegetables – a pattern of eating which has been scientifically proven to benefit heart health.

So while wine may be good for the heart, you’re unlikely to see your doctor write a bottle of Malbec on his or her prescription pad.

“Moderate drinking of wine is considered one glass for women and no more than two for men. And it’s not recommended to start drinking if you normally abstain,” explains Mosquera.

Are there health benefits to chocolate?

Like wine, a little chocolate in moderation may be beneficial for your heart. Unlike wine, there is a little more science to support the health benefits. 

Where resveratrol is the healthy ingredient of focus in wine, health experts are concentrating on  antioxidant compounds known as flavanols in chocolate.

Mosquera says studies have shown dark chocolate reduces blood pressure and improves vascular health. 

Don’t forget the key word: moderation! She says a reasonable amount is about 1 ounce of dark chocolate daily (about the size of 1 chocolate square), or 1-2 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder if you’re going the beverage route. 

Also be sure to look for chocolate that is 70 to 80 percent cocoa with no added sugar. Grabbing a candy bar in the grocery store checkout line isn’t going to help. And she says to look for chocolate and cocoa powder that isn’t labeled as being “Dutch processed.” In this process, chocolate has been treated to modify it’s color and taste – and removes many of the antioxidants found in natural cocoa powder and chocolate.