Saturday, February 27, 2010

Is wine a health food?

I often joke that wine is a health food, but it actually is when looked at objectively. Of course in order to be a health food, it must be a food, which would in turn require that there be some nutritional value. The calories in dry wines are from alcohol, which is processed by the body in a different way than other carbohydrates, such that it tends not to cause a spike in blood sugar levels. So right away it has benefits over other calorie sources, since these blood sugar variations are believed to contribute to weight gain. Wine drinkers tend to have less of an issue with being overweight, so perhaps this is one of the reasons.


We all know, or have been told often enough to believe, that alcohol is detrimental and that such adverse effects more than counteract any potential benefits. But interestingly, our bodies come equipped with an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase, which does nothing but metabolize alcohol. The ability to consume alcohol is programmed in our DNA, so if we aren’t meant to then it is quite a mystery.

So what of the other elements in wine? One thing that recurs in research on wine’s health benefits is the importance of consuming it with meals. There are several explanations for this, such as the fact that the antioxidants in red wine blunt the effects of oxidizers in food, especially such offenders as red meat. Wine actually makes the other foods in the meal healthier. Another reason is that wine with food slows the absorption of alcohol, thereby reinforcing the whole concept of wine as food rather than alcohol consumption as a drug. People who drink in this way have a range of other healthy habits that all mutually reinforce their respective benefits. For this reason, the healthy Mediterranean diet, so prominently featuring daily wine consumption, is best viewed as a lifestyle, a way of living, rather than a menu of prescribed foods.

One could almost make a case for red wine as a vitamin.

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