Good or bad? Top cardiologist gives verdict on chocolate, coffee and wine
Dark chocolate is a “joy” when it comes to keeping your heart healthy, coffee is likely protective, but wine is at best “neutral”, according to one of the world’s leading cardiologists.
As editor of the European Heart Journal for more than a decade, Prof Thomas Lüscher led a team that sifted through 3,200 manuscripts from scientists and doctors every year. Only a fraction – those deemed “truly novel” and backed up with “solid data” – would be selected for publication.
After stepping down from his role in charge of the world’s top cardiovascular medicine journal, Lüscher has given his verdict on one of the most frequently asked heart health research questions: are wine, chocolate and coffee good or bad for you?
Writing in the European Heart Journal, Lüscher, a consultant cardiologist and director of research, education and development at the Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals, says the answer is “more complex than a simple yes or no”.
Lüscher also cautions that the evidence should be considered “seriously”, given the large numbers of people worldwide that regularly enjoy a cup of coffee, a glass of wine or a piece of chocolate. There are pros and cons to each of them, he suggests, and these can differ depending on how often and how much of each is consumed, as well as by whom.
“Are wine, chocolate, coffee forbidden joys? Well, wine is truly a joy but at best neutral when consumed in moderation. Chocolate is a joy for our CV [cardiovascular] system, if consumed in dark, bitter form. And coffee? It wakes us up, less so if you drink it regularly, and at that dose of up to four cups a day, might even be protective.”
Speaking to the Guardian about his article, Lüscher, who has himself published extensively with more than 500 research papers, more than 200 reviews and book chapters on cardiovascular medicine, said despite the keen interest in the merits or otherwise of coffee, wine and chocolate for health, there is much that is still not known.
“The optimal dose of chocolate, ie dark, bitter chocolate, is not known as this has not been properly investigated.” The most beneficial ingredient of chocolate were flavanols, he said, which can boost heart function and reduce inflammation. But he added: “It is important that chocolate contains little sugar and fat, which are obviously not healthy. In particular, white chocolate is not healthy at all.”
Lüscher warned that while years ago chocolate was considered a “rare joy”, its easy availability today had contributed to an “obesity epidemic”. He added: “I myself, I am not a chocolate eater, but I do get it from patients quite often.”
Lüscher has several espressos a day, and while he really likes “good red wine”, he has cut his intake recently and now mainly enjoys one or two glasses at the weekend.
Prof Tim Chico, a professor of cardiovascular medicine and honorary consultant cardiologist at the University of Sheffield, said he agreed with Lüscher “that the evidence suggests coffee and chocolate are associated with a slightly lower risk of heart diseases, while alcohol is not”.
Prof Paul Leeson, a professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Oxford, said: “When I see patients in the cardiology clinic they often assume wine, chocolate and coffee are going to be bad for them. There is obvious relief when you tell them this may not be the case. This article by a respected European senior cardiologist presents a very balanced, evidence-based assessment of the associations between these three elements of life and heart disease.”
Tracy Parker, a senior dietician at the British Heart Foundation, said: “To keep your heart healthy, a healthy lifestyle is what really matters rather than how much coffee, chocolate or alcohol you consume. That means getting regular exercise, giving up smoking and eating well.
“When it comes to our diet, it’s the balance of your whole diet that has the most impact. Try to eat more of the good stuff like fruit and vegetables as well as wholegrains, beans, nuts and seeds, and less of those foods high in salt, sugar and saturated fat like cake, biscuits and sweets.”