Contradictory health advice can be confusing
In Dr. A’s Habits of Health, I touched on the paradox that is wine’s health benefits. On the one hand, excessive alcohol consumption can have devastating effects on your health. Not only are most alcoholic beverages high in calories, but they can also disrupt your digestion, liver function, and sleep patterns. On the other hand, a number of studies have found that red wine can actually have health benefits ranging from being an excellent source of antioxidants to even reducing inflammation levels and lowering the risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
This seemingly contradictory health advice can be confusing, and with major news outlets like NPR covering a recent study on the health benefits of wine for type 2 diabetics, I wanted to take a few moments to bring clarity to the health benefits of wine.
Here is a brief overview of what you need to know:
- Any health benefits from alcohol hinge upon moderate consumption. Moderate consumption is about one drink a day. Consuming more than that puts you at risk for a number of health complications. For wine, one drink is five ounces. Over-pouring is an easy mistake, which can lead to over-consumption of alcohol and more calories than you planned for. With the range of shapes and sizes of wine-glasses, five ounces will look drastically different, so measure your pours to start.
- The health benefits of alcohol consumption are most pronounced in red wines made from grapes grown at higher altitudes. These wines tend to have higher levels of polyphenols and resveratrol, the antioxidant compounds that have been linked to higher levels of good cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and anti-inflammatory properties (to name a few). White wine has similar antioxidants but at far far lower levels. Before you pick your wine, do some research into its origins and don’t be afraid to invest in quality.
- Wine is not a magic health bullet. For all of its health potential, the benefits of drinking red wine may not exist in isolation. We see the most pronounced benefits of wine consumption in regions that follow a Mediterranean diet. Even the recent study that I referenced earlier notes that this could be essential to reaping the benefits of wine. Before you look to the rewards of red wine, you should get your other Habits of Health in order, which means eating healthy and exercising regularly.
We are still learning about the potential benefits of wine. The sheer volume of studies available suggest that we are on the right track, but if you aren’t drinking alcohol already, what we know about wine may not be enough of a reason to start. If you drink already, switch to red wine. If you aren’t drinking, focusing on your other Habits of Health is likely the best choice for now.