In the 1980s, the French Paradox was beginning to stump modern science — despite a diet high in saturated fats and cholesterol, the French had lower incidences of heart disease and obesity than their neighbours to the west.
Common sense pointed to an unidentified third factor, and in the mid-1980s a study came out that had wine-lovers rejoicing. It pinpointed the red wine habit of the French as the mitigating element, claiming that red wine in particular contains antioxidants that play a part in preventing heart disease and cancer.
Overnight, red wine sales skyrocketed and, still to this day, continue to trump white wine sales worldwide. But even after a few decades of debate, it’s still unclear whether or not red wine is as magical as people had hoped. Here’s what we do know: drinking beer, wine, or spirits in moderation raises levels of good cholesterol, which helps protect against heart disease.
What separates red wine from other alcohols on the health metre is the existence of polyphenols, which are extracted from the skins of the grapes during fermentation. Polyphenols have antioxidant properties that have been linked to heart disease and cancer prevention. Wines coming from thick-skinned grapes (and that were fermented over a long period of time with the skins) have more polyphenol — Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel and Syrah/Shiraz top the charts.
According to a Food & Wine Magazine article, drinking one or two 14-gram glasses of wine a day carries a score of benefits for the human body. This includes promoting longevity; slowing brain decline; and reducing the risk of heart attack, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, cataracts and colon cancer.
The health benefits of wine are well documented, but rely on one key factor — drinking in moderation. As a study from the Harvard School of Public Health says, alcohol is “both a tonic and a poison. The difference lies mostly in the dose.” Standards around the world vary quite dramatically, and are most easily explained by cultural differences. The American Heart Association, for example, recommends men to drink up to 28gm a day, and for women to drink up to 14gm; in Italy, it’s up to 40gm for men, and 30gm for women. It should be noted that there is evidence that women who drink more than two glasses of wine a day have an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
As with any new study about diet and health, there is still plenty of controversy surrounding the health effects of red wine. In a BBC article titled “Red wine health benefits ‘overhyped’,” a study conducted in small-town Tuscany found that red wine (in this case Chianti) had little discernible impact on elderly villagers’ health. The study targeted resveratrol, a type of phenol naturally found in red wine, dark chocolate and berries — all of which have been linked to inflammation reduction. For nine years, volunteers reported their diets and gave urinary samples to measure their resveratrol intake. The conclusion was disappointing; there was no clear correlation between resveratrol levels in the urine and incidences of heart disease, cancer or death.
Some even argue that red wine alone cannot explain the French Paradox. The Telegraph published an article earlier this year linking the French’s love of cheese with their vigour, stating that moulded cheeses in particular are anti-inflammatory, reduce obesity and increase metabolism. Food and wine lovers, take note: a cheese plate with a glass of wine is now healthy — at least until the next study is published.© Japan Today