Kicking back with a glass of vino is a well-deserved treat at the end of a busy day. Even our founding father Benjamin Franklin agreed: "Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance," he wrote. But wine brings more than pleasure to the table. Since ancient times, physicians have proclaimed wine's health benefits, and now a slew of recent studies show it's good for your brain, heart, and more.
Naturally, moderation is key. The USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends no more than one glass a day for a woman and two glasses a day for a man, and none at all for pregnant women, individuals susceptible to alcoholism, and those on medication or with medical conditions that can interact with alcohol. But if you're one of the 55 percent of Americans who likes to raise a glass now and then, here are five reasons to toast your health with the fruit of the vine.
1. Wine is good for your heart. Remember the "French Paradox"? In 1992, researchers discovered that the French had a 36 percent lower mortality rate from heart disease, despite all the croissants and foie gras. Now scientists believe the powerful antioxidants in red wine and wine's ability to boost omega-3 fatty acids are factors. In another study, wine drinkers had a 34 percent lower chance of stroke.
2. Wine keeps your brain cells healthy. Two recent studies in Denmark and Sweden showed that moderate consumption of wine helped reduce the risk of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.
3. Wine can protect against a host of age-related diseases. You've probably heard about that magical compound in red wine, resveratrol. Studies have shown that resveratrol can protect against diabetes, inflammation, and cardiovascular diseases.
4. Wine can help prevent cancer. A glass of red wine each day can cut a man's risk for prostate cancer in half, and lowers the risk of Barrett's Esophagus, the precursor to esophageal cancer, by 56 percent. Plus, resveratrol in red wine has been shown to zap pancreatic cancer cells.
5. Wine drinkers tend to eat healthier foods and have healthier lifestyles. It sounds like a stereotype – beer drinkers gorge on fried foods and chips while wine drinkers favor salads and lean protein – but studies show that wine drinkers tend to eat the most heart-healthy diets. In one survey, wine drinkers ate more olives, fruit and vegetables, poultry, olive oil, and low-fat cheese, milk, and meat, while beer drinkers chose ready-cooked meals, refined sugar, cold cuts, chips, pork, sausages, and soft drinks. Even better? Contrary to popular belief, researchers found no evidence that a glass or two of wine makes you gain weight.
Wine sounds like a miracle tonic, but it's not a cure-all for every disease. The jury is still out on many of its health benefits: while drinking moderate amounts wine can help prevent some types of cancer, alcohol consumption can activate cellular changes that help some cancer cells spread, and three or more alcoholic drinks a day significantly increases the risk of breast cancer. Talk to your doctor if you have questions about wine and your health.
Gretchen Roberts, founder and editor of Vinobite.com, is at the upper end of the Millennial generation, old enough to have a decade of wine-drinking under her belt but young enough to know that wine is about three important things: finding a great bottle at a good value, vicariously exploring the world, and having fun with friends. Roberts writes about wine for Wine Enthusiast, MyRecipes.com, Cooking Light, and Slashfood.com.