Whether you’ve been abstaining from the glorious grape this month or not, now we are nearing the end of January it’s time to consider the science behind temporary teetotalism.
Was it worth it? And, more importantly, as we inevitably slip back into our old habits, is there any scientific case for moderate, daily wine consumption?
How to drink a glass of wine safely
Dr. Michael Apstein has lots to say about it. “The first question I get when people hear that I’m a gastroenterologist (liver doctor) who writes about wine is: ’how much is safe to drink?’ My answer is always the same – ‘it depends’ – and it’s difficult to be more helpful,” he admits.
It all boils down to your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The amount of alcohol circulating in the blood determines how damaging the effects of alcohol consumption will be. A person who metabolises alcohol more efficiently will absorb less into their bloodstream, meaning a lower BAC and fewer negative effects.
Your BAC is affected by a number of things. Women and older adults have a higher BAC due to lower bodily water content, drinking quickly and on an empty stomach increases your BAC, as does drinking wine with a higher alcohol percentage.
But most importantly for us wine lovers is this: drinking 1-2 glasses of wine daily, as opposed to sporadically, stimulates the liver’s production of alcohol dehydrogenase, the enzyme that metabolises alcohol.
This means daily drinkers will have a lower BAC after consuming the same amount of alcohol than a sporadic drinker, and hence, suffer less from the ill effects of alcohol consumption. Dr. Apstein reminds us that the only case where this theory does not apply is in that of binge drinking, which is always a bad idea.
Fine red wine or fine white wine?
There have been a plethora of studies showing the benefits of red wine on the cardiovascular system, whereas white wine often evades the limelight.
In a 2015 study, however, both red and white wine drinkers had lower cardiometabolic risks – factors that can lead to heart disease or complications of type 2 diabetes. While red wine caused a boost in HDL (“good”) cholesterol, white wine gave drinkers a superior blood sugar profile.
White wine also contains a polyphenolic compound called caffeic acid, which encourages blood vessels to produce nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a very important little chemical that relaxes arteries and lowers your blood pressure, helping to prevent cardiovascular disease, diabetes and chronic kidney disease.
If that’s not enough of an excuse to go dry in January, here’s one more. Dry wine contains fewer carbs than sweet wine, helping you lose a few of those festive pounds after an indulgent holiday season. On average, there are 4 grams of carbs per 5-ounce serving of dry wine compared to 20 grams for sweet wine.
How about fine champagne?
Dry sparkling wine also contains fewer calories, but the fizz is thought to encourage gastric emptying, meaning the alcohol travels faster to the small intestine where it is absorbed into the blood, resulting in a higher BAC.
The case for moderate fine wine consumption
Aside from the cardiovascular benefits, there is a surprising amount of scientific support for daily, moderate wine drinking.
One study showed lower weight gains among moderate drinkers than non-drinkers, and people also seem to consume fewer calories overall when drinking wine, suggesting we aren’t dealing with “empty” calories at all. Antioxidant polyphenols present in red wine may prevent the conversion of fatty foods to fat tissue in the body, and keep glucose from entering fat cells.
Moderate drinking accompanied by a healthy, plant-based diet has also shown real benefits in terms of brain function as we age. The famous red-wine compound resveratrol owes its extensive media coverage to numerous successful results in Alzheimer’s trials, although the researchers used supplements, not red wine itself.
Last but not least, people who exercise regularly tend to drink moderately, and each activity seems to motivate us to engage in the other – further proof that daily wine drinking can be a crucial component in a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
So what about temporary abstinence?
In response to the UK government recently releasing guidelines promoting two alcohol-free days per week, Dr. Michael Apstein says he isn’t aware of any hard evidence that supports this strategy.
“For individuals who drink too much, abstaining for a day or days, whether consecutive or not, is a good idea. A better idea would be to reduce the daily consumption of alcohol.” He adds – “This is a topic to be discussed honestly and frankly with your GP because one size does not fit all.”
As for abstaining for a whole month, he says – “there’s no science to support this practice, nor does it make sense physiologically. The liver can metabolise a small and steady amount of alcohol without difficulty. If you think you need to take a month off, you’re either drinking too much during the rest of the year or you have a guilty conscience.”
Well, that tells us!
Dry fine wine at Capital Vintners
Why not have a look at our extensive range of dry red, white and sparkling wines, in preparation for next January? We recommend the 2010 Clos du Ciel, an astounding Pinot Noir wine from California’s Sonoma Valley, the 2012 Arkenstone Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley, and the 1996 Dom Perignon, respectively.