cute dog lying on floor

Valentine’s day is just around the corner and February is heart health awareness month.   I figured I would use this opportunity to share some interesting facts about heart health as it pertains to some Valentine’s day favorites; namely, wine, dark chocolate and the French.

Wait… the French?  I thought St. Valentine was Roman…What do they have to do with it?

Well, Valentine’s Day, not so much, but heart health, a lot.  Data continues to suggest that the French have some of the healthiest hearts around.  This is demonstrated by death rates attributable to heart disease.  In France, that number is 39.8 of 100,000 deaths attributed to heart disease; in the United States that number is 106.5 per 100,000, approximately 3 times the French rate.  Why are the French so hearth-healthy…we don’t know exactly, yet.  Let me introduce you to the “French Paradox”.  The French Paradox is the idea that though the French diet is heavy in saturated fats (think brie cheese) epidemiological studies suggest the French to have some of the lowest rates of heart disease.  Why is that?  Glad you asked!  Now we get to look at the good stuff…wine and chocolate!

The French Paradox caused researchers to look a little further into why the French were so much healthier.  One of the ideas proposed was that the French diet was heavy with wine, particularly red wine.  As it turns out, this likely contributes.  Moderate consumption of red wine has been proven to improve many parameters of cardiovascular health.  Several studies suggest that light-to-moderate alcohol consumption decreases the risk of heart disease by 40 to 70 percent, compared with drinking no alcohol or with heavy alcohol intake.  Additionally, moderate alcohol consumption decreases likelihood of development of high blood pressure and improves blood pressure in people who already have hypertension.  It should be noted, that in all studies, the beneficial effect of wine was based on moderate consumption.  However, no professional society advocates for initiation of wine consumption in an attempt to reduce cardiovascular risk, but if your partner delights you with a beautiful bottle of wine to celebrate the big day, you can enjoy, knowing that you are improving your heart health.

On to the next V-day favorite…Chocolate!  I mean, who doesn’t love it, particularly mixed with peanuts, caramel or coconut?…pick your favorite, but make it dark.  Evidence has also proven some interesting cardio-protective benefits of moderate dark chocolate consumption.  In a 2017 study in the journal Nutrition, moderate chocolate consumption lowered the incidence of coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Why is that?  Well, it seems that a component of the cocoa bean called flavonoids are the responsible substance.  Flavonoids in cocoa have been shown to help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain and heart, prevent blood clots, and fight cell damage. They’ve also been shown to help thinking skills.  Not surprisingly, the more cocoa, the more flavonoids and therefore the greater benefit to your heart.   This is why most experts suggest choosing dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa).

Guess where else flavonoids are found?  You guessed it…red wine!

So, this Valentine’s Day, improve your heart health the indulgent way: drink red wine and eat dark chocolate!

Don’t know where to start?  Here are my current favorites for red wine and dark chocolate.  Feel free to use this as a subtle hint for your significant other.

Intrinsic Red Blend: an inexpensive red that can pair easily with a meal or sipped by itself while relaxing in front of the TV.  Bonus: super cool artwork on the bottle.

red wine and heart health
Ghirardelli Intense Dark Cherry Tango

dark chocolate and a healthy heart

And while we're talking about things to do on Valentine's Day, check out of our article, 6 Secrets to Better Sex!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Dr. Wheeler