Wine is a food group

Why are wine’s maximal health benefits related to consuming it with meals? It’s well known that wine with dinner on a regular basis is best, and understanding the role of wine as a food can help illuminate wine’s larger role in health. A central puzzle about wine and health is how much is due to biochemical substances such as resveratrol.  On the other hand, to what degree wine drinkers do other healthy things that can either compensate for the detrimental effects or amplify the good ones? People who regularly have a glass of wine with dinner more often eat in moderation, prefer healthier foods, and deal better with stress.

Wine with meals is associated with other healthy habits

A few recent studies bring clarification to the issue. One from the University of Helsinki in Finland reported the results of a long term population study evaluating drinking patterns and subjective well-being. Although a comparatively small percent of Finns have wine with dinner on a regular basis, those who did recorded better health, less psychological stress, and tended to be of higher socioeconomic status. Those who drank only wine also had fewer episodes of risky drinking behaviors such as bingeing. This type of study, while affirming the role of moderate wine drinking as a healthy thing, also suggests that lifestyle patterns are important.

It also illustrates why there are sometimes contradictory recommendations about wine and health; the pattern of drinking matters more than the amount, up to a point, but not all studies make this distinction. Another recent study, this one from the University of Split School of Medicine in Croatia, looked more deeply into the question. After reviewing available data from other studies, they found a clear correlation of wine with meals to maximal health benefits. The authors speculated that several factors such as the effect of food on alcohol absorption could be involved.

Why wine with meals makes food more healthy

The most telling evidence comes from a clinical trial conducted by the University of Rome Tor Vergata in 2014. This study measured the effects of red wine on post-meal oxidized cholesterol levels and expression of genes involved in inflammation. In order to see what the independent effects of wine were, they compared a McDonald’s meal to a Mediterranean diet meal, each with and without red wine. There was a clear benefit of wine with each meal type. So having a glass or 2 of wine makes even junk food better for you, pointing to biochemical properties of wine as the mediator of its health benefits. In other words, wine is more than a marker for a healthy lifestyle. Wine is a food.

1.       Oksanen A, Kokkonen H. Consumption of Wine with Meals and Subjective Well-being: A Finnish Population-Based Study. Alcohol Alcohol.  2016 Nov;51(6):716-722.
2.       Boban M, Stockley C, Teissedre PL, Restani P, Fradera U, Stein-Hammer C, Ruf JC. Drinking pattern of wine and effects on human health: why should we drink moderately and with meals? Food Funct. 2016 Jul 13;7(7):2937-42.

3.       Di Renzo L, Carraro A, Valente R, Iacopino L, Colica C, De Lorenzo A. Intake of red wine in different meals modulates oxidized LDL level, oxidative and inflammatory gene expression in healthy people: a randomized crossover trial. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2014;2014:681318.

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