By Rebecca Mason, RDN
During February (American Heart Month) you may be hearing a lot about how it’s heart healthy to indulge in red wine. Maybe you even received a bottle or two as a Valentine’s Day gift. As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I’m often asked: “is wine healthy?” The answer is, while your favorite bottle may be silky, elegant and complex—it may also withhold some health benefits.
Wine has been a part of our culture for thousands of years. It’s been used to cure ailments, sterilize drinking water, relieve stress and even cure intestinal worms, to name a few. The Bible includes lessons about wine. Greek religion celebrates Dionysus, the god of wine. Jars containing evidence of wine have been found in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs. In 2016, an estimated 2.94 gallons of wine were consumed per person in the United States alone. Clearly, our infatuation with wine has withstood the test of time. And, having an appreciation for a good glass of red myself, I’m thrilled to share these 5 interesting tips (or “sips”) about wine.
- Take heart.
For many people, sharing a bottle of red wine is a special sort of love language that sends their metaphoric heart in a flutter. The irony is that it promotes benefits for your literal heart, too. Moderate amounts of alcohol can have blood-thinning effect, and the compounds within wine can reduce the risk of clots. Several studies have shown that 1-2 drinks per day can increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the good kind) by as much as 11-14 percent, thanks to the anti-inflammatory properties of wine. And for many, a glass of red can really help you “wine down,” as scientific evidence shows that the anti-inflammatory actions help reduce blood pressure, and cut your risk of death from a heart attack by 50 percent according to some sources.
2. Study (anti-inflammatory and antioxidants) abroad.
Red wine is common in the Mediterranean diet, leading some scientists to believe wine is partially responsible for the health of the people in this part of the world. Then there’s the “French Paradox,” the observation that, despite a diet high in saturated fat, there is far less than expected heart disease in France. These observations have led researchers on a quest to understand “why.” As science continuously evolves, so does our understanding of how wine impacts our health. It it’s said that components of wine including resveratrol, coumaric acids, PVPP (polyvinylpolypyrolidone), procyandins, quercetin and numerous others are responsible for the unique health benefits of red wine. In many ways, red wine is a “cocktail” of its own—chock full of anti-inflammatory agents and antioxidants.
3. It’s not a cure for diabetes.
While some studies have shown that moderate wine consumption may help with insulin resistance, the effects are not strong enough to replace medication. In one particular study of 224 participants, researchers found that red-wine drinkers had a slight improvement in glucose metabolism and a slight increase in HDL. While these slight improvements are notable, they’re certainly not a reason to start drinking wine if you do not currently drink alcohol.
4. Red or white?
Research favors red wine over white as it contains about 10 percent more antioxidant power. Why? This is believed to be due to the winemaking process itself. Red wine is fermented with the skins, seeds and stems of the grapes, but white wine is fermented without—and therefore contains less of these beneficial compounds. Looking for a great red to try? Some data shows that Pinot Noir has the highest antioxidant content. That’s because the grapes are grown in a rainy environment coupled with maximum sun exposure.
5. Less is more.
If you do drink, do so in moderation. This means no more than two drinks per day for men, and one per day for women. While a glass has positive health benefits, excess wine consumption (or alcohol consumption in general) has deleterious effects on your health including increased blood pressure, risk of stroke, heart disease, insomnia and even certain cancers, if excess use is repeated long-term.
This heart month, remember these 5 tips as you uncork and unwind (in moderation) and enjoy some of the health benefits of wine.
About the Author: Rebecca Mason, RDN, is a registered dietitian/nutritionist and product specialist in the Wellness Department at Priority Health. She is passionate about helping families and individuals improve their health through nutrition education and nutritious food access. Rebecca is certified in adult weight management, and has a background in both clinical nutrition and wellness programming.