Some studies have shown that drinking one or (at most) two glasses of red wine a day can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. That being said, doctors do remain wary of encouraging anyone to start drinking alcohol, as too much alcohol can have many harmful effects on your body. So, this is no reason to start, if you are not a drinker.
How is red wine heart healthy?
Resveratrol, a polyphenol (type of antioxidant) in red wine is thought to:
- Help protect the lining of blood vessels in your heart.
- Help prevent damage to blood vessels.
- Reduce “bad” cholesterol.
- Prevents blood clots.
- Reduce risk of inflammation.
What about grapes, supplements and other foods?
The resveratrol in red wine comes from the skin of grapes used to make wine. Because red wine is fermented with grape skins longer than white wine, red wine contains more resveratrol. Simply eating grapes, or drinking grape juice, has been suggested as one way to get resveratrol without drinking alcohol. Red and purple grape juices may have some of the same heart-healthy benefits of red wine.
Other foods that contain some resveratrol include peanuts, blueberries and cranberries. It’s not yet known how beneficial eating grapes or other foods might be compared with drinking red wine when it comes to promoting heart health. The amount of resveratrol in food and red wine can vary widely.
Resveratrol supplements are also available. While researchers haven’t found any harm in taking resveratrol supplements, most of the resveratrol in the supplements can’t be absorbed by your body.
How does alcohol help the heart?
Various studies have shown that moderate amounts of all types of alcohol benefit your heart, not just alcohol found in red wine. It’s thought that alcohol:
- Raises high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol.
- Reduces the formation of blood clots.
- Helps prevent artery damage caused by high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol.
Take home message: drink in moderation — or not at all
Red wine’s potential heart-healthy benefits look promising. Those who drink moderate amounts of alcohol, including red wine, seem to have a lower risk of heart disease. However, more research is needed before we know whether red wine is better for your heart than are other forms of alcohol, such as beer or spirits.
It is not recommended that you start drinking alcohol just to prevent heart disease as alcohol can be addictive and can cause or worsen other health problems. Drinking too much increases your risk of high blood pressure, high triglycerides, liver damage, obesity, certain types of cancer, accidents and other problems. If you have questions about the benefits and risks of alcohol, talk to your doctor about specific recommendations for you.
If you already drink red wine, do so in moderation. Moderate drinking is defined as an average of two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women. The limit for men is higher because men generally weigh more and have more of an enzyme that metabolizes alcohol than women do. This does not mean you save and then deposit your drink quota on the weekend! You should have 2 – 3 alcohol free days a week.
A standard unit of alcohol is:
Red or dry white wine 125ml
‘Lite’ beer 340ml
Regular beer 170ml (half a can of beer)
Spirits 25ml (one tot)
‘Spritzer’ 250 ml (at least half should be soda water or ice)
Apple cider 170ml (half a can or bottle)
Spirit coolers 80ml (a third of a bottle, as they contain both alcohol and sugar)
Tips and hints for sensible drinking:
- Always eat food before or when drinking alcohol – this will slow down the absorption of alcohol into your blood stream and prevent low blood sugar.
- Watch what you eat while drinking. Alcohol slows down the body’s natural metabolism of fat, so watch out for those high fat snacks such as peanuts, chips and dips which will go straight to your waist line.
- Drink slowly by taking small sips, limiting your intake to no more than 1 unit of alcohol per hour.
- Alternate your drinks. Along with every alcoholic drink have a non-alcoholic, kilojoule-free drink (e.g. water, diet cold drink, flavoured low-kilojoule mineral waters).
- If you drink beer, go for a low alcohol version as these have about a third less kilojoules than regular beer.
- If you love wine then save on kilojoules (and alcohol) by diluting it with soda water to have a spritzer-type drink that will also last you longer.
- Cocktails may contain up to 2000 kilojoules. Reduce this by using sugar-free mixers such as soda water or diet drinks rather than fruit juice.
- Avoid cream-based cocktails as these add many unnecessary kilojoules.
- Concerned about looking like the party buster? Have ‘virgin’ cocktails or smoothies. Sparkling water with lime juice looks like you are enjoying a cocktail. No one will know the difference and you’ll be able to drive home safely.
- Meet friends, dates, or business associates for coffee, not at a bar.