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You've Heard It Through the Grapevine

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You've Heard It Through the Grapevine

After hundreds of studies, what do we really know about wine’s health benefits? You’ve read the data, but how much of it is true? Over 100 scientific reports since 1991 provide strong evidence that wine consumption prevents heart disease.

After hundreds of studies, what do we really know about wine’s health benefits? You’ve read the data, but how much of it is true?

Over 100 scientific reports since 1991 provide strong evidence that wine consumption prevents heart disease. But didn’t some studies point to red wine over white? And wasn’t there some suggestion that grape juice is as beneficial? Other research links alcohol with damage to the liver, pancreas, gastrointestinal tract, muscles, bones, and the heart.

Yet, 20 years of epidemiological studies have correlated alcohol consumption–from wine or other alcoholic drinks–with longevity and a reduced risk of heart disorder, hypertension, cancer, peptic ulcer, respiratory infections, gall stones, kidney stones, bone density, and cognitive function. More recent reports indicate wine improves memory, combats breast cancer and impotence, and reduces heart attack risk.

It’s enough to drive one to drink. Now, we’ve reviewed the latest data and uncorked the facts about wine.

The French Paradox

The French eat 30 percent more fat than North Americans but suffer 40 percent fewer heart attacks. There is compelling evidence that French consumption of red wine with smaller-portioned meals countermands the fattier diet.

To Drink or Not to Drink

Alcohol brings risks and benefits. According to the December 1996 issue of Circulation, alcohol-related diseases account for 100,000 deaths in the United States annually. However, if current US drinkers stopped drinking, heart disease-related deaths would increase by 80,000 a year.

Every glass of wine contains about 200 different polyphenols, and many are antioxidants, shown to slow damaging cell oxidation. In a 1996 Brazilian study, rabbits were fed a high cholesterol diet with red wine, red wine without alcohol, or no wine at all. After three months, their aortas were examined for fatty plaques. Among rabbits not given any wine, 60 percent of aortas were lined with plaques, this declined to 50 percent in rabbits fed the non-alcoholic red wine and to 40 percent among rabbits given alcoholic red wine.

Grapes and grape juice also reduce plaque suggesting that grape constituents are more healthful components than alcohol itself. However, it takes three times as much grape juice as wine for the same effect; wine’s alcohol acts as a solvent, extracting greater amounts of flavonoids.

When to Drink

Several studies, including a University of Buffalo report presented in Toronto in 1995, conclude that overall heart and longevity benefits are more pronounced when wine is consumed with meals. Drinking with dinner may assure the protective effects of both alcohol and wine are stronger in the evening–when supper fats circulate through the bloodstream–and carry over to morning when most heart attacks occur.

What About Organic Wines?

Many people who enjoy the taste of wines and would like to benefit from their heart-boosting properties cannot tolerate the levels of sulphites found in most commercial wines. (Sulphites help preserve wine once it is bottled by preventing oxidation.) For these people, organic wines are providing a welcome alternative.

Grapes used in organic wines are grown without the use of chemical herbicides, pesticides, or industrial fertilizers. In the US, a wine can be certified organic only if no sulphites are added beyond those that occur as a byproduct of fermentation.

If a limited amount of sulphites are added for preservation, the wines from organically grown grapes can be labeled as “organically grown” by US standards. Canadian standards for organically certified wines have not yet been set, but in Ontario, for example, most of the organic wines contain much lower amounts of sulphites than US-certified organic wines.

Most organic wines hold their own in taste comparisons with regular wines but, without the higher levels of sulphites, start to lose their edge after a year or two following their bottling.

Is Red Wine Better Than White?

Yes. Red wine contains grape seeds and skin. In white wine production, skins and seeds are removed immediately after crushing the grapes.

Our latest conclusions? It’s a green light for red wine. Enjoy some grape nutrition.

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