Wine, Chocolate and Coffee

I'll be the first person to stand up and say that I love wine, chocolate and coffee. As Maria would say, these are a few of my favorite things.

These also happen to be a few of pop culture's favorite foods/beverages to discuss. 

Why? Because most of us love them. Unfortunately, they were categorized as vices for a while. Now, new studies seem to pop up every week that debate this old mentality and promote the health benefits of these popular foods.

Here's the real deal with wine, chocolate and coffee:

 Wine, chocolate and coffee

Wine

Wine has been hailed as a great source of resveratrol, a known antioxidant. The idea is that resveratrol, as an antioxidant, is heart healthy. Resveratrol may increase HDL (the "good" cholesterol) and reduce artery damage. The thought is that red wine is the most beneficial form since it contains the most resveratrol. Unfortunately, all of these studies that concluded that resveratrol is beneficial have been done on mice, not humans. While mice studies are a good stepping stone, they in and of themselves, do not prove results in humans. Even more unfortunate are some new human studies suggesting that red wine consumption may have no effect on heart health.

Now, to be fair, it is incredibly hard to do controlled human studies. Therefore, proving causality when all of your subjects have varied genetics and are living different lifestyles is difficult as best. Yet, the fact remains that there is no proof that consuming alcohol of any sort, if you are not already consuming alcohol, is beneficial. Alcohol consumption in large amounts is still known to be bad for our health. Brain and liver damage being the common ones.

For those of us who already consume alcohol in moderation, however, I would suggest selecting wine (preferably red wine) as your drink of choice. It stands as the lesser of the evils, if you will. Red wine may offer some health-positive aspects that counter the health-negative aspects of alcohol.  Either way, moderation is still key. Drinking large amounts of wine (more than 2 glasses a day) is not a healthy habit. And in the same vein as my superfood post, do not suddenly start drinking wine if you weren't already drinking alcohol because you think it is a health drink. Drink wine only if you want to drink an alcoholic drink.

Personally, I think that drinking wine in moderation can be a part of a healthy diet. It is a part of mine. There are a lot of studies out there that say that wine drinkers have lower cases of various diseases than non-drinkers. Also, many of the Blue Zones (areas where people reach 100 at 10x the normal rate) are avid wine drinkers. But again, these studies may not be looking at the right component- perhaps many wine drinkers have some other common habit that is responsible for these results rather than the wine itself. Hard to say without a truly controlled group. 

Overall, if you like wine: drink it moderately and don't stress about it. Stress is probably the most important thing anyway. If a glass or two of wine is enjoyable for you, it probably is beneficial for you. If you don't drink alcohol, stick to water. 

Chocolate

Ah, chocolate. So delicious. So bitter.

I say bitter because real chocolate, aka. cacao, is bitter tasting. When people tote the health benefits of chocolate, they are referring to cacao, not some sugar-laden milk "chocolate" concoction. These health benefits include containing antioxidants and polyphenols. But again, in order to contain these anti-inflammatory properties, you must actually be dealing with real chocolate.

Think dark chocolate, or even more accurately: raw cacao. Some dark chocolates do contain a high percentage of cacao and a low amount of sugar. Others, however, claim to be dark chocolate, but are basically slightly more bitter versions of milk chocolate. 

Look for AT LEAST 55% cacao. Ideally, even more than that if you want any sort of healthy aspect. Raw cacao is the best. This powder (or nibs) is the real deal. Raw cacao is also a good sources of magnesium. Personally, I think it is delicious and regularly add it to such things as smoothies, chia seed bowls and raw desserts. It is not the same as chocolate powder, which is usually full of sugar and additives. But, raw cacao is still not a magic elixir. It is also a stimulant. Therefore, I don't consume it late in the day. Also, be mindful of consuming additional caffeine with raw cacao or even very dark chocolate. You may get an extra kick you weren't anticipating. If you are avoiding caffeine for a health reason, raw cacao and dark chocolate are not for you.

Raw cacao can be an acquired taste. If, however, you ditch the processed sugars from your diet, you will probably find raw cacao to be awesome.

So yes, again much like my superfood post, if you are into chocolate eat (very) dark chocolate. I think it is a great choice. But don't start consuming entire bars of chocolate a day as a health food. Unless you are buying 85% or higher dark chocolate bars, there will still be a fair amount of sugar, so dark chocolate should still be treated like a dessert. Raw cacao powder/nibs can be treated more like a healthy supplement, but bear in mind that it still contains calories. While I am NOT about calorie counting, it still behooves us to recognize that if we add a whole bunch of special ingredients to a smoothie for example, that smoothie could end up being the size of multiple meals. Just be mindful of portion sizes. It's very common for us to want to add lots of powders and seeds and whatnot, thinking only about the vitamin content and ignoring the fact that we just made a smoothie for two people.

Coffee

This may be the one that gets the most headlines. After all, in America, coffee is certainly the most common breakfast beverage of choice. Heck, many people drink coffee throughout the entire day. Because it is such a staple in our daily routines, the idea that coffee could go from vice to healthy habit gets a lot of attention.

Here's the thing about coffee:

First of all, a frappuccino or caramel macchiato etc. is NOT coffee. Those are slightly coffee flavored desserts that contain some caffeine. They are flat out unhealthy. I'm not saying that you can never enjoy a Delicious Mildly Coffee-Flavored Sugar-Milkshake Thingy (I should probably trade mark that term), but you should never consume it and think, "I just had a cup of coffee."

No, no you didn't. You had a large sugary dessert. 

If you recognize this and consume your DMCFSMT as a rare treat and adjust your food choices accordingly, then you will be fine. But if you drink a DMCFSMT daily you are getting a crap ton of sugar and additives that could lead to health problems down the road.

So we need to deal with real coffee. Ideally, black or just with some cream or milk (or coconut oil). A tiny bit of sugar is okay, but be mindful. And for goodness sake: use a real sugar if you need to sweeten it, not artificial sweeteners. 

Secondly, coffee contains caffeine. Even decaf contains a little bit of caffeine.

Is caffeine an evil? No, but you can certainly overdo it and some people really should not be consuming any caffeine. If your adrenals are burnt out from chronic stress, lack of sleep, overwork etc. caffeine is not your friend. Your body needs to heal and regulate itself and continual stimulation by caffeine can cause hormone imbalances. Of course, the overworked, overtired crowd is usually the one that drinks obscene amounts of caffeine throughout the day, so you can see how that is bad news. 

So the first thing is to recognize if coffee is right for YOU. Not for everyone, for YOU. Remember, there is not one magic, "right" diet for everyone. 

If you feel as though you can handle some caffeine in your life, then drinking moderate amounts of coffee could be a part of a healthy diet. Coffee can increase metabolism, does contain a number of nutrients, and may offer some protection against Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's, although the causal relationship has not been proven.

The biggest deal is to be mindful of how you take your coffee. Both in preparation in the home and before it even gets to the shelf.

There is a big difference in quality of coffee beans sold in stores. Often many beans are rancid or use massive amounts of pesticides. Try to buy organic, pesticide-free coffee. Buy good smelling coffee beans that don't have additives. Additive flavorings can cover up the smell of rancidity. 

Yes, organic, high-quality coffee costs more. But if coffee is a daily habit for you, it has a pretty big impact on your life. It's worth investing a few extra dollars into a bag to get coffee that actually contains the flavonoid antioxidants coffee should have while not containing the chemical residues it shouldn't. Also, if you make your coffee at home, it is significantly cheaper than buying it out; plus when you make it at home you have control of the quality and preparation. (There's also a whole topic here on labor treatment and fair-wage for coffee growers that's too big to go into right now since this is just about nutritional value, but for the record: coffee is an excellent food to purchase Fair Trade.)

In summation, I think that for many people coffee can be a part of their healthy diet. I think it should be consumed only in moderation since coffee is still quite acidic and constant stimulation is not good for our bodily systems. We also need to be extremely mindful of when we are drinking coffee and whether or not caffeine is good for us at all. We all metabolize caffeine differently; for some it can stay in our system for over 10 hours. Perhaps your 2:00pm coffee is affecting your sleep. Just something to consider. And if you are a stress-case, caffeine is not good for you right now. At least back down to green tea. Your body will recover in time.

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Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.