Is Red Wine Actually A Superfood?

If you’re like many people, you’re might be happy to be reading that red wine can be considered a superfood. While this has been a highly debated topic in the world of health and nutrition, it seems clear that red wine does provide some substantial benefits, especially when compared to other forms of alcohol. For example, studies have shown that red wine can help to lower your risk of heart disease and contains several powerful antioxidants.

Red wine is made by crushing and fermenting dark colored grapes and the type of red wine depends on the grape variety and where they are grown (shiraz, merlot, pinot noir, etc). Red wine typically has between 12-15% alcohol content.

The key to red wine fitting into the superfood category is…you guessed it, moderation. And there is a fine line to be drawn between moderate and healthy amounts of red wine and excessive red wine consumption.

First, let’s look closer at the top benefits of red wine:

Red Wine is High in Antioxidants

Red wine is known for its high antioxidant, and is especially high in resveratrolcatechin, epicatechin and proanthocyanidins (1)It is these antioxidants that are thought to give red wine the majority of its health benefits. For example, proanthocyanidins have been shown to protect the body against free radical (oxidative) damage, and might even contribute to red wine’s heart disease lowering effects (2).
Resveratrol offers a slew of anti-inflammatory and heart-healthy benefits (3), and animal studies even suggest that it could increase life expectancy. However, some of these studies used large amounts of resveratrol, and red wine offers fairly low concentrations. Needless to say, it is not worth drinking two bottles of red wine for its resveratrol content, and you’re better off taking a supplement if trying to ingest it in higher doses.

Red Wine May Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease

Red wine is certainly the most health promoting alcoholic beverage (4), and people who drink about 5 ounces per day of red wine have shown a 32% lesser risk of developing heart disease than non-red wine drinkers. However, red wine in higher, excessive amounts can have the opposite effect, so be careful. Moderate amounts of red wine is thought to lower your risk of stroke and heart disease due to its ability to raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol and lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol (5).

One study of middle aged men also showed that drinking 1-3 glasses of red wine per day lowered their risk of stroke (6).

Red Wine Can Lower Your Risk of Depression and Dementia

While in higher amounts red wine can actually increase your risk of depression, in moderate amounts (1-2 glasses for women and 1-3 glasses for men, per day), red wine has been shown to lower your risk of depression, dementia and Alzheimers Disease (7).

Red Wine Improves Insulin Resistance

One study showed that drinking two glasses of wine each day for four weeks improved insulin resistance (8). Insulin resistance is when the body becomes de-sensitized to insulin, which plays the crucial role of escorting blood glucose to our cells. The consequences include metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and other serious health conditions.

Impressed? While those are impressive benefits, remember that wine must be consumed in moderation to have these “superfood” properties, if not, you are largely undermining the health benefits.

Wine is a popular alcoholic beverage, and whether you’re unwinding after a long day of work or enjoying a glass with friends, one serving of red wine is five ounces, which contains about 127 calories. Having it with food is best, and red wine pairs well with all kinds of dishes, especially with red meat (opt for grass fed, if possible).

Now, let’s look at some other uses for red wine:

Use it in Cooking

While it’s tempting to use cheaper cooking wines when cooking, try to use wines that you would also drink, as these will provide the best taste and the most health benefits. Red wine can work excellently as a cooking liquid, as a marinade or once food is cooked, as a flavoring agent. Wine can intensity and accent the flavors and aromas of many dishes, leaving your food with a sweet and acidic finish. Alcohol evaporates during cooking (so it’s safe for kids) and only the taste remains.

Use it as a Hair Rinse

Sounds strange, but using red wine as a hair rinse can make it shiny, smooth and decrease the frizz factor (if that is a problem for you). Simply wash as normal with shampoo and conditioner, and then use a bit of red wine as a finishing hair rinse. To use as a dandruff treatment, mix just a few tablespoons of red wine with water, massage it into your hair and scalp, and cover with a towel for about 30 minutes before rinsing. Some claim that a red wine hair rinse can also help with hair loss, due (again) to that powerful antioxidant, resveratrol.

Use it as a Skin Care Product

More and more people are touting the benefits of red wine as a skin care product. Due to its antioxidants (particularly if you can use organic red wine), it can help with blemishes, acne, dry and flaky skin. It might even help with repairing skin damage and reversing or preventing signs of skin raging. To use as a face toner (the easiest way), simply soak a cotton ball in red wine, apply it all over your face, and let is sit for about 20 minutes before rinsing.

Make a Wine Spritzer (Lower in Alcohol)

This is a great option if you want to reduce your alcohol consumption (or drink slowly) and/or on a hot day. Mix your favorite red wine (sweet varieties work well, here) with plain or flavored club soda. Take that a step further by adding fresh, chopped fruit, and you’ve got yourself a homemade sangria! This option is also more hydrating so won’t leave you with a hangover the next day.

Regardless of its health benefits, you’ll also want to avoid red wine if you fit into any of the following categories:

Alcohol Dependence

Alcohol dependence is nothing to mess around with, so enjoy your red wine with caution. Regular alcohol consumption can lead to alcoholism, especially if you have a family history. Keeping your glasses of wine to a minimum is best.

Increased Risk of Depression

While moderate amounts of red wine can help prevent depression, excessive amounts can actually increase your risk. In fact, studies show that regular and heavy drinkers are at a far greater risk of depression than non-drinkers or moderate drinkers (9).

Cirrhosis of the Liver

30 grams of alcohol or more per day can greatly increase your chance of developing liver disease. The most extreme case of liver disease is cirrhosis of the liver, which is life threatening. 30 grams of alcohol equals 2-3, 5 ounce glasses of wine.

Weight Gain

Unfortunately, there’s no getting around that alcohol leads to weight gain. It is high in sugar and calories, and wine is no exception. If weight loss is your goal, you’ll want to limit your wine (and alcohol) consumption to just a once in awhile treat.

Increased Risk of Death

While this doesn’t just apply to wine, studies have found that regular and high alcohol consumption in general is a contributing cause to premature death.

Allergic Reaction

It is not uncommon to react to either the histamines or sulfites in red wine. Depending on where you live, you can purchase sulfite-free red wine, but a histamine reaction is unavoidable in sensitive individuals. Reactions to sulfites could manifest as hives or even anaphylaxis, while reactions to histamine could manifest as itching or nasal congestion. You might also react to the tannins in red wine, which can produce various symptoms such as red, splotchy skin, swelling or headaches.

History of Substance Abuse

If you have a history of alcohol or other substance abuse, it is best to avoid red wine, despite its health benefits.

So, can red wine be considered a superfood? Maybe yes, maybe no. Small amounts of red wine have been linked with some pretty convincing health benefits, but moderation for many people is no easy task. If you can keep your red wine consumption to several servings a week (of the serving sizes we’ve discussed in this article), then red wine probably can be considered a quite healthy addition to your diet. However, as with any alcohol, proceed with caution.


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