Is wine healthy? Google that question and you will find thousands of results arguing wine’s health benefits, including being a good source of antioxidants, improving cognitive abilities, making you live longer, reducing belly fat, and more. We’re going to take a look at some of these potential benefits, as well as some of the negative effects some people claim.

The Pros

Any discussion of wine and your health always needs to be preceded with the caveat that you should follow your doctor’s advice. Everyone is different and we are in no way advocating for you to drink wine against your doctor’s advice or to use it as a health supplement. You should definitely talk with your doctor if you have any questions about your health.

Now let’s talk about some of the ways wine is supposed to be good for your health. One of the most widespread claims is that wine, specifically red wine, is high in antioxidants. As you are probably well aware, antioxidants are good for you. They’re found in many foods and help stop free radicals in your body from damaging your cells, which can help prevent heart disease, cancer, and other health problems. The specific antioxidants in red wine are called polyphenols that may help protect the lining of the heart, which is what leads people to say that red wine is heart healthy. The problem is, the studies linking red wine to heart health are mixed, with some showing a benefit and others not.

There is also some evidence that wine may help protect your brain function. A few months ago a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease indicated that cheese and red wine could help prevent age related cognitive decline. The study was based on survey data rather than a full clinical trial, so a lot more research is needed.

Bread and cheese with red wine in glasses and carafes

The Cons

Any potential health benefits of drinking wine do need to be considered in conjunction with the potential negative consequences. Obviously wine has alcohol in it, which can cause a whole slew of health problems, including liver damage, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and strokes.

You also have to factor in the calories if you are trying to incorporate wine into a healthy diet. The number of calories in wine depends on the type of wine you’re drinking. Dry red wines typically have the fewest calories, while sweet wines have the most. A lot of people forget to factor in calories from drinks when they’re restricting calories, which can really throw you off.

Another negative impact of drinking wine is headaches. Anytime you drink too much alcohol you’re at risk of getting a headache because alcohol is dehydrating and dilates your blood vessels, which can cause headaches. However, wine tends to get a bad rap for causing headaches more than other forms of alcohol, especially red wine. There are two major causes that people point to: sulfites and tannins.

Tannins come primarily from grape skins, so they’re more of a factor in red wine than white. Tannins cause your body to release serotonin, which can cause headaches when you have too much.

Sulfites are also quite often blamed for headaches as well, but they’re probably one of the less likely culprits. Sulfites are found naturally in many foods, including grapes, but are also often added to wine as a preservative. They help slow oxidation and keep wine fresh longer.

So why is it unlikely that sulfites cause headaches? For one thing, sulfite sensitivity is quite rare (around 1 in 100 according to the FDA) and is more likely to cause breathing trouble than headaches. People with other health conditions are more likely to have a sulfite sensitivity than the general population, but even then it’s pretty rare. Asthma sufferers, one of the higher risk populations, only have about a 5-10% chance of also having issues with sulfites.

Sulfites are also found in quite a few foods in much higher levels than wine, so if you can eat those foods without a problem, it’s probably not the sulfites that are causing you pain. Some of the foods with higher levels of sulfites than wine include soda, packaged meats, prepared soup, frozen juices, French fries, and dried fruit. Basically, if you can eat these items without pain, the sulfites in wine are probably not to blame for your headache.

Staying Healthy

So how can you keep drinking wine if you’re trying to get or stay healthy? First of all, make sure to talk to your doctor about any concerns. Next, make sure to drink in moderation. This will help prevent headaches, it’ll help prevent you from waking up with a hangover and bingeing on greasy food and skipping your workout, and it will help mitigate some of the negative effects of alcohol consumption while allowing you to reap some of the potential benefits.

You can also try to stick with lower calorie wines. Just like food, wines that are lower in residual sugar are also lower in calories. The challenge is that wine bottles are not required to have nutrition labels, so it takes a bit of guess work to figure out which wines are lowest in calories. Typically, a low alcohol dry white wine like Pinot Grigio or Vermentino will have the lowest calories while a sweet dessert wine like Port or Sauternes will be the highest.

Although wine should not be counted on to provide any nutritional value, it may provide some health benefits and can be incorporated into a healthy diet with a little effort (and some restraint!). If you need a little help making eating healthy more fun, make sure to check out our article on healthy food and wine pairings coming next week!