Whether it’s to wind down after a long day or week, or to enjoy happy hour with friends and coworkers, a glass of wine has become the evening beverage of choice for many. Over the years, red wine has gained fast popularity boosted by a healthy reputation in the press for its supposed heart health benefits and antioxidant properties. However, is the daily red wine health story really true or have we gone too far?
There are beneficial properties inside the skin of grapes that make the red wine, but like any indulgence, experts are urging more than ever that it should be consumed in moderation. And it turns out moderation maybe a lot less than many of us think. So, before you go opening another bottle of vino tonight, read on to find out the truth about whether wine is good or bad for you.
All about red wine
Red wine comes in hundreds of different forms, since there are hundreds of different kinds of red wine grapes. This richly-colored wine is known for its firm structure and ability to age. Cabernet is a type of red wine that is fuller-bodied and paired well with heavier, denser foods like steak, while Chianti red wines are high-acid and pair well with Italian dishes.
No matter what kind of red wine you drink, all are made using a similar process. Red wine is made from the crushed pulp, skin, and seed of the grapes, also called a must, that goes through a process in which it is eventually fermented.
When did health experts start preaching that drinking red wine really is good for you?
Red wine garnered a lot of attention decades ago when research found that resveratrol, an antioxidant found in the skin of red wine grapes, may hold heart health protective properties. Animal studies soon warranted further research on this topic that led to the United States Department of Health and Human Services recommending moderate alcohol consumption in its national health promotion and disease prevention initiative, Healthy People 2010. This made red wine a superstar in the wellness world with its potential heart health powers. And why not? After all, who doesn’t love a healthy indulgence?
The other side of wine research
The flavonoids in red wine, which consist of powerful antioxidant compounds like quercetin, have been found to help reduce oxidative stress, in turn reducing cell damage that can increase risk of heart disease. However, as one recent study points out, alcohol itself is very inflammatory when consumed in excess. In addition, this study reports that there has been research showing that beer, spirits, and wine all contain equally beneficial heart risk-lowering properties when consumed in moderation. Additionally, the exact mechanism of the risk-lowering properties of red wine has not been confirmed.
Red wine contains about 125 calories per five-ounce standard serving. Besides 187 milligrams of potassium and 1 gram of sugar, there is not much else in red wine, besides the antioxidants, to benefit your overall health. However, grapes contain only about 100 calories per cup, and they also contain about 1.5 grams of gut friendly fiber, and 288 milligrams of potassium as well as being a rich source of vitamins C and K (8). Therefore, grapes in their whole fruit form can provide similar antioxidant benefits to red wine, but without the inflammatory properties of alcoholic beverages and with more nutrient value. The inflammation that can arise from excessive alcohol consumption can also alter the gut microbiome and inflame the intestines, in turn increasing risk of inflammatory conditions over time.
The health benefits of grapes
Although the mechanism of action behind the health benefits of red wine is not confirmed, one certainty is that the antioxidant property of resveratrol, widely known for its heart health properties in wine, is also found in grapes. And not only do grapes provide this antioxidant, but as mentioned before, they also provide other heart healthy nutrients like fiber, potassium, and vitamin C (8).
Like red wine, grapes can help reduce oxidative stress and improve heart health markers like blood lipids and blood pressure. Grapes contain a variety of phytochemicals like phenolic acids, stilbenes, anthocyanins, and proanthocyanidins. All these compounds are powerful antioxidants that are believed by researchers to your lower risk of inflammatory chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and even certain cancers.
In addition to heart health benefits, grape seed and skin extract (GSSE) has been found to have anti-obesity properties. One 2017 study looked at the effect of GSSE on obesity risk factors and other health markers. The study results showed that GSSE helped lessened the harmful effects of a high fat diet, such as preventing increases in cholesterol and preventing mineral disturbances such as the decrease of magnesium levels often caused by a high fat diet, as well as preventing harmful fat deposition in the lung tissue. Furthermore, GSSE has been shown to reduce weight gain and pancreas damage that a high-fat diet may normally induce over time.
Although red wine can be a tasty treat every once in a while, it should not be viewed as a superfood. Even though it’s been shown to have some anti-inflammatory properties, it also possesses some pro-inflammatory properties too, which if consumed in excess, can outweigh its health benefits. So, feel free to have a glass of wine occasionally, but we don't recommend making it a daily habit.
How to add grapes to your daily diet
Besides eating them in their whole fruit form alone as a refreshing snack, there are several other ways you can enjoy grapes in your diet, such as:
- Slice grapes in half and layer with yogurt and granola or oats to create a heart-healthy parfait
- Slice grapes and combine with shredded or diced turkey or chicken. Mix in mayo with vegetables like diced celery, onions, and a dash of salt and pepper for a simple, but delicious salad you can enjoy alone or on top of your salad or in a sandwich wrap.
- Take some whole grain crackers or crostini, spread on some creamy cheeses like brie or cream cheese, and place sliced grapes on top for a salty and sweet snack.
- Throw some sliced grapes into your next quinoa or whole grain pasta salad for a touch of antioxidant-rich sweetness.