Is Drinking Red Wine Really Better For You?

© Kara Pyle

By Carson Demmond Posted July 11, 2016

Decantress advises a health nut with wine concerns.

Dear Decantress,
I'm very health-conscious when it comes to the foods I eat and wonder what wines I should seek out or steer clear of in that same vein. Are there big differences between red and white wine in terms of health benefits? Is red wine the only type that is known to have health properties? –Nurse Nancy

Hi Nancy,

It’s easy to overgeneralize by saying red wine is better if you just read the headlines. The anthocyanins and resveratrol that give red wine its color happen to also positively affect heart health and cholesterol levels – and have proven preventative capacities for diabetes, cancer, and even erectile dysfunction. Once you sift through all of the noise, however, you’ll find that the benefits are relative. You might get more anthocyanins from a handful of blueberries than a glass of red wine. And white wine seems to help control glucose in the same way as red wine in diabetics, per an October study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

It’s funny how much we delineate between red and white wine. We don’t talk nearly as much about much about the difference in nutrient content between green and red apples, for example. Granny Smith, it turns out, might be marginally better, but it would seem silly to write off Red Delicious based on that information, don’t you think? 

The health properties of wine don’t exist in a vacuum. In order to reap the benefits that we’ve poured so much money and time into studying, its intake must be paired with a healthy diet and regular exercise. They’re also not quantitatively great enough that switching wine type would move the dial on any weight loss or cardiac goals in a significant way. Then, there are other variables to consider. The Cannonau grape from Sardinia is said to have flavonoid levels three times higher than any other, making it the most antioxidant-rich. But the healthiest versions of that wine would most likely be organically grown and have the least amount of additives (like powdered acids, enzymes, Mega Purple), so it sort of defeats the purpose if you’re drinking only superindustrial examples.

I’d also imagine that you’re not drinking wine solely for health-related concerns – it’s because you enjoy the taste and the effects of alcohol. Otherwise, your go-to beverage might be green juice. (I’m told some people drink green juice for its flavor; I don’t know how true that is.) My best advice is to drink what you like. Life is too short to nitpick over marginal benefits, and it would be a shame to deny yourself really great wine simply because it’s the wrong color.

Have a wine situation? Send your questions to Food & Wine's Decantress at decantress@foodandwine.com

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