People have been toasting the health benefits of red wine for years. But the research is still out. Before you pop a bottle and drink to good health, know the truth behind the claims.
by The Iowa Clinic on Friday, December 21, 2018
There’s comfort in a glass of wine. It’s a staple of social outings and family gatherings around the world. And it’s the only alcohol we’ve given a seat at the dinner table. There’s no table beer or table vodka, after all.
You may have even heard about wine’s cancer-fighting virtues or heart-healthy properties over a bottle of pinot noir with a friend. Many wine drinkers take comfort in knowing that the beverage is part of the Mediterranean diet and a supposed key to longevity. And when something is as enjoyable as wine, it’s nice to think that what tastes good is also good for you.
So what is it about wine that’s healthy?
It’s really that simple. Wine comes from grapes and the red stuff is fermented with the grape skins longer than white wine — which is why red wine is often cited as healthier than white. There are these little chemicals in the skins that pack big health benefits. Known as polyphenols, these chemicals are antioxidants that help protect the lining of the blood vessels in your heart. One polyphenol in particular, resveratrol, gets much of the credit for its impact on heart health.
But there’s nothing special about fermented grape juice. A glass of Welch’s or a handful of red grapes may have just as much resveratrol. And by eating grapes instead of drinking the juices, you get the added benefit of dietary fiber.
Resveratrol is found in many other places, too. It’s a natural chemical produced by many plants, including blueberries, raspberries and peanuts. So if you really want a healthy dose of resveratrol, you could eat any of these foods.
Just grapes? Why is red wine widely known for its health benefits then?
Research has linked moderate drinking — and red wine in particular — with a number of health benefits. You might have heard it protects against breast, prostate, oral or liver cancers. Or that it reduces your risk of osteoporosis. The most common benefit associated with red wine is that it reduces your risk of heart disease and heart attack.
The heart benefit isn’t exclusive to red wine, though. The studies actually show that all types of alcohol help your heart by raising the healthy kind of cholesterol, HDL, and prevents damage from the bad kind, LDL. It also reduces the formation of blood clots. These things are good for your heart and may help protect you against heart disease.
Even those benefits are up for debate. More recent research, including one comprehensive study that says no amount of alcohol is safe, concluded that the benefits are overblown or nonexistent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it’s “impossible to conclude whether these improved outcomes are due to moderate alcohol consumption or other differences in behaviors or genetics.” With the hundreds of differences between moderate drinkers and other groups, you can’t pinpoint just one thing that makes them live longer, healthier lives.
Is any amount of red wine okay?
Yep, it’s still okay to enjoy a glass of wine. Or two, for men. You probably weren’t relying on it for nutrition anyway. If you were, you should definitely look to better sources to get your daily dose of antioxidants!
The line between moderate and excessive drinking is small. One serving of wine is just five ounces. The average bottle of wine contains 750 mL, which translates to 24.5 ounces. That means you should only pour yourself one-fifth of the bottle for a proper serving size.
But remember, red wine is added calories. So if you have weight loss goals, a daily glass of red wine is adding calories to your diet and replacing more nutritious options. Another thing to consider is that alcohol can cause you to eat more than you usually do. All the more reason for a smaller pour!
If you can master the pour, you may experience those oft-mentioned health outcomes for moderate drinkers. But there are a number of drawbacks of alcohol consumption that can outweigh any health benefits. Once you cross the threshold of moderation, you put yourself at risk of alcohol poisoning, injury, violence and many other short-term health concerns. Long-term, there are much more serious problems to worry about:
- Heart problems like high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke
- Liver disease
- Digestive problems
- Breast, liver, colon, mouth, throat or esophagus cancer
- Learning and memory problems
- Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety
- Social issues
- Alcohol dependence or alcoholism
So while it’s completely fine to have a (five-ounce) glass of wine each day, you should do so knowing the risks and knowing it’s not the healthiest choice. Treat your red wine like you would a treat like dark chocolate — something to enjoy in moderation. And not something to place any real health or nutritional value on.