Then again, didn’t all foods used to be functional? In the modern era of bulging waistlines, it would seem that nutrition has taken a back seat to processed foods engineered to tweak our taste buds and pleasure centers in the brain. And it is all too easy – and wrong – to cast wine as merely empty calories. But can we really consider wine to be a food, especially a nutritious one?
To begin with, the term “functional food” means that it contains specific nutrients with identifiable health benefits. Sometimes these are added in, as with vitamins A and D in milk or calcium in orange juice. The way I see it, in a well-balanced diet there shouldn’t be a need for such enhancements. Wine for example naturally contains an abundance of antioxidant polyphenols, nutritionally vital ingredients that are increasingly lacking in many foods. A glass of wine with dinner on a daily basis is associated with longer life and better health by a variety of measures, a claim difficult to prove with vitamin supplements. Sounds like a functional food to me.
There are specific reasons too why wine should be considered a food, part of a meal. Wine actually makes other foods healthier, by blunting the rise in blood levels of oxidized fats after eating. Wine drinkers tend to eat and drink more slowly, also healthy habits. This may be one of the reasons why wine drinkers are notably less likely to be overweight, though some interesting findings about wine polyphenols and sugar metabolism have led to research into wine-derived diabetes treatments.
As compared to say grape juice, wine has another advantage: no sugar (at least in dry wines.) Though alcohol may be considered empty calories, it does have some benefits when consumed in the right amounts, where sugar has none. I have an entire chapter in my book on the specific benefits of alcohol in moderation. In fact, it is easy to make a case that sugar has contributed far more to public health problems than alcohol, considering that diabetes and other diseases related to obesity are in epidemic proportions.