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How Healthy are Red Wine, Coffee, and Dark Chocolate?

By Claudia Jones

Promoted for their youth-enhancing properties, foods and drinks containing anti-oxidants are increasing in popularity among consumers. The occasional cup of coffee, glass of red wine and square or two of dark chocolate is considered a treat to be savored by many health conscious people; the alcohol, sugar or caffeine content being overlooked in favor of the anti-oxidant benefits.

Wellness Director Claudia Jones takes a look at some of the scientific research into the health benefits of antioxidants in coffee, red wine and dark chocolate and whether we should or shouldn’t indulge.

Let’s start with coffee

While coffee drinking is not advised for those suffering from high blood pressure, coffee is a rich source of antioxidants and its regular consumption has been linked to protection against certain types of cancer; colon, liver and colo-rectal cancers in particular. It is also been associated with prevention of Parkinson’s disease and type two diabetes. Sound good? Well, perhaps hold on before you switch on the coffee machine or rush down to your nearest Starbucks for a mochaccino with two extra shots and know that the caffeine content of coffee is the reason it affects blood pressure levels. Considered rajasic in terms of Ayurveda, caffeine can also make you feel jittery and anxious therefore its that the caffeine content of coffee conducive to yogic practices such as meditation, so keep your intake moderate and consume it at times when you need the extra stimulation, rather than at times when you are trying to experience stillness. The healthiest way to experience the anti-oxidant benefits without consuming the caffeine is by choosing a decaffeinated option (non-chemical process is best).

Red Wine

Red wine is also know for its anti-oxidant health benefits, but isn’t consuming alcohol supposed to be bad for our health? Well, the ‘French Paradox’ may partly help us in answering this. For a culture that has a diet so high in saturated fat, it has a surprisingly low incidence of cardiovascular disease compared to other western cultures and this is thought to be due in part to the regular drinking of red wine. The polyphenols in red wine, such as flavonoids and resveratrol may play a role in limiting the start and progression of atherosclerosis (the formation of fatty plaques in the blood vessels, in particular the coronary arteries, which can lead to heart attacks) and have anti – platelet aggregation benefits.

The evidence, however, is not sufficient for a non-drinker to start drinking red wine as a preventative measure, (we know that excessive alcohol consumption can lead to serious health conditions) but fortunately, resveratrol is actually found in the skin of the red grape and can just as easily be obtained from drinking red grape juice or taking a resveratrol supplement. In Ayurveda alcohol is considered tamasic because it dulls the mind and the senses. So only minimal red wine consumption can be recommended at most a glass or two on occasions; sugar-free red grape juice would be the healthier anti-oxidant boosting option.

Dark Chocolate

The cocoa in chocolate is known to have a very high anti-oxidant capacity and its consumption has been shown to offer significant health benefits. Dark chocolate contains more cocoa and therefore offers more benefits than milk chocolate that contains high levels of milk and sugar and comparatively little cocoa. Raw cacao is superior again containing an abundance of minerals and is the healthiest way to get your chocolate ‘fix’. Raw cacao powder can be added to smoothies without the need to use sugar, so it’s the super healthy option in its least processed form.

Studies on cocoa have been shown to exert beneficial effects on cardiovascular risk by lowering blood pressure, increasing insulin sensitivity, reducing inflammation, increasing HDL (good cholesterol) decreasing LDL (bad cholesterol) oxidation and through its anti-platelet function. Research also suggests that cocoa and dark chocolate is cholesterol neutral.

A comparative study of black tea, green tea, red wine and cocoa shows that although they all high in phenols such as resveratrol, cocoa is more beneficial to health due to its higher antioxidant capacity. It is important to note that cocoa also contains caffeine so is best avoided by those suffering from high blood pressure. It also contains the obromine that stimulates the central nervous system and dilates blood vessels so eating chocolate would not be advised at meditation time.

So enjoying a cup of coffee, glass or red wine or indulging in some dark chocolate does have its health benefits; however it is important to remember that caffeine, sugar and alcohol can both negatively impact your health so should be consumed only in moderation. Fresh fruits and vegetables contain an abundance of anti-oxidants so keep your diet full of them. Organic, fresh and unprocessed as possible is always best. Enjoy!

‘Out of moderation a pure happiness springs’ – Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Claudia is the Wellness Director at Samahita Retreat. Claudia offers support and advice to guests on our detox programs and teaches detox & wellness retreats at Wellness Thailand, Samahita Retreat throughout the year.


1)Blood pressure response to chronic intake of coffee and caffeine: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials
Noordzij, Marliesa; Uiterwaal, Cuno SPMb; Arends, Lidia Rc; Kok, Frans Ja; Grobbee, Diederick Eb; Geleijnse, Johanna Ma
Journal of Hypertension:
May 2005 – Volume 23 – Issue 5 – p 921-928

2)Chocolate and Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease: A Systematic Review
Eric L Ding, Susan M Hutfless, Xin Ding and Saket Girotra
Published: 03 January 2006
Nutrition & Metabolism 2006, 3:2 doi:10.1186/1743-7075-3-2

3)Cocoa Has More Phenolic Phytochemicals and a Higher Antioxidant Capacity than Teas and Red Wine
Ki Won Lee, Young Jun Kim, Hyong Joo Lee, and Chang Yong Lee
J. Agric. Food Chem., 2003, 51 (25), pp 7292-7295
DOI: 10.1021/jf0344385
Publication Date (Web): October 30, 2003
American Chemical Society

4) Coffee is Number One Source of Antioxidants, Vinson. J
August 29, 2005
American Chemical Society

5)Effect of Cocoa Products on Blood Pressure: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
Steffen Desch1, Johanna Schmidt1, Daniela Kobler1, Melanie Sonnabend1, Ingo Eitel1, Mahdi Sareban1, Kazem Rahimi2, Gerhard Schuler1 and Holger Thiele1
American Journal of Hypertension 2010; doi:10.1038/ajh.2009.213

6)Flavonoids in cell function by Béla S. Buslig, John A. Manthey, American Chemical Society. Meeting. 2002, Plenum Publishers, New York

7)Red Wine and Your Heart, Paul E. Szmitko BSc, Subodh Verma MD, PhDCirculation, American Heart Association 2005

8)Short-term administration of dark chocolate is followed by a significant increase in insulin sensitivity and a decrease in blood pressure in healthy persons1,2,3
Davide Grassi, Cristina Lippi, Stefano Necozione, Giovambattista Desideri and Claudio Ferri
1 From the Department of Internal Medicine and Public Health, University of L’Aquila, L’Aquila, Italy.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 81, No. 3, 611-614, March 2005
American Society for Clinical Nutrition

9) Article from Organic Consumers Association
Examining the Properties of Chocolate and Cacao for Health by Teya Skae, February 7, 2008


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