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Can a glass of red wine a day keep the doctor away?
“Drinking red wine is good for you!”
For years we’ve heard a daily glass of red wine benefits your heart and your overall health.
But is this really true?
The belief in the health benefits of red wine began with the “French Paradox.”
A few decades ago, scientists noted that Frenchmen enjoyed a low incidence of heart disease—in spite of eating foods Brie cheese and other foods high in saturated fats and associated with heart problems.
The scientists hypothesised that some aspect of the French lifestyle minimised the risk of heart disease posed by the high-fat diet.
They found that the mitigating factor is red wine.
Residents of France, where a daily glass or two of red wine is the norm, are less prone to heart disease than their counterparts elsewhere in the developed world.
So the paradox is due to “the many cardioprotective benefits of red wine,” according to nutritionist Josh Axe.
As Kerry Torrens, member of the Royal Society of Medicine, puts it, “Moderate drinking [1 or 2 glasses of wine per day] can have some benefits for heart health.”
In a recent BBC web article, Torrens observes that drinking wine is advantageous for both men and women. She points out, “According to the British Heart Foundation, [even] very low levels of alcohol consumption may have some protective effects on the heart.”
Health writer Lisa Drayer agrees: “Wine may protect our hearts when consumed in moderation.”
A report from a Time magazine health editor supports these claims: “The benefits that moderate [wine] drinkers enjoy [include] lower incidence of cardiovascular disease, mortality, and type 2 diabetes.”
And health journo Peter Jaret at WebMD adds lower cancer rates, lower cholesterol, better arterial health, and fewer strokes to the list of wine-drinkers’ perks.
An article from the esteemed Mayo Clinic provides a scientific basis for the claimed advantages of red wine.
Admitting, “Links between red wine and fewer heart attacks aren’t completely understood,” the authors go on to assert, “The alcohol and certain substances in red wine called antioxidants may help prevent coronary artery disease, the condition that leads to heart attacks.”
This is true because antioxidants in red wines increase levels of good cholesterol and protect against bad cholesterol.
Antioxidants in red wine include polyphenols; researchers believe these help protect the linings of the heart’s blood vessels. One specific antioxidant, resveratrol, has attracted attention from scientists due to the heart protection it offers.
Multiple studies show resveratrol is the critical component in red wine that provides health benefits—including limiting blood-vessel damage and reducing bad cholesterol.
In addition, scientists have uncovered evidence suggesting resveratrol lowers risks of inflammation and blood clots, two factors in heart disease.
These scientific claims may lead drinkers to ask: “Why not white wines?” and “Which red wines are best?”
White wines do have health benefits, according to studies. They just don’t offer the same ounce-for-ounce value as reds.
According to nutritionist Josh Axe, “Red wine is probably the best known source of resveratrol.”
More specifically, wines made from dark pinot noir and darker St. Laurent grapes offer the highest resveratrol levels. According to a BBC article, “In general, the darker the wine, the higher the antioxidant content.”
Red wines contain the most resveratrol because, unlike whites, reds are fermented with the skins still on. This causes greater quantities of antioxidants, including resveratrol, to be drawn out of the skins and into the product during winemaking.
Among white wines, the healthiest choices are Champagne and similar varieties, such as English sparkling whites made from green Chardonnay grapes in Sussex and Kent. Bubblies include pinot noir grapes as a critical ingredient, and pinot noirs are the grapes with the highest resveratrol levels.
In addition, even vinegar offers quantities of resveratrol—as do peanuts, cranberries, and raspberries. So don’t discount the advantages of drinking raspberry or cranberry wine while drenching your chips with vinegar.
If you’re a non-drinker or simply don’t like wine, eating grapes or drinking the juice boosts your intake of resveratrol without alcohol’s side effects. If you choose the non-tippling route, opt for purple grapes and juices.
As noted above, if you seek to enhance your health with red wine, your two best choices are: a) pinot noir, and b) St. Laurent.
One of the most ancient varieties, and grown mostly in cool climates, pinot noir grapes originated in and still come primarily from Burgundy in France.
Extremely prone to various viticulture hazards, these grapes are hard to grow; nevertheless, pinot noir wines are among the world’s most popular. This may be because of their diversity; pinot noirs offer an array of bouquets, flavours, and textures, depending on the vintner. Typically they are light-coloured, medium-bodied, fruit-flavoured (tastes range from ripe red berries to sweet black cherries), and low in tannin (which causes bitterness).
Outside Europe—where pinot noir vineyards are found across the continent—pinot noirs are produced in the Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, and the US.
A grape with unknown origins, St. Laurent is probably a hybrid of pinot noir and another variety. Rarer than pinot noir, the St. Laurent (“Svatovavřinecké” in Czech and “Sankt Laurent” in German) grape is widely grown in the Czech Republic. It’s even better known in Austria, where it’s called that country’s “red-wine grape treasure.”
Like pinot noir, St. Laurent wines vary substantially depending on the vintner; they tend toward rich dark colours, fruit flavours (especially cherry), and soft tannins.
In Austria, St. Laurent wine evokes the image of toffs and loveys: it’s been called the “red wine for intellectuals” and the drink of “talent, idealism, and passion.” But don’t worry–you won’t need a flat in Belgravia to afford it; prices start at under £20, and at under £15 for blends.
To sum up, research suggests that moderate red-wine drinking provides the following health benefits:
So the answer to the question of “Is Red Wine Good for You?” appears to be a resounding “YES!” Consuming red wine (in moderation, of course) is, indeed, beneficial for your health.
We’ll drink to that!