Is Wine Really a Health Food?
By Carolyn Richardson and Mary Hartley, RD
A glass of red wine is frequently recommended as a beverage that has a myriad of health benefits. But is there any truth to the buzz around drinking red wine everyday? The answer is yes. Truth: red wine contains antioxidants that have major health benefits including heart and brain health. Truth: red wine has been shown to help control weight gain. Truth: red wine has been connected to increased cancer risk in women. While the health benefits of red wine are valid, don’t be misguided into believing red wine is a diet-must.
Anti - Oxidation
Many of the positive health claims for drinking wine are tied to its antioxidant properties. An antioxidant is defined by WebMD as, “an agent that inhibits oxidation; any of numerous chemical substances including certain natural body products and nutrients that can neutralize the oxidant effect of free radicals and other substances.”
Rust is an example of oxidation. A red oxide forms on iron when it exposed to stress in the form of air, water and acid. A similar process occurs inside the cells of the body, but anti-oxidant agents slow it down so the damage happens much more slowly. Anti-oxidants are linked to preventing a myriad of degenerative diseases associated with aging, such as atherosclerosis, memory loss, certain cancers, immunity, and more.
The antioxidant agents in wine belong to a huge class of chemicals called polyphenols. Polyphenols are found in every part of the grape: skin, flesh and seeds. Multiple studies have shown that consumption of grapes in the form of wine, juice and grapes boosts the overall antioxidant levels in the bloodstream. Resveratrol is the most studied polyphenol in the group. Compared to red wine, white wine has a little less resveratrol because it is made without the skins.
Antioxidants Sans the Alcohol
Some researchers act as if there are no healthier alternatives from which to get antioxidants, without the alcohol intake, when the opposite is true. In fact, foods that have higher levels of antioxidants than red wine include natural cocoa powder, blueberries, red grape juice, dark chocolate (85% or more in cocoa solids), as well as green and black tea.
Ronald Prior and Guohua Cao, oxidation experts from the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, recommend getting more ORACs (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) action by eating fruits and vegetables and other plant foods. To fight oxidation, we need between 3,000 and 5,000 ORAC units a day. Blueberries and prunes have 6552 ORAC Units, black beans have 6400, 5 ounces of red wine cabernet saugvignon has 5,000 ORAC units. Dark, semi-sweet chocolate is over the top with more than 8,000 ORAC units in 1.5 ounces.
Wine and Weight
Women who drink in moderation, up to two glasses of wine a day, maintain their weight better than non-drinkers. Those were the findings of Lu Wang published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Wang, a cardiologist, followed 19,000 women over a 13 year-span and found that wine drinkers who were already at a healthy weight gained the least amount of weight over time. Alcohol itself, unrelated to wine, has been associated with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and gallstones, all chronic conditions related to obesity.
But moderation is the key, and it is defined as two 1.5 ounces of hard alcohol (or 12 ounces of regular beer or 5 ounces of table wine) a day for men and one a day for women, with a maximum of 3 drinks at any one time. Polyphenols notwithstanding, consuming wine or any other alcohol delivers calories with little additional nutritional value. Of the 150 calories in 6 oz glass of red wine, 18 come from carbohydrate and 132 empty calories come from alcohol.
Will you raise your glass or pass on wine?