I typically reserve the first paragraph of every Super Food post for a brief explanation of what family the food belongs to and how the name came to be…but when dealing with dark chocolate and red wine this close to Valentine’s Day, and just in time for date night, let’s forgo the chit chat and skip right to the good stuff!
A Match Made in Heaven
Most people won’t argue that chocolate and wine are heavenly foods, but you may be surprised to learn that chocolate’s botanical name, Theobroma cacao, literally translates to “food of the gods.” And, while on the topic of the divine, the Greek god Dionysus is credited with inventing wine. As the god of fertility and ecstasy who can blame him? As the myths go, Dionysus was often in the presence of “Maenads” – wild women, flush with wine and draped in fawn skins enjoying the “fruit of the vine.” (And some chocolate perhaps?) There’s no doubt Mr. Dionysus knew how to throw a party, but he probably didn’t know the health benefits of these sumptuous foods.
Flavonoids & Resveratrol – The Language of Love
Dark chocolate and red wine both contain polyphenols called flavanols. Flavanols are super sexy, naturally occurring antioxidants that protect the body by fighting the effects of free radicals – atoms or molecules in our bodies that contribute to a list of serious health issues. In fact, the ORAC value (the measure of a substances’ antioxidant capacities) of raw, unprocessed cocoa is higher than highly regarded super foods like acai, pomegranates, cranberries, blueberries, kale and spinach.
If the high ORAC value doesn’t get you in the mood, dark chocolate has a list of benefits that will help keep a flame burning that even cupid can’t match:
Dark Chocolate is good for your heart
We all know a strong heart is important when the “mood strikes” and studies show that eating a small amount of dark chocolate two or three times a week can help lower your blood pressure, improves blood flow and prevents the formation of blood clots.
Dark Chocolate is good for your brain
Attraction is about more than just a pretty face – we want the package deal! Beauty AND brains. (BRAAAAINZ… Ha! Just kidding. That’s the Halloween post.) If you’d like a little enhancement in that department, dark chocolate increases blood flow to the brain, improving cognitive function (and reducing the risk of stroke.)
Dark chocolate improves your mood
It seems too good to be true, but dark chocolate has several chemical compounds that have a positive effect on your mood. One in particular, phenylethylamine (PEA,) encourages the brain to release endorphins, so when you eat it, you’re happier. Interestingly enough, PEA is the same chemical your brain creates when you feel like you’re falling in love. A few squares of dark chocolate may be all you need to rekindle the romance.
Dark chocolate is high in vitamins & minerals
Dark chocolate contains a number of vitamins and minerals, but the ones in large concentrations are potassium, copper, magnesium and iron. Among other things, copper and potassium help prevent against stroke and cardiovascular ailments. Iron protects against iron deficiency (anemia) and magnesium helps prevent type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
For something as delicious and decadent as dark chocolate, it’s hard to believe how darn healthy it is. Turn out, red wine provides many of the same benefits as dark chocolate because it too has abundant flavanols. But, the real superpowers behind red wine come from the phytonutrient resveratrol.
While dark chocolate also has resveratrol, the highest concentrations are found in the skin of grapes. Resveratrol is the antibody that grapes produce when they are fighting disease, fungii or injury. This beautiful chemical compound reduces inflammation, reverses the aging process and repairs damaged cells. In addition, resveratrol has been shown to interfere with the growth of cancer cells.
Also, the best way to absorb resveratrol is through “buccai” delivery – which means by direct absorption through the inside of the mouth. The next time you take a sip of that heavenly juice, be sure to taste it like you’re on a romantic Napa tour and swish it around your mouth a bit.
The Taste of Love
There’s no doubt that dark chocolate and red wine are an attractive couple, but their uber- super-foodiness escalates them to a stellar-sexy Brangelina status. (Too many hyphens?) There is every reason to start working both of these decadent foods into your diet immediately…just make sure you can (and do) follow a few simple rules.
1. Enjoy both in moderation (very important)
2. Enjoy chocolate with cocoa content of 70% or higher
3. To maximize resveratrol concentration look for grapes made in northern or higher elevation climates
For those of us in colder climates, try this smokin’ recipe for “Antioxidant Powerhouse Hot Chocolate:”
- 2 tablespoon Raw Cacao powder
- 1 to 2 tablespoons Coconut sugar (or local honey)
- 1 Cup unsweetened, Vanilla Almond Milk (or low-fat Dairy Milk)
- Dash Cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon pure Vanilla extract
- Dash Cayenne Pepper (optional, but don’t you remember last week’s post???)
Mix all ingredients with milk in a medium saucepan. Heat it over low to medium heat, without causing it to boil. Stir continuously with a whisk to dissolve the sugar and distribute the cacao. Enjoy!
Michael Wood, CSCS
Chief Fitness Officer
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About Michael Wood, Chief Fitness Officer
Michael Wood, CSCS, is Chief Fitness Officer at Koko FitClub, driving the development of integrated strength and cardio training and nutrition programs for Koko members nationwide. A nationally acclaimed fitness expert, Michael has conducted research as a Senior Exercise Physiologist at the Nutrition, Exercise Physiology and Sarcopenia Laboratory at the Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, and has lectured at Boston University and the University of Connecticut. He has been named Boston Magazine’s “Best of Boston” Personal Trainer, and made the Men’s Journal “Dream Team” list of the nine best trainers in the U.S. Michael and his family live in North Attleboro, MA.