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Does wine have health benefits?

April 23, 2012

In earlier times, wine was used as a beverage and also as a medicine for a variety of ailments.

A couple of years ago, my husband and I decided to learn how to make wine at home using the apples from the tree in our backyard. Soon we had a chemistry experiment going on in our basement.

Whenever we went downstairs, we could smell the distinctive aroma of fermentation as the sugar was converted to alcohol.

Our first attempt at wine did not result in a vinegar-flavored concoction, so that was good.

Currently, we have some “red wine” made with apples and cranberries awaiting bottling. Based on some recent nutrition and health research, we might want to plant grape vines and switch from apples to grapes.
Several studies have shown that the moderate consumption of red wine made from grapes is linked with some health benefits.

The benefits are thought to be due to the natural antioxidants, or phenolics, found in grapes.

These natural compounds may help prevent “bad cholesterol” (LDL cholesterol) from becoming oxidized and leading to the buildup of plaque in the inner walls of the arteries.

Other studies point to the potential of moderate wine consumption reducing blood pressure and risk of strokes, reducing the risk of gallstones, and potentially lowering our risk for diabetes.

On the other hand, excessive alcohol consumption can have serious health consequences ranging from liver failure to death.

Some people should not consume alcohol at all, including pregnant women and people taking certain medications.

Humans have been consuming wine for thousands of years.

In earlier times, it was used as a beverage and also as a medicine for a variety of ailments, including digestive and heart issues.

Americans are drinking wine more frequently. U.S. wine consumption increased from 0.26 gallons per adult in 1934 to 2.54 gallons per adult in 2010, according to information from the Wine Institute.

The 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans publication includes a discussion about moderate alcohol consumption.

If you choose to consume alcohol, “moderate” alcohol consumption is defined as one serving per day for women and two for men.

A serving of alcohol, according to the standard definition, is 12 fluid ounces of beer, 5 fluid ounces of wine or 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.
Alcohol is a concentrated source of calories and can lead to weight gain, so that is another reason to remember moderation.

Compared with the same weight of carbohydrate or protein, alcohol has more than 1.5 times the calories.

Although red wine has been tested for its potential health benefits, what if you do not drink alcohol for personal or religious reasons?

Can you get any health benefits from alcohol-free purple grape juice?

The answer is yes. Drinking purple grape juice may have health benefits whether you are healthy or have existing health conditions.

Similar to the effect of red wine, drinking grape juice had heart-health benefits, which include reducing blood pressure, reducing the risk of strokes and improving the functioning of the layer of cells that line blood vessels.

While these research results are promising, keep in mind that grape juice and wine are beverages and not medications.

We still need to eat our fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and dairy to meet our nutrition needs.

We also need about 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week.

Because this is a family column, here is an alcohol-free recipe for all age groups.

The grape juice provides heart-healthy flavanoids. A serving of the purple cow beverage also provides calcium and vitamin D from the milk.

Purple Cow
1 (6-ounce) can frozen Concord grape juice concentrate
1 c. cold water
1 c. fat-free milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. ice
Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Secure the lid and blend until smooth.
Serve immediately.
Makes three servings. Each serving has 70 calories, 0 grams (g) of fat, 14 g of carbohydrate and 40 milligrams of sodium.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

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