We are often being told that red wine is good for our health, but do we really know why?

In countries where red wine is consumed in larger quantities, such as Italy and France, there is less of a problem of heart disease and fatal strokes. Whereas, in countries like North America and the United Kingdom, where red wine is consumed in smaller quantities the problem is considerably higher. The reason for this is down to chemicals in the red wine which include polyphenols. Polyphenols are antioxidants, and are found in a number of different sources, including grapes/wine, as well as beer, tea, coffee, olive oil, chocolate/cocoa, peanuts, and several other fruits and vegetables.

The skin of the red grape, (and so a constituent of red wine), contains Resveratrol which is a phytoalexin or naturally occurring antibiotic. This is produced when the plant is being attacked by bacteria or fungi, and is a vital antioxidant to the cardiovascular system. These antioxidants work by helping to reduce the damage from oxygen, caused by substances called free radicals, which can lead to cell dysfunction and the onset of heart disease and diabetes. Resveratrol is known to help increase the levels of HDL or good cholesterol, while trials are on-going as to its anti-cancer properties.

Is all cholesterol bad?

No, the body needs cholesterol, it is vital to ensure normal function. Without it, the body would not work, however, high levels in the blood system are associated with atherosclerosis, which is the main cause of coronary heart disease. The cholesterol is carried around the body by proteins called lipoproteins.

The two main types of lipoproteins are LDL and HDL:

  1. LDL – low-density lipoprotein – is the bad, damaging type of cholesterol. Having excessive LDL cholesterol in your blood can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. The risk is worse if you have higher levels of LDL cholesterol with a lower level of HDL cholesterol. If you are at risk of developing heart disease and your LDL level is 100 mg/dL or higher, your cholesterol could be too high.
  2. HDL – high-density lipoprotein – is a good, protective type of cholesterol. HDL stops cholesterol build up in the walls of the arteries. If the level of HDL cholesterol is below 40 mg/dL, your risk from heart disease is much greater. The higher your levels of HDL cholesterol, the better. The average for men is around 45 mg/dL, and for women 55 mg/dL.

Cholesterol, food and red wine.

A major misconception many people have is that most food is full of cholesterol. This is not so, there is actually very little cholesterol found in foods. Those to be wary of are eggs, shellfish and offal. The type of fat in the food is the key, so when you choose a food, ensure that it contains unsaturated fat and not saturated fat.

Saturated fat (the bad fat) is found mainly in animal products such as sausages, butter, lard, bacon, pies, biscuits, cakes and pastries. This the fat that we need to cut down on. Excessive saturated fat raises cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Unsaturated fat, (the good fat), is found in oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, and fresh tuna, sunflower and olive oils, and nuts and avocados. These fats can greatly reduce cholesterol levels. Many of us need to cut down on the bad animal fats, and where possible replace them with a foodstuff high in polyunsaturated fat. By doing this, and having the occasional glass of red wine we will improve our health dramatically.

But remember, always drink your red wine in moderation, one glass of red wine for women and two glasses for men will lower the risks involved with heart attacks by between 30 and 50 percent. And of course take plenty of exercise.

Some of the varieties of red wine I would recommend are Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Shiraz.