Raising a glass of red wine and drinking to your health may give you a sense of satisfaction because you’ve heard that a bit of wine can be good for your heart.
But: There are downsides, too—alcohol increases the risk for certain cancers, and too much of it can harm the liver and increase blood pressure.
So you’ll want to toast a new Spanish study that reveals how people who enjoy the taste of red wine can indulge in the beverage and get the health benefits—without the health risks.
The secret: Opt for red wine that contains no alcohol.
RAISE A GLASS!
The study participants included men ages 55 to 75 who were at high risk for heart problems because they had diabetes or various cardiovascular disease risk factors. First, after a two-week period of abstinence from alcohol, each participant’s baseline blood pressure was measured and certain blood tests were done.
Then, during one four-week period, each participant drank 9.2 ounces (about two glasses) of regular red wine with dinner each day. During a second four-week period, each man drank 9.2 ounces of nonalcoholic red wine with his evening meal. And during a third four-week period, each drank 3.4 ounces (about two shots) of gin daily with dinner. (The men knew what they were drinking, but this knowledge wouldn’t affect results.) Participants all followed a similar diet and drank no other alcohol during the study. At the end of each four-week period, participants’ blood pressure readings were compared with their baseline readings.
Results: After drinking regular red wine, the men’s blood pressure dropped insignificantly…and after they drank gin, their blood pressure didn’t change at all. However, after consuming the alcohol-free red wine, the men’s blood pressure dropped, on average, nearly six points for systolic pressure (the top number of a blood pressure reading) and more than two points for diastolic pressure (the bottom number). This represents a significant decrease—perhaps more than enough to reduce heart disease risk by 14% and stroke risk by 20%!
THE REAL POWER IN WINE
To discuss how alcohol-free red wine reduces blood pressure, I contacted study coauthor Ramon Estruch, MD, PhD. He told me that polyphenols—healthful antioxidants found in fruits, vegetables and wine—in nonalcoholic wine had more potent effects than those in regular wine, probably because alcohol interferes with antioxidant activity. Gin contains no polyphenols and thus does not have antioxidant benefits. While white wine and plain old grape juice do contain polyphenols, red wine contains more, which is why the researchers focused on it.
Dr. Estruch also explained that, when participants were drinking alcohol-free wine, their blood levels of nitric oxide were four times higher than when they were drinking regular red wine. This is an important change—because nitric oxide helps blood vessels relax, thus reducing blood pressure and allowing more blood to reach the heart and other organs. Again, polyphenols get the credit for the improvement in nitric oxide levels.
Would women experience the same effects from drinking nonalcoholic red wine? Researchers are planning to do an all-female study to find out, though they suspect that the benefits will be similar.
IS IT REALLY WINE?
Unlike grape juice, nonalcoholic wine is fermented just like regular wine—in fact, it is regular wine—but then the alcohol is removed. Though the process does not affect polyphenol levels, true wine aficionados may recognize that taking out the alcohol leaves the wine lighter and less robust (and also leaves you without the buzz, of course). Many people find the nuanced taste of alcohol-free wine quite appealing—and perhaps all the more in light of this new evidence for the beverage’s health benefits.
Important: It is impossible to remove all alcohol from wine, though the amount left in is small at less than one-half of 1%. Still, if you are avoiding alcohol completely, nonalcoholic wine may not be appropriate for you. Also, if you have diabetes, keep in mind that alcohol-free wines do contain some sugar, so it is best to check with your doctor to see whether it is OK for you to consume nonalcoholic wine.
There are many types of nonalcoholic wine, including various reds and whites as well. Cabernet sauvignon, petit syrah and pinot noir have the highest levels of polyphenols—and a general guideline is, the drier the wine, the higher the polyphenol content. These days, alcohol-free wines are sold just about anywhere that regular wine is sold—even in many fine wine stores—and you can find them at many supermarkets and health-food stores. They’re sold online too (for instance, at ArielVineyards.com) and typically cost less than $10 per bottle.