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Two Women on Wine: The health benefits of white wine

Maybe more than red

Posted: March 30, 2012 6:00 a.m.
Updated: March 30, 2012 6:00 a.m.
Lil Lepore and Shari Frazier Lil Lepore and Shari Frazier
Lil Lepore and Shari Frazier

At the risk of sounding clinical (no, we're not dishing out medical advice), we wanted to shed some new light on an old favorite: white wine. There has been a lot of interest and media attention over recent years about the health benefits of red wine, but not much has been written about the benefits of white. We're here to change that with some helpful information from published studies. But first, we'll review the health benefits of wine in general.

The health benefits of wine first came to the public's attention with the discovery of the "French Paradox" in 1991. The paradox was that the French, despite consuming a cholesterol-rich diet, have a low incidence of cardiovascular disease. The explanation lies in their steady, but moderate consumption of wine.

It isn't the alcohol in the wine that provides a health benefit but the antioxidants: the red wine polyphenols, anthrocyanidins and resveratrol. Resveratrol, which is produced by plants to protect against environmental stresses, has been demonstrated to be about 20 to 50 times as effective as vitamin C alone. Polyphenols are the most powerful antioxidants in nature, five times stronger than vitamin E. Of course we should mention that heavy drinking negates these health benefits.

Wine's antioxidants inhibit the absorption of bad cholesterol into artery walls. Antioxidants also reduce the cellular damage caused by "free radicals," the body's toxic waste products. Continued cellular damage ultimately leads to degenerative diseases such as cancer.

What we find fascinating is that, initially, the research that followed the discovery of the French Paradox focused solely on red wine because, unlike white wine, it is made by fermenting the juice along with the skins. It is the skins that contain the highest concentration of antioxidants. However, more recent studies show that white wine has just as many health benefits as red wine.

In fact, researchers at the University of Buffalo found that the antioxidants in white wine are superior in improving lung function. According to scientists at the University of Mainz in Germany, white wine reduces systolic blood pressure more than red wine, while both wines lower diastolic blood pressure. The Jordan Heart Research Foundation found that red wine reduces free radicals by 15 percent while white wine reduces them by 34 percent. The research also indicated that red wine diminishes the blood's clotting ability by 10 percent and white wine by 20 percent. Blood clots block arteries and cause vascular disease.

Researchers in Israel boosted the antioxidant capacity of white wine by extracting more grape skin polyphenols during processing. They achieved antioxidant activity similar to that of red wine, yet the actual polyphenol content of the white wine was still only one quarter that of the red wine used for comparison. The scientists concluded that white wine contains varieties of polyphenols with higher antioxidant activity than those found in red wine.

So why are the antioxidant molecules in white wine apparently more effective than those in red wine, even though they are present in greater numbers in red wine? A study at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, measured the size of the various antioxidant molecules in wine and discovered that those in white wine are smaller and more easily absorbed, which makes them more effective.

So there you have it: Both red wine and white wine have potent health benefits that can enhance and lengthen your life. Whichever color you prefer, enjoy your wine with healthy food and remember to drink moderately and responsibly.


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