Valentine’s Day is the chance to showcase love to others. For some, feelings are expressed by giving gifts of tasty treats, like chocolate and wine. Let’s be honest, many of us plan to indulge, but UnityPoint Health Dietitian Jeni Tackett, MS, RD, LD, suggests there is a smarter way to select your snack in order to keep a healthy heart
Red Wine vs. White Wine
Believe it or not, there are some health benefits to wine. Red wine is usually a healthier option over white wine. Reds are considered heart-healthy wines, as they contain antioxidants called polyphenols. These may protect blood vessels, prevent blood clots and reduce low-density lipoproteins (LDL) or bad cholesterol.
Alcohol in moderation, be it red or white wine, may raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol. However, moderation is the key word. Moderate drinking is defined as up to one drink (5 ounces) per day for women and up to two drinks (10 ounces) per day for men
Sweet Wine vs. Dry Wine
Due to possible health benefits, a dry wine is preferred over a sweet wine. Sweet wines have added sugar, and the more sugar, the more calories. However, you should take this with a grain of salt. Make sure to consider the alcohol content of each glass you’re sipping, in addition to whether it’s dry or sweet.
“Alcohol is high in calories, with seven calories per gram, compared to carbohydrates and protein, which have four calories per gram,” Tackett says. “The highest calorie wines are the ones with the highest alcohol content. Some sweet wines have fewer calories than some dry wines because the alcohol content is lower.”
Example of average calorie content for 5 oz. serving:
Cabernet Sauvignon (red) 130-140 calories
Riesling (white) 130-140 calories
Shiraz (red) 150-160 calories
Sweet Red 150-250
Dark Chocolate vs. Milk Chocolate
What is Valentine’s Day without chocolate? If you choose wisely, chocolate and heart health can go hand-in-hand. Overall, it’s better to select dark chocolate over milk chocolate for a sweet tooth. Dark chocolate has health benefits due to flavonoids from cocoa that are also found in red wine, coffee and apples. Dark chocolate also has magnesium and copper, which are minerals associated with heart health. Milk chocolate does not have as much cocoa, and thus, Tackett says is not as healthy. Milk chocolate also has different kinds of saturated fat, which is associated with heart disease.
“Adding dark chocolate to your diet, adds calories. Serving size should be small, at around 1.5 ounces per day. To help with weight control, you need to replace other sweets with dark chocolate, rather than just adding dark chocolate on top of what you already eat. To get the most benefit, look for dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa beans.
Plain Chocolate vs. Filled Chocolates
We all love chocolate-covered bacon or ooey, gooey caramel spilling out of a chocolate shell; however, if given a selection, it’s best to be picky with any fillings. In general, plain dark chocolate is best.
“Chocolate with bacon has added fat and sodium. Chocolate with caramel has added sugar and fat. An exception to the rule, would be nuts. Nuts have a healthy fat composition with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. However, nuts are high calorie, and dark chocolate is high in calories. Thus, make sure to keep small portion sizes with chocolate-covered nuts of any variety,” Tackett says
Real Sugar vs. Fake Sugar
Sugar alcohols usually show up on labels as “sugar-free” or “no sugar added.” While sugar alcohols can reduce the calories and sugar content in chocolates, it’s best to eat regular chocolate with real sugar, especially dark chocolate. Tackett says they are only partially digested and absorbed, which causes less of a rise in blood sugar. However, sugar alcohols can also cause upset stomachs and diarrhea.
For any specific questions about building a better diet, contact your UnityPoint Health primary care provider to discuss your specific nutritional needs.