Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Wine a Bit...You'll Feel Better!

As I sit to write this, I have just poured a glass of Shiraz (okay, so it’s “3 Buck Chuck” but it’s still wine!). It isn’t anywhere close to the recommended 59-64 degrees at which red wine should be served (I don’t have a wine cellar or wine storage—just my garage which is way colder than that right now as it hasn’t been above freezing around here for a couple of days), but it sure is hitting the spot! We love wine! And while expensive wine isn’t in the budget for either Chef Brett or myself, we still enjoy the wine we can afford. And isn’t it great that wine is good for you too?! Let’s explore, shall we?

Recently, I’ve seen commercials starring my favorite foodie, Alton Brown, talking about the polyphenols in grape juice. Polyphenols are a class of molecules that are highly antioxidant and also may deactivate some of the enzymes cancer cells need for growth. Wine is also high in other flavonoids like quercitin which is also antioxidant. The reason that antioxidants are so important in heart health is that it is oxidized LDL (“bad” cholesterol) that creates plaques in arteries. Antioxidants prevent the oxidation of LDL and thus prevent plaque formation. Quercitin also helps prevent platelets from sticking together and so acts as a blood thinner. There is also some health benefit to the alcohol itself—ethanol in moderation helps raise HDL (”good” cholesterol).

Another, lesser known, benefit of wine is that it can kill harmful intestinal bacteria such as shigella, salmonella, and E. coli—some research even shows it is more effective than Pepto Bismol for traveller’s diarrhea. So, if you are travelling out of the country, drink up! When it comes to health benfits, red is where it’s at (remember, pigments are pretty much synonymous with antioxidants). The level of tannin (what makes wine “dry”) is highly correlated with health benefit, making cabernet sauvignon, syrah/shiraz, and merlot your best choices.

Grapes share all of the health benefits that wine does except the ethanol effect so for those who would prefer not to drink, are pregnant, or have diabetes, eating grapes is a great choice. Drinking non-alcoholic wines or grape juice (be cautious about the sugar—6 ounces of no-sugar-added grape juice has about 30 grams of sugar and 120 calories) might also be an option (admittedly, I’ve never tried any but if they are anything like non-alcoholic beer, I’m probably not really a fan). Speaking of calories, if you need to know, here’s a link to a website with calories by type of wine: http://www.annecollins.com/calories/calories-wine.htm --personally, I don’t want to know!

The cheaper the wine, the more additives and chemicals that can cause trouble in people who are sensitive to them. Sulfur dioxide, a common preservative, can trigger asthma and substances known as congeners as well as amines can trigger migraines. So, buy the best wine you can afford and drink less of it!

Women should not consume more than 14 “units” of alcohol each week, men 21. (For all the other math nerds out there, a post script follows with the calculations!) The result of all the math means one 5 ounce glass of wine a day for the ladies; guys, you can have 7.5 ounces. I don’t know about you, but that feels a bit disappointing (and I’ll admit, I just refilled my glass) but let’s look on the bright side: if we can keep our consumption there we are really helping to protect our hearts! Unfortunately, consuming more alcohol than that tends to reverse the health benefits and we start damaging our livers and increasing our risk of cancer. So remember: everything in moderation! Savor that glass!


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