Written by Myles Spar
Posted on: February 20, 2019
Have you heard about the benefits of drinking red wine but dismissed the claims as too good to be true? Believe the hype! While you obviously won’t do yourself any favors if you down a bottle every night, moderate consumption of red wine has consistently been shown to positively impact health—particularly when it comes to the heart.
What makes red wine so heart-healthy? Research points to its abundant antioxidant content. Red wine is rich in polyphenols, which are powerful fighters of free radicals. One of these polyphenols, resveratrol, may help protect blood vessels from damage and prevent clotting. Resveratrol can also lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels. A review examining the results of various studies involving red wine and the heart concluded that “red wine as a diet supplement might be beneficial for cardiovascular risk factors.” In other words, drinking red wine could help lower your chances of developing heart problems.
Let’s say you’re already a card-carrying member of the vino club. Are you drinking the best red wine for heart health? Here are some things to consider when choosing a wine.
Pick the Right Kind
When it comes to antioxidant content, not all red wines are created equal. Many wine experts consider pinot noir to be the healthiest red wine because it contains the highest concentration of resveratrol. Pinot noir also contains fewer calories than other red wine varieties and may be less likely to cause heartburn thanks to its relatively low tannin content.
If you’re not a pinot person, Madiran wine is another good option. Frequently produced in southwestern France and Sardinia, Italy, this wine has high levels of a polyphenol called procyanidin that has been shown to provide cardiovascular benefit.
Stay Away from Huge Wineries
Leroy Creasy, PhD, a professor emeritus in the Department of Horticulture at Cornell University, measured the resveratrol content in 100 different red wines. He advises avoiding big wineries because their wine is typically produced by chemists who may mellow out the wine to shorten aging time—a process that reduces resveratrol. Look for wines from traditional or boutique wineries instead or, even better, organic wineries.
Choose a Recent Vintage
While it probably won’t taste nearly as good, a medium-quality grocery store wine may be better for your heart than the aged bottles found in most wine cellars. Why? The newer the wine, the higher its antioxidant content. Save the good stuff for special occasions and pick a recently bottled wine to reap more cardiovascular benefits.
Select Wine from a Sunny and Humid Spot
When the aforementioned Dr. Creasy was evaluating red wines, he found that all the wine varieties from New York—not just pinot noir—were high in resveratrol. This is probably due to the state’s mostly sunny, humid climate in the summer. Grapes grown in regions far from the equator are exposed to more ultraviolet light and humidity, both of which help polyphenols multiply.
Many wines contain added ingredients like artificial flavors, preservatives, and other chemicals. To avoid these additives, seek out an organic wine. In order for a wine to be certified as 100% organic by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it must meet rigorous standards. Among other requirements, grapes used to make the wine must be grown without synthetic fertilizer, and the wine must be free of sulfites, which are commonly used as a preservative. Not only do organic wines contain fewer chemicals, but they may also be more pleasing to your palate—a study of 74,000 bottles of wine found that organic varieties taste better.
Now that you know more about how to select the best red wine for heart health, remember that a surefire way to negate any of the benefits associated with red wine is drinking too much of it. The American Heart Association doesn’t recommend you start drinking to prevent heart disease, and neither do I. But along with exercise, stress management, and eating well, moderate consumption of alcohol is a lifestyle choice that can help you take control of your heart health. Moderate consumption means 1-2 glasses a day at most for men and 1 glass a day for women.
Not a wine drinker? You can read about other healthy alcohol options here. And to have the latest scientifically-validated health tips and articles delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for Dr. Spar’s Performance Health Bulletin.
About Myles Spar, MD
Myles Spar, MD, MPH is board-certified in Internal Medicine and in Integrative Medicine. As a clinician, teacher and researcher on faculty of two major medical centers, he has led the charge for a more proactive, holistic and personalized approach to care that focuses on cutting edge technology and preventative care. Dr. Spar has traveled with the NBA, presented a TEDx Talk, appeared on Dr. Oz, and been featured in publications such as the Men’s Journal and the Los Angeles Times.