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How to Enjoy Wine Healthfully as Part of the Mediterranean Diet

Our contributor explains the health benefits and best practices of moderate wine consumption as part of the Mediterranean Diet.

Chianti Bottle, fiasco, and two glasses of red wine on white background

Chianti Bottle, fiasco, and two glasses of red wine.

Wine has been enjoyed for both health and gastronomic purposes in Italy and the rest of the Mediterranean for thousands of years. The tenets of the Mediterranean Diet allow for wine in moderation.

Red wine has been shown to have specific health benefits because it is fermented with its skin, which contains a more concentrated amount of the antioxidant polyphenols and flavonoids. For example, Myricetin is a flavanoid, an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory substance that promotes brain health and anticancer properties. Epicatechin is also an antioxidant with cardiovascular health and blood sugar regulation. These antioxidants provide cardiovascular protection by preventing blood clotting and reducing arterial plaque. As a bonus, they prevent tumors from growing as well.

Combining red wine with a good quality extra-virgin olive oil will enhance its health benefits while lowering the glycemic load of the alcohol. Red wine also contains polyphenols, like Resveratrol, that are believed to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, glucose and lipid regulatory, neuroprotective, and cardiovascular protective effects. For this reason, it is now sold in concentrated amount in capsule form. Studies suggest that such polyphenols can protect against diverse chronic diseases.

It’s important to note that most doctors do not advise patients who currently abstain from alcohol to begin drinking specifically for health benefits because antioxidants can be found in a wide variety of plant-based foods. For those who do drink, the Cleveland Clinic recommends two 3½-ounce glasses of red wine for men and one 31/2-ounce glass for women per day.

Amy Riolo, right, as part of a panel explaining the health benefits of wine consumption.
Amy Riolo, right, as part of a panel explaining the health benefits of wine consumption. Photo by Tina Boyadijeva.

Here are 5 Ways to Enjoy Wine Mediterranean Style:

1. Metron Ariston – The ancient Greek term by Cleobulus, one of the Seven Sages of Greece, which recommends enjoying things “in moderation.” The Cleveland Clinic guidelines above are a good gauge.

2. With food – Be sure to eat while drinking to slow the absorption of alcohol.

3. In company - Epicurus said, “We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink,” and this still holds true today. We consume less, absorb more nutrients, and digest our food better when we eat and drink in company. Friends and loved ones can also be accountability partners in our goals to not overindulge.

4. Wine and water alone – In the Mediterranean countries where wine is consumed, such as Italy, water and wine are the predominant drinks in the diet. Once you start adding soft drinks, artificially sweetened lemonade, chemically rich sports drinks, and artificial powders along with wine to the diet, it becomes full of unhealthful sugars.

5.  Perception - View wine as an accompaniment to a healthful lifestyle that deserves being enjoyed and savored properly, mainly with others and at joyous or communal occasions, instead of as a stress-reliever or a way to forget about life’s problems or loneliness.

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