Which Type of Red Wine is The Healthiest?
Learning that one of your vices is actually good for you is like finding out Santa Claus is real, has shredded washboard abs, and is also your biological grandfather. It's a pleasant surprise... that might seem a little too good to be true.
Consider the long-running belief that red wine is good for you. Of course we want to believe that. But is it really?
"I think it's safe to say red wine has some health benefits," said Ginger Hultin, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "There's a lot of evidence out there right now, and we can take a pretty strong stance on the viability of red wine's health benefits, especially for cardiovascular issues. Small doses of wine are believed to increase good cholesterol and overall health of the heart."
Hultin, who works extensively studying the connections between wine and health and who is also studying to be a sommelier, isn't saying that red wine is objectively healthy. "Before we get caught up in all the potential health positives, we also have to realize the key word is here is moderation," she said. "If you drink wine in excess, the negatives are going to outweigh the positives. Drinking too much will increase cancer risk, can definitely wreak havoc on your immune system and sleeping patterns, and negatively affect so many other areas of your overall health."
So, look, you could sit on the internet all day debating the exactitude of red wine's impact on your health. But assuming you can limit your imbibing and you accept the validity of numerous scientific studies (not a given nowadays), you can reasonably assert that wine can be good for you. Which is good news! But what we're here to debate is whether one type of red wine is actually better for you than the rest.
Will merlot make your heart feel better than a malbec? Will pinot noir make your ticker run better than a cabernet? To figure it out, we have to look at what makes red wine "healthy" in the first place.
It's all about the antioxidants, baby
Hultin specifically pointed to a phenomenon referred to as the "French Paradox." Essentially, French people commonly drink a ton of red wine and eat a diet with a fairly high amount of saturated fat, yet France remains one of the countries with the lowest rate of heart disease, per capita. "There could be many reasons for this, of course, but it definitely made researchers start taking a look at people who drink wine regularly, and what it could be potentially doing for long-term health in a positive way," she said.
Most studies draw direct correlations between antioxidant content in red wine and positive health benefits. Without getting too bogged down in advanced biology, antioxidants help protect your body from cellular damage. Think of them as little bodyguards that make sure toxic pollutants don't mess with your precious cells, like bouncers making sure those frat dudes in flip-flops don't get into the club and ruin everyone's night. And red wine apparently has a ton of these guys, like Flavonoids, the phenolic compound that gives red wine that dark, burgundy color. It's just one of the components in red wine that can act as an antioxidant. Basically, it's what you want. And all red wines have a significant amount of antioxidants.
But do some wines have more antioxidants than others? Well, approximate antioxidant count is difficult to determine, and can even vary from bottle to bottle of the same batch. However, there are a few things you can keep an eye out for. "Pinot noir is believed to traditionally have more antioxidants than other blends," Hultin said. "Also, the newer a wine is, the higher the antioxidant content will be."
So apologies to everyone saving that vintage 1951 bottle of Penfolds Grange Hermitage, but a fresh bottle of humble Two Buck Chuck might be a better bet for your health…. if slightly less refined.
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