In my book Age Gets Better with Wine I have a chapter called “Wine is a Food” in which I emphasize the importance of wine as a part of a healthy meal. There is good scientific evidence for why this is the case, and a new study adds to the picture. Wine with food changes the way the fatty components of the meal are handled by the body.
We all know that saturated fats are bad news nutritionally speaking. High cholesterol levels contribute to increases risk of heart disease and other problems, but it isn’t purely a matter of the fat content in the food. When the fats are absorbed and oxidized, they are converted into a particularly malicious form know as cholesterol oxides and lipid peroxides. This recent study, conducted by INRAN, the Italian Institute for Research on food and Nutrition, (a division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry), recruited 12 volunteers who were given a meal with known cholesterol-laden meal consisting of a double cheeseburger. The 6 men and 6 women in the study were not on any vitamins or other supplements so as to not interfere with the measurements. In the first phase, only water was taken, and the predicted spike in oxidized fats in the blood was measured. Two weeks later, the meal was repeated but with a glass of red wine; in this case, the wine suppressed levels of cholesterol oxides and lipid peroxidation products. It was not determined whether the effect was due to alcohol or antioxidant polyphenols in wine.
These results are in line with earlier studies, and more research is planned in order to further elucidate what mediates the effect. But what is clear is that wine makes the food healthier. Another effect, not evaluated in this study, is that wine consumption with a meal also slows down alcohol absorption. This further explains why those who drink wine with meals have better health and longevity, because it is inconsistent with alcohol abuse. I like to think of it as drinking wine for aesthetic enjoyment rather than for its anesthetic effects.
Whatever your reason, consider opening a bottle of something red with your next summer BBQ. You’ll be happier and healthier for it.