Red wine has enjoyed the lion’s share of hype around heart-healthy food and drinks. The alcohol and the antioxidants such as flavonoids, polyphenols, and resveratrol have been shown to increase the levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol in the body and protect against artery damage. Antioxidants also reduce the havoc wreaked by free radicals in the body, serving as a powerful line of defense against disease.
Studies in the 1990’s indicate that high red wine consumption in France may be partially responsible for their low rates of cardiovascular disease despite high intake of artery-clogging saturated fat. Clinical studies have shown that while wine may not completely cancel out the effects of copious amounts of brie, those antioxidants are still good for something.
While all alcohol (yes, even beer) has been shown to have positive health effects—it’s the ethanol that appears to benefit the heart—it is thought that the higher concentration of antioxidants in red wine increase its effects. However, research has not been able to prove for sure that red wine is any better than white.
White wine is also rich in antioxidants. European and American lab studies showed that the polyphenols found in the flesh of white and red grapes appeared to be equally high in antioxidant activity, and some studies have also suggested that the antioxidants in white wine may actually be more effective at lowering cholesterol and free radical activity.
So the main takeaway: It’s all good.
To reap the health benefits of wine without canceling out its positive effects, the American Dietetic Association recommends one drink a day for women and two a day for men. These guidelines are based on differences in male and female body composition and rate of alcohol metabolism. Unfortunately, for most women, the alcohol in that one glass of wine concentrates in the blood more quickly than it will for the guys they’re drinking with. Though non-drinkers are not encouraged to take up the habit, for those of us who regularly imbibe, another good reason to enjoy what’s in our glass never hurts.