Eugene Weekly : Coverstory : 2.14.08

loving your body

Healthy Substance Abuse
Wining and dining your way to a healthy heart

We all have our weaknesses. For some it’s that box of chocolate, while others enjoy a daily latte. Yet these indulgences don’t have to mean guilt and regret. Wine, coffee and the most decadent of them all, chocolate, are not just indulgences anymore; they are ways of staying healthy.

“The power of the grape is in its skin. It’s cancer fighting and lowers blood pressure,” says local health counselor Sheila Gibbons. According to a study done by the American Journal of Physiology, red wine contains an antioxidant called resveratrol that benefits the heart tissue and helps in the prevention of heart disease. The same study found that wine drinkers also tend to choose foods that are healthier. And a quick note: While a glass or two a day may be able to keep the doctor away, it doesn’t mean a night of binge drinking counts as a healthy night out. Overindulgence in wine of any color can lead to liver, breast and other forms of cancer.

Some may see wine as an occasional treat, but there are many who cannot live without their daily dose of coffee. Luckily, the drug of choice in the Pacific Northwest contains a few antioxidants that have many benefits. Both caf and decaf cups have anti-adhesive properties that help prevent cavities — though that doesn’t justify a peppermint mocha! More importantly, coffee’s antioxidant compound boosts the activity of certain enzymes which protect against colon cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S.

A study in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that coffee can also impact the extent to which that special someone can be persuaded. Perhaps instead of a glass of wine for your date on Valentine’s Day, you could get your potential lover a cup of organic fair trade no foam skinny vanilla sugar-free latte — you may have a better chance of getting lucky.

Then there’s always chocolate- — the cause of many a failed diet. But don’t regret that square just yet. Chocolate contains flavonoids, which protect the heart and are critical for healthy blood flow and blood pressure. “Chocolate also raises endorphins and dopamine levels, making you feel better,” Gibbons says. However, not any old chocolate will do: “the darker the better,” Gibbons adds. A minimum of 70 percent cocoa is required, meaning that pint of Ben and Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk you ate in one sitting doesn’t count.

Don’t forget that chocolate is still high in sugar, calories and fat. However, the concentration of antioxidants is highest in cocoa, two times more than in red wine and four times more than in black tea, meaning less guilt for chocolate lovers. Now not only will chocolate heal a broken a heart, it may help prevent one!

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