Red wine is good for you. It is principally the antioxidants that do it and these antioxidants are in the skin and pips of the grapes. When red wine is made, the contact time between the juice, the pips and the skins is critical. Basically, the longer the contact time, the better. Less than 7 days, and the wine will have little health benefit. 3 weeks or longer is ideal.
Most white wines are made only from the juice of the grapes – and so do not have the same antioxidant qualities.
Another factor that increases the antioxidant quality of red wine is the growing conditions – and for health the best wine is produced at altitude, dry and not too hot. Any plant – or animal – that thrives in difficult conditions will always produce more antioxidants for natural protection. According to Roger Corder, Professor of Experimental Therapeutics, William Harvey Research Institute, the wines associated with greatest benefit come from Sardinia and South-West France, precisely this is Gers. In these two places, there are a great number of wine-quaffing centenarians.
Not all red wines are good for health. As already stated, some wines have lower antioxidant levels due to less maceration time, the type of grape and the growing conditions. The age of the wine also plays a part; young wines with aging potential are generally healthy wines. Easy drinking red wines are unlikely to confer so many health benefits. Roger Corder, in his book The Wine Diet recommends looking for the following tasting notes: Concentrated fruit flavours, with great acidity and a fine, full tannic finish; good aging potential. Added to this is the benefit of a wine being organic or bio dynamic and produced from old vines in an old fashioned way. The wine that gets Mr Corder most excited is the Gers wine, Madiran, made from the Tannat grape7 . I did drink this wine when in France recently, and can concur that it is not an easy drinking wine – you can feel it doing you good. But I did enjoy the wine very much.
Of course there is the vexed question of the alcohol in red wine. Maybe surprisingly it seems the balance of evidence is that a little alcohol is good for most of us8. The health curve of alcohol consumption is J shaped with teetotallers being less healthy than people who drink moderately and regularly – this equates to about a glass of wine a day for women and 2 glasses a day for men. However, as alcohol consumption rises, the curve of illness rises very sharply. If, for whatever reason, we don’t want to drink alcohol but would like the benefits of red wine, then Concord Grape Juice fits the bill.9This is the only grape juice with procyanidins in it – so does offer the antioxidant protection. Other procyanidin rich foods include dark chocolate – 70% or higher, some apples, cinnamon, black and green tea.
It is also true that regular moderate drinking is better for health than occasional drinking. This is at least partly attributable to how we break alcohol down in the guts. When we regularly drink alcohol, the stomach and liver build up enzymes to break the alcohol down. Alcohol is a poison to the body and the liver works hard to detoxify it. To help the liver, it is a good idea to eat something fatty, eg nuts, before drinking rather than drinking on an empty stomach. Then the stomach will hold the nuts and wine in the stomach for longer, increasing the time for the liver to detoxify the alcohol. More on this in the forthcoming blog on alcohol.
There was a big study done by the Women’s Health Initiative showing that alcohol is closely linked to increased risk of breast cancer, but it has subsequently been shown that this is offset by taking supplemental folic acid10. There has been a bit of fuss of late about taking folic acid supplementation and this has supposedly been linked to making us women die young. What is of importance is the type of folic acid supplement used -a separate blog subject coming up. Click on the link to listen to what Robert Verkerk has to say about studies such as this one.
So a glass a day of chewy red wine is good for you. Bottoms up.
- There are innumerable studies on the good effects of red wine on the heart. The first of the following confirms that red wine helps produce Nitric Oxide which helps open the arteries, ie is vasodilating. The second confirms red wine improves the health of the lining of the arteries and its good effect on LDL cholesterol by reducing the oxidisation of LDL cholesterol and oxidisation is the action that causes the problems. Fitzpatrick DF, Bing B, Maggi DA, Fleming RC, O’Malley RM. Vasodilating procyanidins derived from grape seeds. Ann N Y Acad Sci 2002;957:78-89. Abstract. Stein JH, Keevil JG, Wiebe DA, Aeschlimann S, Folts JD. Purple grape juice improves endothelial function and reduces the oxidation in patients with coronary artery disease. Circulation 1999;100:1050-5 – a study done on Concord Grape Juice [↩]
- Jang M, Cai L, Udeani GO, et al. Cancer chemopreventive activity of resveratrol, a natural product derived from grapes. Science 1997;275:218-20. This study was done on mice and used Resveratrol, another antioxidant found on grapes [↩]
- by preventing oxidisation of LDL cholesterol, an catch-all term for bad cholesterol [↩]
- Nigdikar S V, Williams NR, Griffin BA, Howard AN. Consumption of red wine polyphenols reduces the susceptibility of low-density lipoproteins to oxidation in vivo. AM J Clin Nutr 1998;258-65 [↩]
- Estruch R, Sacanella E, Badia E, et al. Different effects of red wine and gin consumption on inflammatory bio-markers of atherosclerosis: a prospective randomized corssover trial. Effects of wine on inflammatory markers. Atherosclerosis 2004;175:117-23. Abstract. A study comparing the positive effects of red wine vs gin. Both reduced inflammation, but red wine also lowered C-Reactive Protein: a clear marker for heart attacks, and it also reduced the stickiness of the blood. [↩]
- Lukasiewicz E, Mennen LI, Bertrais S, et al. Alcohol intake in relation to body mass index and waist-to-hip ratio: the importance of type of alcoholic beverage. Public Health Nutr 2005;8:315-20. Abstract. This study found that wine was best for improving the waist/hip ratio in men and women and lowering their BMI but with a J -shaped curve. Beer had no good effect and spirits had a linear effect – the more of it we drink, the fatter we are. [↩]
- The best grape varieties are small with many pips [↩]
- some people genetically cannot handle any alcohol, eg Koreans [↩]
- When it comes purely to the cardio-protective element of red wine, drinking more red wine leads to more protection. However, this rapidly is offset by other alcohol related problems, eg cirrhosis of the liver. So a potential answer to this conundrum is to drink Concord Grape Juice as well as red wine. [↩]
- Rohan TE, Jain MG, Howe GR, Miller AB. Dietary folate consumption and breast cancer risk. J Natl. Cancer Inst. 92 (2000):266-69. A review of studies. [↩]