Wondering if drinking a glass of wine is good or bad for your heart? Believe it or not, there are some health benefits to wine, when you drink in moderation. UnityPoint Health Dietitian Allison Bohlman has some things for you to keep in mind before pouring your next glass.
Is White Wine or Red Wine Better for Your Heart?
Red wine is known for being a healthier option over white wine. Reds are considered heart-healthy, because they contain higher levels of a substance called resveratrol.
“The resveratrol found in red wine is a natural compound most often associated with grape skins,” Bohlman says. It’s part of the stilbene family of polyphenols.”
However, Bohlman adds, “If you don’t already drink wine, it is NOT recommended to start drinking to reduce your risk of heart disease."
Benefits of Resveratrol
Resveratrol is beneficial because it can act like an antioxidant, which means it can help reduce free radicals that can damage cells and lead to increased risk for many diseases, including heart disease.
“Some studies suggest resveratrol may help lower your bad LDL cholesterol and increase your good HDL cholesterol. It may also reduce inflammation and blood clotting, therefore lowering your risk for heart disease,” Bohlman says.
Generally, red wine is fermented with the grape skins on, which is why it’s richer in resveratrol than white wine. White wine usually goes through the fermentation process without grape skins.
“The thickness of the grape’s skin and the climate where grapes are grown can also play a role in how much resveratrol is in wine. Grapes grown in cooler, damper climates tend to have higher levels of resveratrol,” Bohlman says.
If you’re at the store and want to select a type of wine, Pinot Noir has some of the highest levels of resveratrol.
However, if you’re looking for the benefits of resveratrol, you don’t necessarily need to drink wine. You can simply eat grapes. Red grapes have more resveratrol than green grapes. Plus, you’ll benefit from the added fiber and other vitamins and nutrients associated with eating fresh fruit. Resveratrol is also found in peanuts, pistachios and several different types of berries.
How to Pick Out a Healthy Wine
Before you begin to select a wine, make sure you're planning to drink responsibly and with moderation in mind. (Moderation is five ounces per day for women and up to two drinks 10 ounces per day for men.) Then, besides looking at the color of the wine, consider added sugars and the alcohol content, in order to keep your heart healthy.
Choose a Wine with Less Sugar
Figuring out if wine has added sugar can be tricky because winemakers aren’t required to include nutrition information on the back of bottles.
“In general, drier wines will have less sugar compared to sweet or dessert wines. Most sugar in drier wines is natural and from ripe grapes. The sugars are converted into alcohol during the fermentation process,” Bohlman says.
It’s best to avoid/limit wines and all foods with added sugars. Consuming excessive amounts of added sugars can lead to weight gain, high triglyceride and high blood sugar levels, all of which put you at an increased risk of heart disease.
If you’re wondering if your wine has added sugar, just taste it. If it tastes overly sweet, it probably does. Wines that commonly have added sugar include Moscato and Riesling.
Consider Alcohol Percentage in Wine
Red wines are fermented longer than white wines, and therefore tend to have a higher alcohol content. That’s important to consider because alcohol is one of the highest calorie-containing nutrients.
“There are seven calories in one gram of alcohol, which ranks only below fat at nine calories per one gram,” Bohlman says.
Wines higher in alcohol content have more calories. Most bottles of wine are clearly labeled with their percentage of alcohol content. Remember, excessive caloric intake can lead to weight gain over time and increase your risk of heart disease.
Pick a Healthy Wine Pairing
Most red wines have about the same number of calories per serving (5 ounces), which is around 120 to 130 calories. They are also similar in their alcohol content as well as their sugar content.
“I would recommend choosing your wine based on your personal flavor preference or based on how it pairs with your food selection,” Bohlman says.
Here are some of Bohlman’s healthy pairing options:
- Pinot Noir. Baked salmon. Fish is a great heart-healthy option. If you’re not a fan of fish, try baked chicken. Select chicken breasts or wings for the leanest cuts.
- Malbec. Roasted leg of lamb. It’s the leanest cut of lamb. Grilled tuna is another heart-healthy option.
- Cabernet Sauvignon. Steak. Go with sirloin or round cut for the most heart-healthy option.
- Merlot. Pork tenderloin. It’s the leanest cut of pork, or roasted chicken breast.
- Syrah. Venison. It pairs well and is considered a lean protein. For a vegetarian option, try grilled portobello mushrooms.
- Zinfandel. Pasta dishes. Try vegetable-based noodles or adding extra vegetables to make it more heart healthy. It also pairs well with turkey breast and is often a top choice for a Thanksgiving meal.
Hold on – Is Wine Bad for Long-Term Heart Health?
Just because red wine can have health perks, you don’t need much to benefit. Moderation is key. Moderate drinking is defined as up to one drink (5 ounces) per day for women and up to two drinks (10 ounces) per day for men. Drinking too much wine can led to multiple negative impacts on the heart.
“Drinking any type of alcohol, including wine, in excess can lead to high blood pressure or cardiac arrhythmias (abnormal rhythms). Long-term alcohol abuse can also cause the heart muscles to weaken and thin which affects your heart’s ability to pump blood effectively. This can eventually lead to heart failure,” Bohlman says.
Also consider what’s already going on in your body.
“It is best to consult with your doctor if you have chronic health conditions (including heart disease) to determine if it is OK to consume any type of alcohol. With certain conditions and/or medications, it may be recommended to avoid alcohol, including wine,” Bohlman says.
Others who should avoid all alcohol include:
- Pregnant/potentially pregnant individuals
- People under the legal drinking age of 21
- Anyone with a history/family history of alcoholism
For any specific questions about heart health or building a better diet, start by contact your UnityPoint Health primary care provider for a discussion. Also, read our 6 Heart Health Numbers You Should Know, next.