Most people have no doubt heard encouraging words about red wine and better health; how that glass of Cabernet Sauvignon with dinner may reduce the risk of heart disease.
But before reaching for the corkscrew, exercise caution.
“If you’re over 50, and if you don’t drink alcohol, don’t start,” says Christine Gerbstadt, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
Despite red wine’s healthy aura, Gerbstadt and other nutrition professionals are wary of promoting it.
They question whether it’s actually beneficial, whether consuming alcohol may lead to other issues and whether people wouldn’t be better off with heart-healthy alternatives.
“There’s no indication that it [red wine] does anything for heart disease,” says Roger B. McDonald, Ph.D., professor, Department of Nutrition, University of California, Davis.
No scientific comparison trials have been done to determine the specific effect of wine on heart disease risk, according to a statement from the American Heart Association. (http://www.americanheart.org).
“There are compounds in wine shown in vitro [test tubes] to work. Once they get in the body they haven’t been shown to work,” McDonald says.
If wine doesn’t improve a person's health, can it have downsides?
Yes, says Dr. Gerbstadt.
Wine is caloric. A 5-ounce serving of red wine contains about 125 calories.
If a person drinks a glass a day, she could be gaining 12 pounds a year if those calories aren’t subtracted elsewhere, Gerbstadt says.
And if people eliminate other foods to accommodate wine calories, they may be missing out on nutritional food choices.
“Wine is luxury calories. The amount of calories in a serving [of wine] don’t add significant vitamins or minerals to the diet,” Gerbstadt says.
The alcohol may disrupt sleep and interfere with medications.
But for those drinking wine for sake of better health, there are inexpensive and low-risk steps one can take to reduce the likelihood of developing coronary heart disease.
Staying active and sticking with a low-calorie diet are your best options, according to McDonald.
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The Other Red Drink
Red wine is touted for its heart protective benefits because it’s rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients (plant substances) that may increase a person’s “good cholesterol.”
Some of the same antioxidants are found in red grape juice and red grapes, which don’t have alcohol’s downside, says Christine Gerbstadt, physician and registered dietitian.
“Eat red grapes with the skins; the skin has the benefits. Slice red grapes into a salad,” she says.
Instead of the glass of wine with dinner, enjoy a grape juice cocktail.
Dr. Gerbstadt suggests mixing a small amount of grape juice to reduce the drink’s calories.
“Take an ounce of grape juice, add chipped ice and fill the glass with club soda. You get all the phytonutrients with far fewer calories; it’s very refreshing,” she says.
(One ounce of grape juice is 2 tablespoons; about 19 calories.)