Enjoy Valentine’s Day goodies with these unexpected health benefits

Excerpt: Enjoying certain Valentine’s Day treats in moderation confers surprising health benefits for seniors. Studies suggest that eating flavanol-rich, dark chocolate may boost heart and brain health, and lift your mood. Drinking a glass of red wine with dinner may lower diabetes and heart disease risk, while savouring chocolate-dipped strawberries can reduce inflammation.

Celebrate Valentine’s Day by indulging in some special treats that provide surprising health benefits for seniors. Studies suggest that consuming Valentine’s-related treats such as dark chocolate, red wine, strawberries, and almonds in moderation may confer a wide range of health benefits:

  1. Choose dark chocolate to boost heart health. Dark chocolate has a much higher proportion of heart-healthy antioxidants, called flavanols*, and less added sugar and fat than milk or white chocolate, according to Cleveland Clinic. Flavanols stimulate the production of nitric oxide*, which relaxes your blood vessels and improves blood flow, and these compounds help the body repair damaged cells* as well, says Dietitians of Canada.
  2. Sip red wine to lower diabetes and heart disease risk. Drinking red wine in moderation* (up to a glass a day for older adults) may lower the risk of heart disease, according to Mayo Clinic. Antioxidants in red wine called polyphenols may protect the lining of blood vessels in the heart, lower bad (LDL) cholesterol, and prevent blood clots. Drinking a glass of wine with a meal is also associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes*, reported a 2022 Tulane University study. Health care providers do not recommend that non-drinkers start drinking wine for the health benefits.
  3. Drink a hot cup of cocoa to lift your mood A 2022 Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry study found that people who consumed 85% cocoa dark chocolate improved their mood and gut health*. A University of Calgary study reported that participants who consumed dark chocolate in moderation were 70% less likely to report depressive symptoms* than those who didn’t eat any chocolate at all.
  4. Savour chocolate-dipped strawberries to reduce inflammation. Heart-shaped strawberries are abundant in anti-inflammatory compounds*, which help to protect our bodies from heart disease, diabetes and certain forms of cancer and bowel disease, according to Harvard Medical School. A Nutrients study found that eating strawberries reduced pain and inflammation* in people with osteoarthritis. A bioactive compound in strawberries, called pelargonidin, decreases neuroinflammation* and may protect against dementia, reported a 2022 Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease study.
  5. Munch on dark chocolate banana bites to raise potassium levels. Bananas contain high levels of magnesium and potassium*, which can help to lower blood pressure and keep your kidneys healthy, according to Healthline.
  6. Snack on chocolate-covered almonds to strengthen bones and teeth. Almonds are chock-full of protein and have more calcium than any other nut, working with vitamin D to strengthen bones and teeth*. Almonds are high in Vitamin E as well, which helps protect against infection. A Journal of the American Heart Association study reported that eating a combination of raw almonds, dark chocolate and unsweetened cocoa* lowered artery-clogging, bad cholesterol.
  7. Eat dark chocolate squares to improve brain health. Older adults who consumed higher levels of cocoa flavanols (found in dark chocolate) daily for 8 weeks improved their attention, executive function, and memory*, reported an American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study.

*The following sources provide references for this blog, in order of appearance:

  1. healthessentials. "Dark Chocolate Health Benefits"(2022), Online: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/dark-chocolate-health-benefits/
  2. healthessentials. "Dark Chocolate Health Benefits"(2022), Online: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/dark-chocolate-health-benefits/
  3. UnlockFood.ca. "For the Love of Chocolate"(2018), Online: https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Caffeine/For-the-Love-of-Chocolate.aspx
  4. MAYO CLINIC. "Red wine and resveratrol: Good for your heart?"(2022), Online: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/red-wine/art-20048281
  5. Newsroom. "Study finds drinking wine with meals was associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes"(2022), Online: https://newsroom.heart.org/news/study-finds-drinking-wine-with-meals-was-associated-with-lower-risk-of-type-2-diabetes
  6. ScienceDirect. "Consumption of 85% cocoa dark chocolate improves mood in association with gut microbial changes in healthy adults: a randomized controlled trial"(2022), Online: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0955286321002746
  7. ScienceDaily. "People who eat dark chocolate less likely to be depressed"(2019), Online: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/08/190802145458.htm
  8. Harvard Health Publishing. "Eat these fruits for their anti-inflammatory benefits", Online: https://www.health.harvard.edu/nutrition/eat-these-fruits-for-their-anti-inflammatory-benefits
  9. National Library of Medicine. "Strawberries Improve Pain and Inflammation in Obese Adults with Radiographic Evidence of Knee Osteoarthritis"(2017) , Online: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28846633/
  10. RUSH University. "Strawberries May Help Fend Off Alzheimer's"(2022), Online: https://www.rushu.rush.edu/news/strawberries-may-help-fend-alzheimers
  11. healthline. "11 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Bananas"(2021), Online: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-proven-benefits-of-bananas
  12. healthessentials. "How Almonds Can Improve Your Heart Health"(2020), Online: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-almonds-can-improve-your-heart-health/
  13. American HEart Association. "Eating almonds and dark chocolate lowers bad cholesterol"(2017), Online: https://www.heart.org/en/news/2018/05/01/eating-almonds-and-dark-chocolate-lowers-bad-cholesterol
  14. Harvard Health Publishing. "Cocoa: a sweet treat for the brain?"(2015), Online: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/cocoa-sweet-treat-brain-201502057676