Health & Wellness

4 healthy truths about wine, chocolate, sleep and sugar

If it seems like the health recommendations on buzzworthy topics change faster than you can keep up, Dr. Natalie Azar is here to set the record straight with four healthy truths.

1. Red wine

Although a study recently showed a possible link between light to moderate drinking and breast cancer in women, Azar focused on the cardiovascular benefits that may come from red wine.

"The truth is that red wine, especially in moderation, is good for your heart health," Azar said on TODAY Friday.

Red wine contains a polyphenol, specifically resveratrol, a plant-based antioxidant.

"It promotes cardiovascular health, it stabilizes the arteries, it raises HDL (cholesterol), lowers LDL and wine has it, especially red wine," Azar said. But don't be too heavy-handed with your pour. She recommended women enjoy one 5-ounce serving of red wine a day; men can have two.

2. Dark chocolate

This sweet stuff also contains a polyphenol, called flavanol. Found in cocoa beans, it is thought to have antioxidant effects that may help stabilize the coronary arteries and prevent damage to them, she said.

Try to avoid over-processed chocolate and stick to the least processed version to retain the most benefit.

"If you start having chocolate with a lot of nuts and a lot of nougat and a lot of caramel, you're adding calories, you're adding sugar," Azar said. "So you're kind of offsetting the benefits of the dark chocolate."

Pro tip: Milk chocolate has less flavanol than dark chocolate, and when picking your dark chocolate, the more bitter, the better.

Read more: 4 easy ways to beat chocolate cravings

3. Sleep

In February, the National Sleep Foundation released new recommendations on just how much shuteye we need.

For adults ages of 18 and 65, the range is seven to nine hours.

"For the majority of people, it's in fact eight hours," Azar said. "Too little sleep, disordered sleep, insufficient sleep can be linked to diabetes, obesity, heart disease."

Read more: Sleep well, live well: Here's how much you really need each night

4. Sugar and sugar alternatives

In the 1970s, the fear was over whether or not an artificial sweetener could possibly cause cancer in humans.

"We've debunked that," Azar said. "The artificial sweeteners, in moderation, are healthy, so to speak."

Artificial sweeteners can be important for the right person: someone who is diabetic or really watching their weight. For otherwise healthy people, Azar said, "a teaspoon of sugar in your coffee, it's OK."

Lisa A. Flam, a regular contributor to TODAY.com, is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter.

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