Wine Ink column: Wine and health — pros and cons
It is assumed that those who read this column like to drink wine. But in this day and age where so many of us are concerned about the effects the things we consume have on our health, it is smart to occasionally stop and take stock of our habits. Like drinking wine.
Benjamin Franklin, a noted consumer in the earliest days of our democracy and a lover of drink, once said, “Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.” He, of course, was referring to the psychological aspects of wine drinking. And I think we all can agree that less tension and a less hurried existence are positives.
But beyond the “more tolerant life” there is evidence, and some agreement on the medical front, that drinking can, at least statistically, make you a healthier person.
Many studies have found that an average of two drinks a day for men and one for women (a drink is generally defined as 5 ounces) may have positive health benefits. And as early as 1992, researchers at Harvard concurred with earlier studies and stated that moderate consumption of wine was one of “eight proven ways to reduce coronary heart disease risk.” Scientists have long cited the antioxidants, flavonoids and resveratrol, which are abundant in the skins of red grapes, as being beneficial in reducing the production of LDL (the bad stuff) and cholesterol, boosting HDL (the good stuff) and limiting clotting in blood.
And that’s not all. A recent pilot study performed at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA indicated a potentially beneficial link to components found in red wine that may strengthen brain activity while reducing cognitive decline in the early stages of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. While the focus group was small and relied on the use of freeze-dried grape powder rather than actual wine, it did provide researchers with information for the future. Other recent studies have shown positive impacts on reducing risks of colon cancers as well.
On the downside, another recently released study of 100 other studies, completed by the World Cancer Research Fund in the United Kingdom, indicated that wine consumption has a potential link to breast cancer. According to a BBC article, “The report found evidence that drinking an extra small glass of wine every day (10g of alcohol) increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer after … menopause by 9 percent.” Eighteen different risk factors were cited, with one being alcohol consumption, stated the Beeb.
The emphasis for all of us, should be on moderation. Studies that show drinking wine, particularly red wine, provides positive health benefits, stress (often in bold capitalization) that the key to getting those benefits is moderation. Simply put, less may be more.
WHAT ABOUT CALORIES?
And then there are the calories. Many wine consumers are concerned about the calories they keep after the glass is gone. A glass of wine can range from around 100 calories per glass for a low alcohol, low sugar wine to as much as 200 calories for high alcohol desert wines such as ports. The trick is finding a sweet spot that is not too sweet and is a bit lower in alcohol.
While most wines do not list the levels of residual sugar on their labels, they do list the ABV, which is the “alcohol by volume.” Alcohol has approximately twice the impact on calories, as does the residual sugar. If you want to keep your caloric consumption low, then try to drink wines that are in the 9 percent to 12 percent range in ABV.
Still, the difference in a glass of these wines can range from, say, a low of 110 calories to a high of maybe 170 calories for a 5-ounce pour. That is what, a difference of about 60 calories per glass? At the end of the day, or the bottom of the glass, as the case may be, the difference is about 3 percent of the FDA’s daily recommendation of 2,000 calories a day for the average woman and less than the 2,500 calories recommended for men.
Perhaps drinking what you like, but drinking less of it is the better compromise than switching to something less appealing. However, always remember, moderation is a virtue.
Even Ben Franklin would agree with that.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.