Having completed a renaissance over the past decade, red wine and dark chocolate are no longer considered indulgences for the weak-minded.

These “health foods” are equally popular with the staunchest of fitness buffs and remote control connoisseurs alike, and their heart-healthy characteristics make each a worthy addition to any dietary routine.

But if forced to choose just one of these palate mates, which would it be? Would it be red wine with dinner? Or dark chocolate squares on your pillow? The answer may lie in the flavonoids…or not.
With each now possessing a healthy public image, which former bad boy brings the bigger health boost?

Flavonoids vs. Non-Flavonoids

Most of the heart-health benefits attributed to red wine and dark chocolate are traceable to the antioxidants found in each. Antioxidants are substances present in our bodies that repair the damage caused by cellular oxidation. Simply put, breathing oxygen slowly kills us, and nutrients that inhibit the process are considered antioxidants. Flavonoids and non-flavonoids are two such nutrients.

Although scientists aren’t sure how, the consensus is that flavonoids and non- flavonoids both have a positive effect on blood pressure, blood flow to the heart, good and bad cholesterol levels (HDL and LDL), and cell maintenance. Dark chocolate and red wine have comparable levels of flavonoids. However, when it comes to non-flavonoids, the current antioxidant darling is found most abundantly in the skin of grapes.



Resveratrol is the non-flavonoid of the moment, and occurs naturally in the skin of grapes (and to a lesser degree in cocoa powder and peanuts), with greater concentrations found in grapes of a darker tint. Interestingly, as the grapes are exposed to bacteria during the fermentation process, the amount of resveratrol increases, with the highest amounts in dry red wines such as a cabernet sauvignon.

The potential health benefits of resveratrol are mind-blowing. Not only does resveratrol seem to possess all the benefits of flavonoids, but preliminary studies, including one at Duke University, suggest that resveratrol may…

  • inhibit tumor growth and prevent or slow cell mutations
  • maintain and/or improve nerve cell function thus preventing diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s
  • increase stamina and coordination
  • assist in weight loss
  • decrease wrinkling and improve skin elasticity

If just one of these findings were ironclad, red wine would be our clear winner, but as with anything that seems too good to be true, there is a catch.

To date, the only completed resveratrol studies were conducted on mice, and the levels of resveratrol these varmints ingested would require a human to drink nearly one hundred bottles of red wine a day to reach a comparable level. Fittingly, supplement manufacturers have taken notice and concentrated resveratrol capsules are easy to find.

So, while the upsides of red wine, and its antioxidant “diva” resveratrol, appear to have more upside, consider this: Until human tolerance of alcohol goes up 100 fold, and the supplement industry no longer operates in the Wild West of FDA oversight, why not have a little chocolate with that red wine? In moderation, of course.

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About the author: Scott Trapp is a freelance writer and educator.