Consistent evidence from numerous studies indicate that moderate alcohol consumption one or two drinks a day) is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and premature death. But research is conflicting as to whether red wine is actually more beneficial than other forms of alcohol.
Red wine’s alleged advantages are often attributed to an antioxidant called resveratrol, which is found in grape skins. (Because white wine is generally produced without the skins, it contains little if any resveratrol.) Studies in animals and test tubes suggest that the compound may have cardiovascular benefits, including relaxing blood vessels, preventing blood clots, and reducing inflammation. There’s evidence that other substances in red wine, such as flavanols–which are in dark chocolate as well–may also be good for the heart.
Wine drinkers tend to smoke less and have more healthful diets than other imbibers, according to research. As a result, any apparent health advantages of red wine could be due to the drinkers rather than the drink.
But other research shows that alcohol itself may help the heart by increasing HDL (good) cholesterol and preventing blood clots. This raises the question of whether it’s really the alcohol that explains any benefits of red wine. Cohort studies don’t provide clear answers. In some research, wine (both red and white) was associated with lower rates of heart disease and death, while the benefits of beer and hard liquor were smaller or nonexistent. In other studies, all moderate drinkers appeared to benefit equally, regardless of what type of alcohol they consumed.
Because white wine contains the compounds tyrosol and caffeic acid, which act as anti-inflammatory and antioxidants, scientists at the University of Milan believe it could help prevent rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis. They said two glasses a day could produce a reduced inflammatory reaction, but higher consumption cancelled out these benefits. Other researchers have found that Chardonnay is highest in antioxidants known as polyphenols, while Sauvignon Blanc has anti-inflammatory properties.
Research by Italian and American researchers found that consumption of white wine protects against heart attacks. Their study featured three wines: Two Tocai and a Verduzzo from the Friuli Venezia region of Italy. On the downside, white wine can make your stomach secrete more acid than normal, which can lead to nausea. White wines such as Reisling and Pinot Grigio also tend to be sweeter and thus have calories. However, white wine is the preferred option for migraine sufferers since it is low in the headache-inducing compound tyramine, unlike many red and rosé wines. Incidentally, if you’re wondering why white wine is less likely to cause a hangover, it’s because it lacks congeners – chemicals produced during fermentation.
What To Look For: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc. Look for wines from the Friuli Venezia region of Italy.
Unlike red wine, rosé is generally made from a relatively short contact between the liquid and the grape seeds and skins, so it has fewer health benefits than red. However, taken as part of moderate alcohol consumption, rosé can have benefits. A recent Danish study concluded that people who drink up to two and a half bottles of wine a week – roughly two glasses a day – have a lower risk of premature death than those who abstain from alcohol. Researchers also found that being physically active and drinking a moderate amount of alcohol is important for lowering the risk of fatal ischaemic heart disease.
Alcohol Free Wine
This is made in the same way as normal wine, except the alcohol is removed after initial fermentation. As well as removing the health risks associated with alcohol – such as mouth and throat cancer – alcohol-free wine may provide added protection against disease. A study by the University of Glasgow found that purple grape juice was the most effective at preventing heart disease and cancer. It had the highest concentration of antioxidants – chemicals which help to neutralise harmful oxygen molecules called free radicals – of all varieties of fruit juice. If left unchecked, these molecules can harm cells, and so play a part in everything from ageing to cancer.
The grapes used are not sprayed with chemicals or pesticides, which have been linked to cancer, though there is no conclusive evidence. Organic wines contain fewer preservatives known as sulphites which have been linked to asthma and respiratory problems. Ideally, wines labelled 100 per cent organic should be free from sulphites.