There’s no doubt that summer is winding down. If you’re anything like me, you’re still doggedly pursuing the last dregs of the warm weeks, while simultaneously pursuing the last, uh, dregs of wine from your glass in the sunniest spot you can find. Uncorking a bottle of wine with a friend or loved one after a long day of work is one of life’s greatest pleasures. It’s also a relaxing and affordable alternative to hitting a loud bar for happy hour, or being seduced by tasty (but expensive) snacks while out. Think about it. You can find totally decent bottles of wine for $12-20 at your local wine store. Your typical 750mL bottle of wine holds about six glasses, so that amounts to something around $3 a glass. Absolutely no comparison needed to that oxidized $8 glass of “house white” at your local bar. Consuming a moderate amount of wine (here defined by the American Heart Association) is also, supposedly, a great boost to your health.
When you start to think of wine as part of a healthy diet, you may think of the Mediterranean region. You’ve probably heard of the “Mediterranean Diet:” high in healthy fats (think olive oil), unadulterated fruits and vegetables (often grown in a family garden and eaten raw), and lean proteins (picture fresh fish and seafood), in addition to copious amounts of wine with dinner. It has long been rumored that people in the Mediterranean live longer and better, because of the healthy fats and wine on the table. The New York Times has covered this anecdotal phenomenon with a heartwarming piece about a centenarian man once faced with cancer and a nine month life expectancy here. Is the magic in the wine? Is it in the overall Mediterranean diet? The regular sunshine and exercise? Or is it simply a result of living in a postcard-worthy location?
Maybe we don’t have to look as far as the jewel-toned waters around Greece or the south of Spain, France, and Turkey to find the answer. The United States National Health Institute advises us that moderate alcohol consumption increases HDL (high density lipoprotein — the “good” fat our doctors want to see in our blood work), and it helps decrease coronary heart disease. The American Heart Association also climbs onto the red wine bandwagon, touting evidence that red wine may help reduce plaque buildup in your arteries, and therefore reduce risk of heart attack and stroke (again, benefits being strictly aligned with moderate intake).
If you want to get into the meat-and-potatoes of what wine has up it’s silky sleeve that’s good for our health, as a nurse, I’m here to share a few pieces of the most valuable information I’ve found on the subject. Alcohol, whether in wine or other Bacchus-inspired beverages, is a vasodilator, which means it can lower your blood pressure — often a good thing! But typically, the most evidence for wine being beneficial to health centers around red wine, which inherently contains certain chemical compounds from grape skins.
What’s the difference between whether a wine is white or red? Mostly contact time with the skins of the grapes. White wines, and roses, are separated from darkly pigmented grape skins, so they retain the fresh green or lemony colorations of the pulp inside all grapes (or in the case of rose, the refreshing pink tint from a slightly longer contact with grape skins). Here’s the nitty-gritty on why it matters that red wine has more contact with grape skins: the dark purple or red coloration of grape skins contain antioxidants. One compound found only in red wine is a type of polyphenol, called resveratrol, which may protect the lining of your vasulature according to some evidence.
Not everyone is marching down in the wine parade, however. There is some controversy as to whether or not claims of health benefits are legitimate. In countries as diverse as Korea and Australia, it’s not legal to make health claims based on wine until further research can conclude that wine really is good for your heart and longevity (Yung, Yoo, Anthony Saliba, Jasmine Macdonald, Paul Prenzler, and Danielle Ryan. “A Cross-cultural Study of Wine Consumers with Respect to Health Benefits of Wine.” Food Quality and Preference (2013). Web. <Elsevier>). Meanwhile, the BBC also reminds us to be responsible drinkers, skeptical of psuedoscience. It might be pertinent to note that the antioxidants, attributed to the health benefits of wine, are innate to the berries (which is to say, grapes) wine is made with, in which case, grape juice may have the same benefits as alcoholic wine.
So maybe the jury is still out on exactly how healthful wine is as a part of your regular diet. However, opening a juicy chilled rosé on my porch with my roommate or bringing a bottle of sparkling vinho verde to dinner at a friend’s house is definitely healthier for my budget than a night out. The conversations over a supple glass of savory red on a sunset-bathed patio are so much more delicious than those at the local watering hole. If you need to find this girl, I’ll be cheers-ing in the warm evenings watching the sun go down with a friend until the fall rolls in, in frosty earnest.
More Information on wine and health:
1. Moderate alcohol for better health, international immunonutrition workshop: http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=8544411&fileId=S0029665112000171
2. Euro pubmed on the controversy of wine benefits: http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/22201971
3. Learn more about the Mediterranean diet: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7015/12/112
Keisha is a nurse in Nashville, TN. She likes sandwiches and seeing local bands in dive bars with her boyfriend, who sometimes wears tshirts with his own face on them. She is on Instagram.