Are beer and wine good for me?
by Nick Rose, M.S., PCC Nutrition Educator
This article was originally published in April 2012
Cultures around the world celebrate the magical results when microorganisms convert the sugars in grapes and grains via fermentation into ethanol (a.k.a. alcohol), a compound that makes people feel happy and may even extend our life spans. The health benefits of alcohol peak at one to two glasses per day and include improvements in HDL cholesterol levels and blood pressure, a reduced risk for diabetes, and a reduction in stress — which may explain many of the benefits associated with moderate drinking in today’s stressful world.
Exceeding one to two drinks per day cancels out these benefits, however, so moderation is key to healthy drinking. Moderate drinkers are 30 percent less likely to have a heart attack than non-drinkers. And most research suggests that all forms of alcohol equally are beneficial to our cardiovascular health. If you are watching your weight, keep in mind that alcohol adds calories to your diet. There are 65 calories in a shot of vodka (plus the extra calories in any added juices/mixers) and 130 calories in a typical glass of wine. Beers range from 100 to 300 calories. Also, the process of removing alcohol from the bloodstream requires extra effort from the liver and depletes folate and other B vitamins.
The compounds that create the dark colors and rich, complex flavors in a glass of red wine are the antioxidants found largely in the skin and seeds of grapes. These antioxidants are absorbed into the bloodstream and protect our cells from damage. White wine also contains these antioxidants, but fewer than red. Brown ales also contain antioxidants from the fermented brewing grains, as well as traces of B vitamins and potassium. Lagers and lighter beers contain only traces of these nutrients. Distilled spirits do not offer any additional nutritional benefits, although additions to mixed drinks such as herbal “bitters” can do wonders to improve digestion. Remember: To maximize the health benefits of alcohol, drink in moderation and pair your drinking with other healthy lifestyle habits such as regular exercise, a deep appreciation for good food, and a healthy social life.