Drinking wine is associated with a number of health benefits, but real risks surrounding alcohol remain. How safe is a wine drinking habit overall? An expert weighs in.

“A glass of wine a day is good for your heart.” Do you remember this not-so-long-ago headline? Apparently, plenty of Americans have heeded this message: wine sales in the US continue to grow year over year, reaching its highest level yet at $75.1 billion in 2019. But is this assertion of health truly warranted? Should we be incorporating wine as part of our healthy lifestyle?

Resveratrol and its positive impacts on health

Wine contains a number of beneficial polyphenols, bioactive compounds abundantly found in plant foods which help ward off disease and keep you healthy. One of the most studied polyphenols in wine is resveratrol, a potent antioxidant which is associated with a number of health benefits:

Cardiovascular health: Resveratrol is best known for its potential heart-protective effects, including regulating cholesterol, improving blood flow, reducing inflammation, lowering the risk for high blood pressure, and lessening the formation of blood clots.

Diabetes health: Regular red wine drinkers seem to exhibit a decrease in insulin resistance, lower blood glucose levels, delayed glucose spike after meals, and overall lower incidence of diabetes.

Gut health: Resveratrol appears to prevent or delay the advancement of inflammatory bowel disease of the small intestine and colon, increase the numbers of helpful bacteria in the gut, and also act as an antimicrobial agent against disease-causing bacteria.

Red wine or white wine: which is better?

To make red wine, red grapes are crushed and left to ferment with their skins, providing the wine’s deep red hue, whereas white wine is made by removing the skins after pressing. Resveratrol is found in the grape skins, and because red wine fermentation includes time spent in contact with these skins, it contains more resveratrol than white wines. But one study suggests that despite this difference, white wine still offers cardiovascular benefits as well. Both wines offer trace amounts of vitamins and minerals like manganese, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and vitamin B6, although red wine does provide slightly higher amounts.

How safe is consuming food cooked with wine?

Using wine as a cooking liquid has become a popular method for intensifying and enhancing the flavor of food, but is it safe to consume? There is a widely held belief that alcohol burns off when cooked, but evidence shows this is actually not the case. One study found that although certain cooking methods and times will result in varying levels of evaporation, at least 4% of alcohol may be retained at the end of the cooking process. In other words, food cooked with wine will contain some residual alcohol. For this reason, consuming wine-infused food may not be recommended, particularly for vulnerable populations like children, pregnant women, or others strictly prohibited from alcohol.

The concerns around the consumption of alcohol

The American Heart Association recommends women drink no more than one 5-oz glass of wine per day and men drink no more than two, but real concerns remain about the safety of drinking wine and alcohol generally. Millions of yearly deaths and 200 diseases and injuries are attributed to alcohol drinking, particularly frequent drinking and beyond the recommended amounts.  Experts urge drinking in moderation, yet for some, maintaining a controlled, moderate drinking pattern proves too challenging. Alcohol can be addictive, and heavy drinking can lead to an alcohol use disorder, a life-threatening addiction that can cause or worsen other health conditions. As a result, health officials do not advocate starting a drinking habit, even a moderate one, for the sole purpose of improving health.

We asked an expert: should I drink wine for my health?

Dr. Linda Gaudiani, President of Marin Endocrine Care and Research and Medical Director and Founder of the Braden Diabetes Center, weighed in on whether she believes wine is safe to consume. ”While ingestion of small amounts of wine or alcohol may have some benefits in the test tube, it’s a different situation with real life use.  First of all, it’s about how much and how often. Beer, wine, and alcohol can add as much as several hundred calories a day, which have to be burned off or they’ll be stored as fat, increasing risks of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and cancers. I recommend occasional alcohol as a kind of special condiment with a celebration meal but avoiding it as a regular part of one’s diet for optimum health.”