You may have heard that red wine is good for your health. But of course - we can't ignore that wine contains alcohol, so knowing the health risks while drinking responsibly is key if you care for your health.
In this article, we'll answer some common questions about the health benefits of red wine based on research, and give you the lowdown on how you can enjoy red wine while minimising or avoiding the health risks that come with drinking alcohol.
Let's start with the biggest question:
What are the benefits of drinking red wine?
There is some evidence that drinking moderate amounts of red wine may offer some health benefits. For example, wine contains antioxidants called polyphenols, which can help reduce oxidative stress, which is a key driver of chronic disease. Second, they counteract free radicals, which are highly volatile molecules that can damage cells.
Polyphenols have also been shown to benefit our gut health, as they enhance beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria strains in our microbiome. In fact, these bacteria have a symbiotic relationship with polyphenols - they can increase healthy gut bacteria, and reduce harmful bacteria, and the bacteria will also break down these polyphenols to activate them.
Polyphenols may also help improve heart health by improving cholesterol levels (reducing LDL and increasing HDL) and blood pressure.
Moderate red wine consumption may also turn on longevity associated genes, which may be why so many centenarians tout drinking red wine as key to living a long life.
Additionally, red wine may help prevent cancer by interfering with the growth of cancer cells, although research on cancer prevention and wine consumption has had conflicting results.
Is red wine good for your heart and blood pressure?
Red wine consumption has been shown to be beneficial for heart health, as it can improve lipids (cholesterol), blood pressure, and blood clotting factors associated with clots that cause cardiovascular events like heart attacks or coronary heart disease.
The benefit of red wine has even been shown in those with diabetes who can metabolise alcohol efficiently. One study gave a group of Type 2 Diabetics who follow a Mediterranean diet a glass of red wine with a meal, or a glass of mineral water, for six months, and found a modest reduction in blood pressure for those who metabolise alcohol quickly.
How much red wine a day is good for your heart?
A meta-analysis that looked at the association between wine consumption and the health benefits of wine found that drinking moderate amounts of wine, 1-2 glasses per day (one glass per day for women and two glasses per day for men), alongside a Mediterranean diet (which consists of an abundance of whole foods like fish, vegetables, fruit, olive oil, and a little dairy and meat) demonstrated benefits such as prevention of diseases like cardiovascular disease, depression, cognitive decline, and metabolic syndrome.
It's worth pointing out that the lifestyle and environment of those living in the Mediterranean who consume a traditional Mediterranean diet are also more active, have strong social connections and less stress than those in the West - all of which must be considered given the impacts each of these factors can have on overall health and the potentiality for declining health. Hence drinking red wine in moderation alongside a healthy lifestyle may well mean that you reap the cardiovascular health benefits you can get from drinking red wine.
Is it ok to drink wine every day?
If you're looking to reap the potential health benefits of red wine, moderation is key. As we mentioned before, moderate drinking is defined as one glass per day for women and two glasses per day for men. However, more recent studies contest this, and some scientists say that there is no safe limit of alcohol consumption.
As with most things when it comes to your health, how much wine you can personally drink really depends on many factors - your general state of health, your diet, age, sex, lifestyle, and your genetic ability to detoxify alcohol. All of these factors combined determine your long-term health and must be factored in when considering whether drinking is right for you. Nevertheless, moderate wine consumption should be the goal if you do choose to drink.
What is the best time to drink red wine?
It appears that the benefits of drinking red wine may depend on whether you eat when you imbibe. In one study, drinking red wine with food resulted in a lowering of LDL cholesterol and an increase in the genetic expression of antioxidant genes.
Another study measured blood clotting factors in healthy men after drinking a moderate amount of red wine with dinner, and found a positive association for a reduced risk of coronary heart disease and other cardiovascular events. They found an increase in the activity of a compound that prevents blood clot formation the morning after moderate red wine consumption, demonstrating a reduced risk of morning cardiovascular events like heart attacks.
Hence, drinking a moderate amount of red wine with your evening meal is the best time to drink red wine.
Which wine has more antioxidants?
Because these polyphenols are found in the skin of grapes, red wines and orange wines have higher antioxidant levels, and red wine in particular has been shown to be more beneficial than other wines. This is why red wine is often researched in studies, with the polyphenols resveratrol and quercetin being some of the most studied antioxidants that have been identified in plants so far.
Which red wine has the most health benefits?
Given that the health benefits of red wine are mostly attributed to its polyphenol content, the varieties with the highest level of polyphenols confer the most benefits. Some examples of such red grape varieties are:
The polyphenol content that red wine contains will also depend on how long the wine had skin contact during the fermentation process. The longer the skin contact, the more the polyphenols will be extracted from the grape skins. Generally speaking though, look for deep-coloured red wines.
If you prefer whites, orange wines with a lot of grape skin contact would be a good option to try.
Note that polyphenols do degrade as the wine ages - so red wines will have higher levels of polyphenols in their youth compared to once they’ve spent years (or even decades) in the bottle.
What is unhealthy about wine? Is wine bad for your health?
While moderate alcohol intake has been linked with possible health benefits, particularly when it comes to heart health, drinking too much wine (or any type of alcohol) certainly has negative consequences.
Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and an increased risk for certain types of cancer, such as breast cancer.
Additionally, alcohol dependence and alcoholism are serious problems that can lead to other health issues, including liver damage.
And of course, if you have a family history of alcoholism or excessive drinking, drinking may best be avoided entirely.
If you're looking for some low alcohol wines to minimise your alcohol intake, we cap alcohol content in our wines to 13.5%. Browse our low alcohol wines here.
Is wine bad for your liver?
If you drink too much alcohol, your liver (and other body organs) will suffer. Fatty liver disease, hepatitis, and, after long-term heavy drinking, cirrhosis are all linked to chronic alcohol use. Avoid the harmful effects by avoiding excessive consumption and sticking to moderate alcohol consumption.
Can red wine cause heart problems?
Yes, it can if consumed in excess. Drinking alcohol, in general, can have a negative effect on various factors that are associated with poor cardiovascular health.
Can wine make you gain weight?
Yes, it is possible to gain weight from drinking wine. If you consume more calories than you burn off, you will gain weight. One 150ml glass of red wine has about 125 calories, mostly from alcohol. If you drink several glasses of wine a day and don’t increase your activity level or cut back on calories elsewhere, weight gain can certainly occur.
That being said, calories from alcohol shouldn’t be viewed in the exact same way as calories from sugar, which is also present in wine and which we do our best to avoid at Feravina, capping sugar content to just 3g per litre or ~0.5g per glass. Take a look at our selection here.
Alcohol cannot be directly converted into fat the way carbohydrates and sugars can, and if consumed alongside other calories (for example during a meal) the alcohol tends to be detoxified and excreted instead of burned for energy. If, however, you drink in a fasted state, whatever fat burning is currently occurring will stop and the body will use the consumed alcohol for energy instead. This is yet another good reason to drink with food and not on an empty stomach.
Is wine the healthiest alcohol?
All things considered, if you're looking for the best alcoholic drink, wine probably is healthier than other types of alcohol. For example, if compared to beer, wine has more polyphenols that are associated with the health benefits of wine, and most wines have lower carbs, hence wine contains more beneficial compounds and fewer harmful compounds than beer. Of course, red wine, because of the higher polyphenol content, is the healthiest choice when it comes to wine, over white wine.
Looking for low carb wines? Browse our selection of low carb keto friendly wines here.
When it comes to spirits, wine can have more sugar, depending on the spirit. Spirits contain a lot more alcohol than wine, and it's a lot easier to overdrink with spirits. Spirits are commonly drunk with unhealthy mixers like coke and tonic which have a lot of sugar (~100g/L) and artificial ingredients like colours, flavours and preservatives. Once again, wine contains beneficial compounds that spirits almost universally do not.
However, one drawback with wine is that it contains sulfites, which can trigger allergies or sensitivities in some people. While sulfites are naturally occurring in wine due to fermentation, many wine producers also add sulphur as a preservative, increasing the sulphur content of wines to a level that sulphur-sensitive wine drinkers might react to. This is why we cap sulphur content to 50ppm which is well below limits for those who are sensitive. If you're the type to get a headache, skin rashes or itchiness from wines, trying low sulphur wines might be a good option to try.
Wine also contains histamines, which again some people are sensitive to, but this is not unique to wine, as many different alcoholic drinks contain histamines at various levels.
Also consider - what else is in the bottle of red wine I'm drinking?
While making a healthier choice about what you drink does factor in alcohol content and polyphenols, there are other things you mightn't have considered. Winemaking is now big business, and as such, many wines are made commercially, often with the help of winemaking aides like commercial yeasts, colours, flavours and even added sugar to improve the taste and look of a wine. Even more worrying is that wines are being shown to be contaminated with a class of toxicants called phthalates because of materials used in wineries that contain polymers, and epoxy resin coatings on vats. Perhaps you've heard of phthalates before - they're used to soften plastics, and make aromas last, and are known endocrine (hormone) disruptors implicated in a range of health issues like infertility, hormonal imbalances, diabetes and cancer.
Other factors that are noteworthy are whether the grapes have been farmed commercially or organically/biodynamically. The residue of commercial pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides can remain in wines, and exposure increases the risk of cancer and endocrine disruption.
Selecting wines that are made naturally, without additives is a good approach.
Guidelines for red wine consumption
So, if you're looking to care for your health while also enjoying a tipple now and then, moderate consumption of red wine may offer some benefits. Opting for darker shades of red wines will guarantee you'll be getting the most polyphenols, particularly varieties like Tannat, Durif and Nebbiolo. Remember to drink in moderation, and before you start drinking alcohol, consult with your doctor to make sure it's the best choice for you.
The general rules for making a healthier choice when it comes to wine are:
- To reap red wine health benefits, especially the heart healthy benefits, choose darker reds for their richer polyphenol content
- Choose lower alcohol red wines. More full-bodied red wines tend to be higher in alcohol, however, we have a great selection of fuller-bodied wines with a maximum 13.5% ABV.
- Choose natural, organic/biodynamic wines
- Drink moderate amounts of red wine, and with food. That means no more than one drink to two drinks of red wine per day.
- Choose low sulphur red wines with no additives
And remember, having a healthy balanced diet, being active and living a healthy lifestyle with minimal stress are also key to staying in good health and avoiding health problems that can come with alcohol use.