We've all heard about the "French Paradox." Turns out that the French, in spite of consuming high-fat/dairy heavy diets, also have lower incidences of heart disease than Americans. On top of that, French women are skinny. After snacking on cheese, for crying out loud! Something's got to give.
As it turns out, the explanation for the French Paradox that researchers gave - that the French also consume more red wine than Americans - isn't as silly as it sounds. While we've been told for years that alcohol has absolutely no health benefits, researchers, dietitians, and even the FDA are coming around to the possibility that, since grapes are a food high in antioxidants, moderate consumption of red wine may actually serve a purpose beyond making your salmon taste absolutely divine. Among red wine's purported benefits:
- It lowers levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol
- It may help prevent certain types of cancer, including breast cancer
- Protects the skin from the sun's UV rays
In fact, there are even preliminary studies that say red wine may help boost your metabolism.
Red wine owes its health benefits to the antioxidant resveratrol. The dark skin and seeds of grapes is a food that's high in antioxidants. Because grapes used to make red wine keep their skin for longer during processing, red wine has higher levels of resveratrol than white wine. Resveratrol is a free radical fighting powerhouse that has been called the fountain of youth. Scientists are working to replicate studies that show resveratrol increases endurance and life expectancy in animals. Plus, as an antioxidant, resveratrol fights free radicals and may help prevent cancer and heart disease.
Of course, none of this means we should run out and stock up on crates of wine. But it turns out that the crowd arguing that "all alcohol is evil" was just as wrong as the people saying all fat (or carbs, or calories) was evil. If you're looking to get an added antioxidant boost during dinner, consider these tips:
- Read the labels: Not so much for the year, which is what most people are looking for. If you want the highest levels of resveratrol in your wine, go for grapes grown in cooler climates.
- Bitter over sweet: If you like red wine, chances are you won't be too devastated if I tell you to stay away from the sweeter varieties. The amount of resveratrol differs widely depending on the type of wine and the maker. Sweeter wines generally have less resveratrol.
- Moderate your consumption: And this is huge. As much as moderate consumption of red wine has been shown to have some beneficial health effects, those health benefits aren't nearly as important as avoiding alcoholism. Moderate consumption is 1 glass a day for women and 2 for men.
- Make your own bar mix: If you don't want to drink red wine, there are other sources of resveratrol. Peanuts, cranberries and blueberries are all foods high in antioxidants, so you can mix yourself a resveratrol rich alternative to bar nuts.