Is Red Wine Really Healthy?

UT Health Austin dietitian separates fact from fiction

Reviewed by: Carla Cos, RDN, LD
Written by: Lauren Schneider

Close-up of wine being poured into one glass next to a glass that has already been filled.

With so many health claims associated with red wine in clickbait headlines, it can be hard to distinguish fact from fiction. According to Carla Cos, RDN, LD, a registered dietitian in UT Health Austin’s Primary Care Clinic and a member of UT Health Austin’s Integrated Behavioral Health care team, some of these claims are based on sound science.

“Research hasn’t shown a cause-and-effect link, but consuming red wine in moderation with meals is associated with reduced risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, improvement in insulin sensitivity, decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, and increase in HDL cholesterol,” shares Cos.

However, the medical community is not jumping up and down, claiming everyone should start drinking red wine. “Instead,” continues Cos, “we encourage you to take a closer look at the benefits and risks linked to red wine consumption to help you make an informed decision about how it fits into your healthy lifestyle.”

The Power of Polyphenols

Part of what makes red wine stand out from other alcohols is its polyphenol content. These are plant-derived chemicals that have antioxidant properties that can reduce oxidative stress and inflammation.

“The health effects of red wine are attributed to one polyphenol in particular, resveratrol,” explains Cos. “Resveratrol has cardioprotective effects of improving endothelial (the lining of the heart and blood vessels) function, reducing inflammation. It has also been shown to have antitumor and neuroprotective effects.”

Considering these proposed benefits, it’s still not recommended for individuals who abstain from alcohol to start drinking red wine for any particular health benefit. For those who do not consume red wine, polyphenols can also be found in many plant products.

Foods that are a good source of resveratrol include:

  • Blueberries
  • Grapes
  • Peanuts

The Alcohol Factor

Beyond the effects of resveratrol, there is some limited evidence for positive health outcomes associated with alcohol itself, when consumed in moderation. “A gap in research exists regarding the health effects of other alcoholic beverages,” notes Cos. “Outside of red wine, studies of the effects of drinking focus on the amount consumed rather than the type of alcohol.”

Consider what is known about alcoholic beverages when making informed decisions about which alcoholic beverages, if any, are appropriate for your health needs. If you’re looking to maintain a healthy weight, you may want to avoid beverages with high sugar content, such as craft beers, cocktails, and other mixed drinks.

“Any drinking should be considered in the context of one’s health goals,” says Cos. “A glass of wine usually has around 120 calories. If you’re having two glasses of wine with dinner, it can really make an impact on your overall calorie intake. It’s important to stay mindful of the amount that you’re consuming.”

Moderation Is Key

Moderate drinking is defined as one drink per day for women and two drinks a day for men.

A standard drink consists of one of the following:

  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 1.5 ounces of liquor (40% alcohol)

“If people start exceeding the one to two drink per day recommendation, alcohol starts to have a negative impact on disease risk,” warns Cos. “Alcohol in excess can increase risk of developing health problems, such as liver disease, arrhythmias, hypertension, certain cancers, obesity, stroke, and alcoholism.”

The positive effects of alcohol are negated when people engage in binge drinking, even when their habitual drinking habits are more moderate. Binge drinking is defined as 5 drinks for men and 4 drinks for women during a period of about two hours.

“Even if you’re drinking in moderation, but you have those periods of binge drinking, the beneficial effects of alcohol consumption just aren’t really seen anymore,” reveals Cos.

The Bottom Line

Moderate red wine consumption can be part of a balanced diet, but shouldn’t be treated as a cure-all for healthy drinking.

“We don’t have enough conclusive evidence to really prove there are significant benefits that outweigh any possible negatives that weren’t attributed to other health habits, such as eating healthy, staying active, or not smoking,” explains Cos. “A lot of these studies don’t really differentiate between lifestyle, ethnicity, or where you live. We still have more research to conduct in that area.”

About UT Health Austin

UT Health Austin is the clinical practice of the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin. We collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to provide patients with an unparalleled quality of care. Our experienced healthcare professionals deliver personalized, whole-person care of uncompromising quality and treat each patient as an individual with unique circumstances, priorities, and beliefs. Working directly with you, your care team creates an individualized care plan to help you reach the goals that matter most to you — in the care room and beyond. For more information, call us at 1-833-UT-CARES or request an appointment here.