Choose a local organic or fair trade wine for your next celebration, and raise a glass to wine's heart-healthy benefits.
For many of us, a celebration is not complete without a glass of wine to toast the health of our loved ones. Far from being a mere indulgence, the health benefits of moderate consumption of both red and white wine varieties are well documented.
Each time we take a sip of wine, we may be doing our hearts a favour. Several studies have suggested that moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages, and red wine in particular, may help protect the heart and the blood vessels against damage. An analysis of 13 studies involving 209,418 men and women found a 32 percent decrease in the risk of vascular disease.
This benefit comes about in part because of alcohol’s ability to raise the body’s level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol, which it does by about 12 percent. Red wine is particularly high in polyphenols, including resveratrol, which help the blood vessels to relax and widen. However, this doesn’t mean that white wine lovers should reach for a bigger glass; both red and white wine, as it turns out, are equally beneficial to our hearts.
A 2005 study found that men may benefit from moderate consumption of red wine. The study, which involved 1,456 men between the ages of 40 and 65, found that, though drinking beer or liquor was not associated with prostate cancer, those who reported moderate consumption of red wine had a reduced risk for developing the cancer.
A decreased risk of several other types of cancer—including colon, ovarian, and lung cancers—have also been linked to wine consumption.
Wine’s health benefits don’t just decrease our risk of cancer and heart complications, though. One recent study found that older women who regularly consumed moderate amounts of alcohol had higher bone density in their necks and lower backs, and a meta-analysis of 13 studies found that men and women who drank alcohol in moderate amounts had about a 30 percent reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.
Choosing ethical wines
With so many brands of wine out there, it’s easy to make an eco-friendly choice. If you have any difficulties finding the ethical wine of your choice, recruit the help of staff at your local wine or liquor store.
Fair trade wines
Currently, Fair Trade certified wines are produced by growers in Chile, Argentina, and South America. When you buy wine with a Fair Trade label, you ensure small family farms in these areas are paid enough for production costs of sustainable wine to be covered, employees are paid a fair wage for their efforts, and no children under the age of 15 are employed among their workforce.
For a wine to be certified organic, Vern Siemens, owner of Mt. Lehman Winery in Abbotsford, BC, explains, it must be made from organic grapes. Those with the “100% organic” label must not have any added sulphites, while those with the “organic” label are permitted to add only minimal amounts of sulphites. A wine with the label “made with organically grown grapes,” on the other hand, uses at least 70 percent organic fruit but can still have any amounts of chemicals added during the winemaking process.
Choosing organic wines, just like choosing any other organic products, reduces the amount of chemicals that make their way into our waterways, environment—and our bodies.
Primarily, Canadian wines come from southern Ontario and BC’s Okanagan and Fraser Valleys, though there is some production in Quebec and Nova Scotia as well. In order to buy local, learn about the wineries closest to you; some of them sell their product directly to customers.
Beyond cutting down on the carbon footprint by buying a bottle of Canada’s finest—just think of the effort behind transporting crates from Chile or Australia!—buying local supports Canada’s smaller vineyards and gives the wine lovers among us a chance to speak directly to winemakers who love to share their knowledge and passion for the grape.
What does “in moderation” mean?
The key word in each of the studies that explore wine’s many benefits is the term “moderation.” Officially, moderation constitutes one to two standard drinks—12 oz (350 mL) of beer, 5 oz (150 mL) of wine, or 1.5 oz (45 mL) of liquor—three to four times a week.
As with any other alcoholic beverage, wine drinkers can end up with too much of a good thing, and may end up increasing their risk of heart disease, cancer, and liver disorders should they over-imbibe too often.
“These days, you can drink whatever you want to,” proclaims Vern Siemens, owner of Mt. Lehman Winery in Abbotsford, BC. However, there are a few ways to get the best taste out of both your drink and your holiday meal.
|barbecued meats and other intensely flavoured foods||
||flavourful, full-bodied reds|
|salmon and other fish; roast chicken (or turkey); light meats; spicy meals||
||lighter medium-bodied reds or dry whites|
|dishes with rich, creamy sauces||
|creamy white vegetarian dishes||
||lighter, less tannic|
As with any other kind of food or substance, allergies and sensitivities are not unheard of when it comes to many of the components found in wine. Here are some common culprits.
Tannins, a naturally occurring chemical found in grape skins and seeds, help to give red wine its unique flavour. This is also the first wine component that many people blame for their wine headache.
For those who suffer from tannin-induced headaches, enjoying white wine instead of red is the best solution. Because grape skins are separated from the skins during production, white wine contains fewer tannins than red.
Although they occur naturally in low levels during the winemaking process, sulphites are also added to wine as a preservative. People with sensitivities to this compound can blame it for itchy skin, a flushed face, or any number of more severe symptoms.
One option for those with sulphite sensitivities is to stick to drinking organic wines, which have fewer sulphites added during the winemaking process and hold much lower amounts of the compound as a result.
The same protein in our bodies that causes us to suffer from allergies each spring is also present in wines. The symptoms are, for the most part, similar to those of allergies, including headaches and, less commonly, flushing of the face, runny nose, and asthma flare-ups.
As histamines are much higher in red wines than in white, anyone prone to these symptoms may find that opting for a glass of white instead might keep the unpleasantness at bay.
While most definitely not a connoisseur, alive assistant editor Caitlin Van Den Brink looks forward to wowing her family with her wine knowledge.