If you’re like many people amidst the holiday season, you might be happy to know that red wine can be considered a superfood. While this has been a highly debated topic in the world of health and nutrition, it seems clear that red wine does provide some substantial benefits, especially when compared to other forms of alcohol. For example, studies have shown that red wine can help to lower your risk of heart disease and contains several powerful antioxidants.
Red wine is made by crushing and fermenting dark colored grapes and the type of red wine depends on the grape variety and where they are grown (shiraz, merlot, pinot noir, etc). Red wine typically has between 12-15% alcohol content.
The key to red wine fitting into the superfood category is…you guessed it, moderation. And there is a fine line to be drawn between moderate and healthy amounts of red wine and excessive red wine consumption.
First, let’s check out some of the top benefits that red wine can provide:
Red Wine Contains Powerful Antioxidants and Plant Compounds
Red wine is known for its high antioxidant, and is especially high in resveratrol, catechin, epicatechin and proanthocyanidins (1). It is these antioxidants that are thought to give red wine the majority of its health benefits. For example, proanthocyanidins have been shown to protect the body against free radical (oxidative) damage, and might even contribute to red wine’s heart disease lowering effects (2).
Resveratrol offers a slew of anti-inflammatory and heart-healthy benefits (3), and animal studies even suggest that it could increase life expectancy (4). However, some of these studies used large amounts of resveratrol, and red wine offers fairly low concentrations. Needless to say, it is not worth drinking two bottles of red wine for its resveratrol content, and you’re better off taking a supplement if trying to ingest it in higher doses.
Red Wine May Lower Your Risk of Stroke and Heart Disease (and Even Early Death)
Red wine is certainly the most health promoting alcoholic beverage (5), and people who drink about 5 ounces per day of red wine have shown a 32% lesser risk of developing heart disease than non-red wine drinkers. However, red wine in higher, excessive amounts can have the opposite effect, so be careful. Moderate amounts of red wine is thought to lower your risk of stroke and heart disease due to its ability to raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol and lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol (6).
One study of middle aged men also showed that drinking 1-3 glasses of red wine per day lowered their risk of stroke (7).
Red Wine Can Lower Your Risk of Depression and Dementia
While in higher amounts red wine can actually increase your risk of depression, in moderate amounts (1-2 glasses for women and 1-3 glasses for men, per day), red wine has been shown to lower your risk of depression, dementia and Alzheimers Disease (8).
Red Wine Decreases Insulin Resistance
One study showed that drinking two glasses of wine each day for four weeks improved insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is when the body becomes de-sensitized to insulin, which plays the crucial role of escorting blood glucose to our cells. The consequences include metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and other serious health conditions.
Red Wine Might Even Prevent Cancer
Studies suggest that moderate amounts of red wine might also protect against certain types of cancer, particularly colon, rectal, ovary and prostate cancers.
Now that we’ve gone over some of the benefits, let’s look at some important reasons why wine might not be a good choice for you, even given its health promoting properties.
Like any type of alcohol, drinking too much can have serious consequences and side effects. While red wine in moderation (1-1.5 glasses/day for women, 1-2 glasses per day for men) can offer the benefits discussed above, consider (and take seriously) the following side effects:
Alcohol dependence is nothing to mess around with, so enjoy your red wine with caution. Regular alcohol consumption can lead to alcoholism, especially if you have a family history. Keeping your glasses of wine to a minimum is best.
Increased Risk of Depression
While moderate amounts of red wine can help prevent depression, excessive amounts can actually increase your risk. In fact, studies show that regular and heavy drinkers are at a far greater risk of depression than non-drinkers or moderate drinkers.
Cirrhosis of the Liver
30 grams of alcohol or more per day can greatly increase your chance of developing liver disease. The most extreme case of liver disease is cirrhosis of the liver, which is life threatening. 30 grams of alcohol equals 2-3, 5 ounce glasses of wine.
Unfortunately, there’s no getting around that alcohol leads to weight gain. It is high in sugar and calories, and wine is no exception. If weight loss is your goal, you’ll want to limit your wine (and alcohol) consumption to just a once in awhile treat.
Increased Risk of Death
While this doesn’t just apply to wine, studies have found that regular and high alcohol consumption in general is a contributing cause to premature death.
It is not uncommon to react to either the histamines or sulfites in red wine. Depending on where you live, you can purchase sulfite-free red wine, but a histamine reaction is unavoidable in sensitive individuals. Reactions to sulfites could manifest as hives or even anaphylaxis, while reactions to histamine could manifest as itching or nasal congestion. You might also react to the tannins in red wine, which can produce various symptoms such as red, splotchy skin, swelling or headaches.
History of Substance Abuse
If you have a history of alcohol or other substance abuse, it is best to avoid red wine, despite its health benefits.
This holiday season (and all year round, for that matter), consider that wine does offer more health benefits than most other alcohol choices. As long as you drink it in moderation and don’t go overboard, it can be a great choice to accompany those holiday dinners.