The great chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur referred to wine as, “The most healthful and hygienic of beverages.” Now who can argue with him? Where there is room for debate, however, is in the color of the grapes!
I read an article the other day in The Washington Post titled, “It’s official: Americans like red wine better than white wine.” It reported that all but three states buy more red wine than white wine, according to data compiled by online wine retailer Naked Wines. In fact, there have been many studies and surveys with the same conclusion: Americans have a very clear overall preference for red wine.
Well, we may really be on to something here!
There has been a lot of news lately about the health benefits of wine, red wine in particular. So I thought it would be helpful to take a closer look at key properties of each wine helping to settle that debate, or not!
The powerful antioxidants in red wine may help prevent heart disease, as they raise good cholesterol levels and protect arteries from damage. Two, in particular, are flavonoids and resveratrol (found in red grape skins and red wine). Resveratrol kills damaged cells and has been found to “inhibit the proliferation of a variety of human cancer cell lines,” according to the Linus Pauling Institute. Further research must be completed on the effects of resveratrol in humans, but it has shown remarkable promise!
White wine contains far fewer of the disease-preventing, heart-healthy antioxidants like resveratrol and flavonoids than red wine. However, same as red wine, white wine does have some of the cardio-protective benefits. And, you can always eat red grapes, right? And if you don’t drink wine or eat grapes, resveratrol is available in the bio-available supplement form trans-resveratrol to promote healthy longevity.
Research has shown that red wine, not white, protects your teeth. Studies out of Lavel University and Pavia University found “red wine prevents certain cavity-causing bacteria from sticking to teeth,” and “red wine might actually reverse the effects of gum disease and keep it from forming in the future.”
Acids are important structural components of wine, which are more of a benefit to your taste buds than your teeth. White wine actually weakens teeth, leaving them susceptible to stains, acidic damage and more. Researchers at New York University College of dentistry found that “white wine attacks and dissolves a thin, protective coating around teeth. The result is a rougher tooth that is more susceptible to stains ….”
Red wine grapes are used whole (with seeds and skins) in the wine making process. They get their deep color from being fermented with their skins.
Even the seeds of red wine grapes have health benefits! Grape seed extract, derived from the seeds of red wine grapes, has been linked to a variety of possible therapeutic benefits like wound healing and supporting healthy eyes, heart health and cholesterol, and nerve support. Grape seed extract is extremely rich in antioxidants and oligomeric proanthocyanidin complexes (OPCs), but it has not yet been proven that its antioxidant properties benefit people. Obviously, many studies are ongoing.
Several red wines also tend to have higher tannins. This article does a good job explaining what tannins are and how they contribute to a drier taste. Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Syrah, and Nebbiolo tend to be higher in tannins, while Primitivo, Merlot and Zinfandel tend to be lower. A study showed that higher tannins have high biological activity that may modulate oxidative damage.
Mostly made of white grapes, white wines are made without skins or seeds, and are fermented for a shorter time. White wine lovers site its light, crisp and fruity flavor. Perhaps you’re like me and you enjoy a refreshing glass of white wine in the summer and prefer reds in the cooler months.
White wines also tend to have no or lower tannins, although they may develop after having aged in wooden barrels.
If you are teetering on which to favor, this infographic may help point out the benefits of red vs white wine:
And the the Winner is?
With so many studies in progress on the specific health benefits of wine, it’s hard to call the winner in this debate. Prevention® magazine ruled in favor of red wine in its Health Food Face-Off saying, “Apologies to lovers of sweet, white wine, but it just can’t compare to robust red. With so many more minerals and less sugar, red proves itself the more vicacious vino.”
Since most people have a specific taste preference, consider this: “Consuming alcohol — including wine — in moderation reduces your risk of coronary artery disease by 30 percent,” according to the Linus Pauling Institute, “making white or red wines beneficial to your diet.” Other health benefits of alcohol, in general (and in moderation!), are related to stroke, diabetes and heart disease.
And no doubt you’ve heard of the Mediterranean Diet? The Mediterranean Diet is well-known as a heart healthy eating plan. One of the key components of the diet is drinking red wine in moderation. To learn more, check out this article on the Mediterranean Diet and how it might be just the help you need in meeting your health goals in the coming year.
Let us not forget the French paradox. The French consume fat and wine regularly, even to excess, yet the incidence of heart attacks in France is comparatively small. According to the International Journal of Wine Research, “Hippocrates recommended specific wines to purge fever, disinfect, dress wounds, and even then, in 450 BC, as a nutritional supplement!”
This justifies its health benefits benefits for me – red or white!
Whichever side of the debate you fall on, and no matter the health benefits, moderation is key! One drink a day for women of all ages and men over 65, and two drinks a day for men 65 and younger is the recommendation from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Featured image courtesy of Gianni Dominici via Flickr.com