Wine and chocolate are a classic pairing to create a little romance. Just think of Valentine's Day -- a candlelit dinner with a bottle of Merlot and a selection of bonbons or chocolate-covered strawberries is de rigueur for ardent lovers looking to make a good impression.
Wine and chocolate might be old friends with doilies and paper hearts, but did you know that they're good for you, too? Cupid must have been onto something after all: Both red wine and dark chocolate are packed with flavonols, which are beneficial compounds found in plants like red grapes and cacao -- the ingredients in some of the favorite romantic superfoods.
The Health Benefits of Flavonols
Flavonols are a subgroup of flavonoids, which nutritionists regard as highly beneficial ingredients in a healthy diet. Flavonoids are famous for their antioxidant properties and may help the body use vitamin C more efficiently. They also have anti-inflammatory properties, so these compounds do a body good!
Flavonols are also linked to a reduced risk for cardiovascular diseases, including health problems like strokes, heart attacks and high blood pressure. Flavonols also appear to reduce the mortality rates when these health problems do occur. Flavonols like resveratrol are so powerful that you may find your doctor prescribing a glass of red wine each evening for its heart-healthy benefits (though you're free to enjoy the other benefits of that glass of wine, too).
Chocolate as a Health Food?
Though red wine has gotten a lot of attention for its health benefits, high-quality chocolate actually contains more flavonols, and studies have found additional benefits for eating dark chocolate regularly. In fact, a recent study by Italian scientists found that flavonols from cocoa can support brain health, as older patients saw an increase in their working memory and other cognitive functions.
Not all chocolate is created equal, though. The best chocolate for high flavonol concentrations is that which has been minimally processed -- this means that it is produced in a factory that works to preserve flavonols and doesn't dilute the cacao with lots of other ingredients and flavors to mask the natural bitterness. Luckily, high-quality chocolate doesn't need much extra sugar, as it's naturally delicious. For the most flavonols, choose dark chocolate bars made of over 60 percent cocoa solids. The milk in milk chocolate makes the antioxidants unusable in your body, so stick to dark chocolate for a surprisingly healthy treat.
An Easy, Romantic Dessert
Now that you know just how beneficial flavonols are, you should feel no guilt about indulging in a romantic dessert at the end of the day. Try pouring a glass of your favorite red wine; a rich Cabernet Sauvignon is a good choice. You can serve a square or two of rich dark chocolate on its own, or try melting it in a microwave-safe ramekin for a delicious fondue for dipping strawberries or orange peels. The fruit will add a bit of extra sweetness of those who prefer a lighter flavor of chocolate, and it also contains additional vitamin C, iron and fiber.
To make a portable snack for later, dip the dried apricots halfway into the melted dark chocolate and allow them to cool on a piece of waxed paper. Once they've cooled, store the fruits in an airtight container and serve them whenever you want to enjoy a healthy, delicious treat!