It might often be touted as the healthiest beverage at the bar, but is red wine good for you? Yes and no. As the many intricate flavors of red wine can be complex, so too can the nutritional properties, leading to years of headline-making studies that would have you flip flopping between stocking up and swearing off the stuff. The bottom line: “Red wine has been shown to be beneficial in moderate amounts due to the resveratrol, which is an antioxidant that is protective of the heart,” says Maya Feller, M.S., R.D., CDN, founder of Maya Feller Nutrition in Brooklyn.
Red wine is produced from dark-skinned grape varieties, which are expertly harvested, pressed, and fermented with grape skins and juice inside a tank or vat. Consider fermentation to be the secret sauce—it transforms humble grapes into full-bodied, flavourful wines. Ah, to be the first, curious soul to realize the endless potential of fermented grape juice! While France and Italy are the countries most commonly associated with wine, the beverage has ancient origins in China, with archaeological records dating back to 7,000 years ago. Over the centuries wine has gradually (and fascinatingly) evolved with the cultures it originated in and become a culture of its own. These days, every occasion, meal, and gathering calls for a different variety of red—will you play it safe with a crowd-pleasing merlot? Or risk it all with a peppery shiraz?
Adding to the allure of a good glass of red is that red wine is often touted as a “healthy” type of alcohol because of the resveratrol content. Antioxidants = good for you, but at the end of the day, red wine is still alcohol, which should always be factored into the amount you enjoy. “One doesn’t need to start drinking red wine just because of these benefits—similar benefits are found in other foods such as pomegranates and grapes,” says Feller.
We asked Feller to help settle this once and for all: Is red wine good for you? Here’s everything you need to know about red wine benefits—and what experts mean by “moderation.”
Red wine benefits
Red wine has what Feller refers to as a health halo—meaning it has a reputation as being healthier than it really is. There are many many reasons for this. One of the most well-known is the French paradox, an 1980s term which references a scientific study that explored France’s low incidence of coronary heart disease. It incorrectly linked this lower incidence with their consumption of red wine, and its healthy reputation has continued to linger.
Still, small amounts of red wine have been said offering more health benefits than any other boozy beverage. Let’s take a look at a few.Do the antioxidants in red wine make an impact?
Red wine contains polyphenolic substances, compounds responsible for the vino’s bitter flavor and deep color, as well as its antioxidant properties. According to a study reported in the International Journal of Angiology, the average glass of red contains 200 milligrams of total polyphenols—in comparison with 30 milligrams in a glass of white.
The polyphenol most commonly linked to red wine is resveratrol. “Resveratrol is the superstar of wine. It is a powerful antioxidant that also has anticarcinogenic properties and the potential to inhibit tumor formation and growth. It acts as a free radical scavenger and helps to slow the oxidation of LDL, or the ‘bad’ cholesterol responsible for cardiovascular disease,” says Feller.
However, there is only a small amount of polyphenols in red wine. If you are looking to increase your polyphenol intake, rather than topping up your wine glass, you might like to layer your cereal with berries or reach for a delicious plum, according to research, reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, since these fruits contain far more polyphenols than your vino of choice.Is red wine good for your heart?
There is research to suggest that resveratrol is linked to a decreased risk of inflammation and blood clotting, which can reduce your risk of heart disease. But in other studies, this link has been disproven. “While there are potential benefits to drinking red wine in moderation, I would not put it at the top of a list of heart-healthy beverages,” says Feller.
Dietitians and doctors alike will say that drinking alcohol for its supposed heart benefits is not a wise idea—particularly if there is a history of alcohol dependence or addiction in your family. The considerable risks of excessive alcohol consumption far outweigh the minor benefits of the small amounts of antioxidants in red wine.
If you are interested in how to support your heart health, “I would rather suggest a heart healthy pattern of eating based on leafy greens, nuts, seeds, ancient grains, and heart-healthy proteins, rather than relying on red wine,” says Feller.
How much red wine is good for you?
According to the CDC, a standard drink is:
- 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol content)
- 8 ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol content)
- 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol content)
- 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (40% alcohol content)
Next time you’re pouring wine, it helps to remember that a serving isn’t always the size of your glass (especially if it’s an Olivia Pope–sized goblet). Because of its health halo, red wine is often considered to dwell in a magical realm outside of these consumption suggestions. Unfortunately, it’s doesn’t. Booze is booze.
“The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest no more than 1 alcoholic drink maximum per day for women and 2 alcoholic drinks per day for men. It’s also important to reiterate that consumers do not need to take up drinking wine to reap the cardiovascular benefits. Just because red wine has a health halo does not mean you have to drink it,” says Feller.
Risks of drinking red wine
It is best to consume small amounts of red wine. “Drinking too much red wine poses similar risks to overconsuming other types of alcohol. Research has shown that individuals who over consume alcohol are at a higher risk for liver disease, certain cancers, hypertension, and heart disease. More short-term consequences include sleep disturbances and issues with detoxification,” says Feller.
As with any other alcohol, there are risks associated with consuming too much wine. Each year in the US, excessive alcohol use led to 95,000 deaths. Over a lifetime, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of high blood pressure, heart disease, liver disease, colon cancer, breast cancer, throat cancer, a weakened immune system, plus a range of social problems including employment instability and impacted family relationships.
Selecting the healthiest red wine
Before you get a little wild about your wine habits and begin typing “healthiest red wine” into Google, let an experienced dietitian deliver the verdict. “I personally say go for the wine without lots of preservatives and additives. I prefer natural and biodynamic wines,” she says, though they’re not always as affordable or widely available, she adds.
It is also helpful to remember that it is not just about selecting a “healthy” wine but about choosing how you enjoy it. If you are thinking of enjoying a glass of red with dinner, opt for a balanced, well-rounded meal containing whole grains, vegetables, and heart-healthy fats. Food also works to protect the stomach lining and slow the body’s absorption of alcohol—something we all know too well after a big night out without any dinner.