You’ve heard an apple a day can keep the doctor away, but what about a glass of wine instead? Could a glass of Merlot a day keep your health and wellness in check?
Europeans and folks who adhere to the Mediterranean Diet might argue that this habit has helped them keep the doctor at bay for many centuries. But don’t be so quick to pop that cork just yet… unless, that is, you are aware of a little something called moderation. (Synonymous with self-restraint · restraint · self-control · self-discipline · moderateness · temperateness · temperance · abstemiousness · nonindulgence.)
What is Moderate Alcohol Consumption?
In other words, can you avoid excess or extremes?
Focusing solely on a single glass of red wine, which, according to the United States Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, means a modest five-ounce pour, I can honestly say I don’t know many people who even know what a five-ounce pour realistically looks like.
According to these same guidelines, “moderate drinking” means:
- Up to 7 drinks a week, with no more than 3 drinks any single day, for women.
- Up to 14 drinks a week, with no more than 4 drinks any single day, for men.
A binge drinker is typically one who has five or more drinks for men, or upwards of four for women, within two hours, which brings the blood alcohol level to .08 grams percent or higher.
According to Health.gov, “One drink-equivalent contains 14 grams of pure alcohol, which contributes 98 calories to the beverage. The total calories in a beverage may be more than those from alcohol alone, depending on the type, brand, ingredients, and portion size. For example, 12 ounces of regular beer (5% alcohol) may have about 150 calories, 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol) may have about 120 calories, and 7 ounces of a rum (40% alcohol) and cola may have about 155 calories, each with 98 calories coming from pure alcohol.”
But sticking with just wine, one glass of red wine contains roughly 123 calories, and if consumed every day, can add 861 calories to your week. There are many studies that show a little bit of wine won’t hinder weight loss and may even be helpful. However, just as many studies contradict this. Knocking back a glass of wine every day could pack on over 12 pounds per year, which are likely to land squarely on your midsection. And as we know, this is already a sore spot for many of us, especially as we age.
The Pros of a Glass of Wine A Day
If you do a PUBMED search looking for health benefits of wine or alcohol consumption, there are almost 30,000 “hits” on PUBMED. And one can go through the literature and clearly select papers that support what you would like them to support.
Resveratrol is the compound most often associated with the benefits of red wine. This natural compound is found in red grape skin, Japanese knotweed, peanuts, blueberries, and some other berries. It’s an antioxidant that some plants produce to help protect them against environmental stresses. As a reminder, antioxidants are known to neutralize free radicals, which are believed to be the cause of aging and many diseases. Red wine, however, isn’t the best source of resveratrol. That honor belongs to Japanese knotweed, which is the plant source with the highest resveratrol content.
Resveratrol is a polyphenol present in the human diet, and it has a large variety of potential therapeutic properties. However, it is not possible to absorb the recommended therapeutic doses of resveratrol by drinking wine or through dietary sources.
Some experts argue that resveratrol is a nootropic or cognitive enhancer. Researchers, for example, have found that resveratrol may help increase blood flow to the brain. This increased blood flow may help get more oxygen, glucose, and other nutrients to the brain. This, in turn, helps maintain “cognitive function”—the ability to think clearly, have a healthy memory, and stay focused.
Resveratrol also mimics the health effects of fasting or calorie-reduction, which may help you lose weight. It does this by stimulating adiponectin creation. This is the same hormone that increases in individuals practicing caloric restriction.
Grapes and wine contain polyphenols, substances that act as antioxidants. Thanks to those anti-inflammatory properties, they may help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol. They may also help raise “good” HDL cholesterol. This is why red wine, in particular, has been celebrated for its potential heart-health benefits, including the prevention of blood clots and lowering blood sugar.
So, a glass of wine a day may help reduce your risk for heart disease, provided it’s no more than one glass a day. Again, back to moderation.
It should also be noted that the choice of wine as the alcoholic beverage to consume is related to educational level, accompanied by increased levels of exercise, and to diets that include whole fruits and whole grains. And it may be the entire lifestyle that is beneficial rather than just the wine itself.
The Cons of a Glass of Wine A Day
For starters, there are numerous individuals who should not consume alcohol. This includes folks who are taking certain over-the-counter or prescription medications or who have certain medical conditions, those who are recovering alcoholics, and those who are unable to control the amount they drink.
Let’s also remind everyone that the legal drinking age is 21, so those who are underage should never consume alcoholic beverages. There’s a very good reason for this. The brain continues to develop until young people enter their early 20s, and drinking during this time can damage the brain, cause memory impairment, and is more likely to lead to addiction.
These other things should go without saying, but please don’t drink if you’re driving, planning to drive, or are partaking in other activities that require skill, coordination, and alertness.
Another group of people who should steer clear of alcohol are women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Drinking while pregnant has been shown to cause damage to the brain as well as other serious problems in the baby. While on the subject of women, studies have shown that even one drink a day can increase the risk of breast cancer in women.
According to the National Institutes of Health, “Research has also shown that people who drink excessively have a greater risk of liver disease, heart disease, depression, stroke, and stomach bleeding, as well as cancers of the oral cavity, esophagus, larynx, pharynx, liver, colon, and rectum. They may also have problems managing conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, pain, and sleep disorders. And they may increase their chances of contracting sexually transmitted infections from unsafe sex.”
Bottom line is that if you are not currently drinking a glass of wine a day, don’t start. No doctors recommend that anyone start to drink alcohol for heart benefits, especially if you have a family history of alcohol addiction or use disorder. Alcohol has been shown to can have many negative, even dangerous, effects on your body. And The American Heart Association and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute also don’t recommend anyone starts drinking alcohol just to prevent heart disease. Again, alcohol can be addictive and can cause or worsen other health problems.
However, if you already enjoy a glass of wine a day with your evening meal, some research has found that drinking it in moderation (that five-ounce pour) may help your heart.
A Glass of Wine A Day: A Recap
Drinking alcohol in excess (which again, is more than 7 drinks a week for women and 14 drinks a week for men) increases the risk of liver and pancreas diseases, heart failure, high blood pressure, various types of cancer, accidents, violence and suicide, and weight gain and obesity.
Drinking moderate amounts of red wine may raise HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol), reduce the formation of blood clots, help prevent artery damage caused by high levels of LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol), and improve the function of the layer of cells that line your blood vessels.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.