Red Red Wine

Do we really know how much alcohol is ok for our health?

Did you do a dry Jan?  Or have you gone back to your old ways? Often we start with good intentions of only drinking at weekends, ideally stopping at two glasses and opting to drive when you go out in an attempt to cut back.

Many of us drink way more than the recommended maximum of 14 units a week – which is only about 8 standard glasses of wine!  But hurrah –  according to the British Heart Foundation moderate drinking can benefit men over 40 and post-menopausal women.

It is widely believed that drinking a little red wine prevents heart disease.  Its protective effects are thought to be due to its high content of polyphenols, which include flavonoids and the compound resveratrol.  These polyphenols are thought to improve blood flow, increase the beneficial HDL cholesterol and reduce clotting. They have also been shown to reduce age related memory loss and improve production of insulin.

Apparently there are some red wines that have a better polyphenol content than others:  the darker red wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, have the highest antioxidant content.  Professor Andrew Waterhouse from the University of California particularly recommends Merlot, Zinfandel, Syrah and Petit Syrah.

However a number of critics have stated that you would have to drink the equivalent of six bottles of wine to get the desired health benefits.

Resveratrol is found in the skin of grapes, dark berries and peanuts so you might get the same benefits by eating some berries at breakfast and a handful of peanuts as a snack.

There is some evidence that the polyphenols in red wine also have a positive effect on the diversity of our gut microbes.  Tim Spector in his book, ‘The Diet Myth’ reviews recent data from a study of 8000 subjects taking part in the American and British Gut Projects which shows a big increase in microbial diversity in regular alcohol drinkers – Tim Spector proposes that this association is caused by the chemicals in the grape. Greater microbial diversity is linked to better general health so we should be doing everything in our power to encourage this.

The problem is that, for many, drinking is a slippery slope and although you might start off with bold intentions of sticking to one small glass that small glass soon becomes a second glass and before you know it half a bottle.

Drinking more than a couple of glasses of wine each night has a negative impact on health for many reasons – for a start it lowers the absorption of B vitamins, in particular folate, which increases the risk of heart disease and raised blood pressure. Alcohol can also reduce calcium absorption and is therefore best kept to a minimum if you are worried about osteoporosis.  Alcohol puts a burden on your liver, which is already having to deal with so many toxins in the environment.  It also upsets blood sugar balance which contributes to weight gain and low energy.  Regular heavy drinking contributes to:

Liver disease

Lowered libido

Nerve and muscle damage

Psychiatric problems

More than four alcoholic drinks a day is thought to increase the risk of cancer of the mouth, larynx and oesophagus.

If you know you can’t stop at one glass it might be better for you to opt for at least three nights off a week or restricting alcohol to weekends only.

The way we handle alcohol differs from one person to the next and this is due to our different genes, our microbes, what the rest of our diet is like and whether we drink moderately or binge-style.  That’s why it is hard to say exactly how much alcohol or wine is ok.   Perhaps, as you know yourself better than anyone, you should be making your own guidelines for the coming year.

Alli Godbold

Alli Godbold is a qualified nutritional therapist, specialising in weight loss, fatigue and digestive and hormonal health. She is also a certified gluten practitioner. Alli has worked forThe Food Doctor and currently works as nutritionist for The Healthy Holiday Company and is a regular contributor to  She runs frequent cookery workshops from her West London kitchen and has published a popular cookery book Feed Your Health.   She created the Nourish diet for weight loss and improved health and has recently published a book of healthy recipes for her Nourish clients More Nourish Diet Recipes