Red wine is one of the simple joys in our lives. It’s delicious, it’s relaxing, it’s awesome — did we mention how delicious it is? And, according to some sources, it might actually be good for us. We’ve heard plenty of back and forth on this hot topic, so we wanted to get to the bottom (of our glasses) on whether our beloved vino really can help us live long and prosper. We went to Samantha Lynch, R.D., founder of Samantha Lynch Nutrition in New York City, to weigh in on why — and how much — wine is actually going to do your body good.
According to Lynch, the reason that pinot, cab, chianti, and malbec (and on and on…) are on the top of the drink-up chart is all in the fruit that's behind it: the grape. “Wine is so healthy because it contains grapes, natural phenolics, polyphenols, and antioxidants,” she says. While those are all good things for your body and your skin, they're a really big boost for your heart health. “The most well-known cardio-protective benefit is its ability to increase HDL (aka good) cholesterol,” says Lynch. Research shows that one to two glasses a day are linked to, on average, a 12 percent increase in HDL. And, when HDL is high, your heart is on its A-game.
However, the healthy heart benefits of red wine don’t just stop there. “Drinking a moderate amount of red wine daily can boost your heart disease defense system by decreasing inflammation and lowering blood pressure, too,” says Lynch, who notes that studies suggest that in men and women, light to moderate alcohol consumption reduces risk of death from a heart attack by 30 to 50 percent. Red wine has also been linked to warding off some cancers. “Recent studies have shown that alcohol — and red wine in particular — may potentially decrease the risk of colon cancer and prostate cancer if consumed in moderation,” says Lynch. But, not all wine is created equal: The dark red liquid is the one that contains eight times as many flavonoids, the cancer-fighting antioxidants, as white wine.
And, in case you needed another reason to not drink on an empty stomach, studies have suggested the benefits of red wine are particularly in effect if wine is consumed with food. “It is thought the beneficial ingredients may counter the effects of fatty foods, perhaps delaying or decreasing their absorption into the body,” Lynch says. So we should eat, drink, and be merry? Done, done, and dunzo.
Resveratrol is another wine-soaked buzzword floating around, but the jury is still out on just how effective it is. “Some studies suggest it could harness cancer and cardio benefits when singled out, but you’d have to drink the equivalent of about eight bottles of wine a day to consume the needed amount,” says Lynch. As for popping a resveratrol-based supplement, it's unclear if the payoff is the same as drinking the real thing. “Plus, the benefits of wine, and red wine in particular, for cardiovascular health really come through the sum of their parts and not one specific compound,” explains Lynch.
OK, so keep the refills coming, right? Eh, not quite. As with just about anything, even those that are super-healthy, moderation is key. Plus, all the research and studies linked to the health benefits of red wine are connected to specific pour restrictions. Lynch says she tells her patients to consume no more than one five-ounce drink a day if you are female and two if you are male. (“And, no, you can’t save up a week's worth of drinks and have them in one night,” she says.)
If you overdo it, vino can actually compromise your health. “While moderate drinking may play a part in a healthy heart, overconsumption does just the opposite," Lynch says. Drinking too much leads to a sharp increase in the risk of not only heart disease, but also high blood pressure, stroke, certain cancers, and liver cirrhosis, and alcoholism. “The difference between drinking in moderation and drinking in excess is the difference between preventing disease and causing disease,” she says. And, of course, if you are taking any medications that alcohol could affect, think you might be pregnant, or have any conditions (migraines, for example, which are known to be triggered by red wine) that may be aggravated, you should skip it altogether.
The bottom line: Wine has a long list of pros. Phenolics help prevent bad cholesterol from forming and act as a natural blood thinner which can fight off heart disease; polyphenols have cardio protective super-powers, and flavonoids — the stellar anxtioxidants — are proven to have anti-cancer properties. But to hit this healthy trifecta, remember this: It’s only a glass of red wine a day that could keep the doctor away — not a bottle. So take it easy at wine and cheese night, okay?