Would you be able to provide some more detailed information on red wine? For instance, I hear that alcohol is considered a 'carb' and am wondering specifically what red wine does to one's blood sugar level? Is red wine just as bad as having a piece of cake? Is it true that by eating some protein with one's alcohol, this helps to keep one's blood sugar levels more stable. Basically, aside from the supposed benefits of red wine, I would love to know as much as possible about the not so good side of drinking it.

The French Paradox

A high fat, high cholesterol diet is rarely associated with low death rates from heart disease, but this is exactly the kind of association that has appeared in several studies of dietary intake in France, where rate of death from heart disease is lower than expected given the high-fat nature of the diet. With relatively large amounts of cream, and cheeses, and liver, and other organ meats in the diet, researchers expected higher rates of heart disease in this population than studies showed. This “French Paradox” has yet to be fully explained, and some recent research has pointed to smaller meal size as a possible factor. But there is also some strong research evidence showing red wine to be heart-protective factor.

Health Properties of Red Wine

Red wine contains health-supportive polyphenols, including resveratrol and other phytonutrients, called saponins. These phytonutrients which are powerful antioxidants appear to be heart protective, cancer preventive, and maybe even anti-aging. Red wine also contains tannins which can help prevent blood cells from clumping together and causing a heart attack. Studies have also indicated that alcohol consumption in general helps raise the level of HDL, heart protective cholesterol, and prevent the clumping of blood cells. In the Copenhagen City Heart Study, 1-7 glasses of red wine per week were sufficient to provide some of these heart-protective benefits.

Misinformation About Red Wine: Blood Sugar Control

With more and more folks on the red wine bandwagon, we’re also starting to see some misinformation about red wine, including claims that red wine is helpful for blood sugar control. We don’t think the research supports this conclusion. In fact, we think the research points in the opposite direction. Some of the popular press writing you will see points out that red wine is actually low in carbohydrates and sugar. They are correct. An 8-ounce glass of red wine only has 2-4 grams of carbohydrate, mostly in the form of sugar. An 8-ounce glass of grape juice has about 38 grams - all sugar. So it’s true that a glass of wine is easier on your blood sugar than a glass of grape juice when it comes to the sugar and carbohydrate content.

However, the sugar content doesn’t tell the whole story when it comes to blood sugar balance. The reason? Alcohol affects insulin production. Our bodies make less insulin when we drink alcohol-containing beverages, and so our ability to clear sugar from our blood decreases when we drink. It does appear that food consumption alongside of alcohol can lessen this effect, but it doesn’t eliminate it entirely. The bottom line? Alcohol from red wine decreases, in varying degrees, our ability to keep blood sugar stable.

Consumption of healthy foods - meaning whole natural foods with some protein and fiber - appears to lessen the impact of alcohol on insulin production. For this reason, having your red wine alongside of a meal with some seared tuna from our recipe list would be a plus. If you over do it on the red wine, you definitely increase the likelihood of insufficient insulin production. If you keep your red wine to some moderate level, you’ll minimize that risk, while still preserving the possible benefits of the red wine polyphenols and saponins.

Other Factors to Consider

As in anything, moderation is the key. Excessive amounts of any type of alcohol are harmful to your liver and wines often contain sulfites, additives which can be detrimental to your health. Many people are allergic to sulfites and should be alert to sulfite containing products. Red wine is also a common allergen. Migraine headaches and nasal and gastric discomfort are some of the symptoms however these may be reactions to the sulfite content of the wine. Conventional wines may also contain additional chemical additives to help protect against oxidation, bacterial spoilage to increase their shelf life. Selecting organic wines help some individuals avoid the headaches caused by conventionally produced wines.

Selecting Red Wines

Selecting organic red wines will help you avoid sulfites as well as help protect the environment because the grapes are grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides or insecticides. According to the USDA’s National Organic Program “organic” or “100% organic” wines cannot contain any sulfites and may display the USDA organic seal. However, be careful not to confuse “organic” wines with those that indicate they are made from organically grown grapes. Wines produced from organically grown grapes may not have met the USDA guidelines for “organic” and therefore may still contain sulfites.

All organic wines are, however, not necessarily vegetarian or vegan. For those interested in avoiding the use of animal by-products such as egg whites, gelatin or casein in the production, refining, or clarifying of their wine look for a “V” symbol which indicates vegetarian friendly or a “VG” symbol indicating vegan-friendly on your wine bottle.

Practical Tip

Wine may be great for your health, but it is blamed for many health conditions like cirrhosis of the liver, hemorrhagic stroke and possibly breast cancer. So, consumption should be limited and drink with your meal as is done in Mediterranean countries.

If you are not drinking, do not start for health reasons. British researchers have found that non-drinking males who start drinking regularly during their middle years were not lot less likely to die from heart disease than males who never took up drinking.

Red wine’s antioxidant-rich compounds are plentiful in colorful fruits and vegetables like purple grapes, purple grape juice, berries, green tea, etc.

This page was updated on: 2004-11-18 21:42:08
© 2002 The George Mateljan Foundation