Health Benefits of Drinking Wine

By: Abbey Sharp, R.D., AbbeysKitchen.com

You've probably heard that wine is good for you, but maybe you've also heard that you shouldn't be drinking too much. How can anything so delightful be good for you? Well, the science says we should crack open a bottle of pinot—and who are we to argue with science? Here are all of the healthy reasons to pick up a bottle of the good stuff.

Related: Healthy Wine & Champagne Cocktail Recipes

1. Keep Your Heart Strong

Red wine is everyone's favorite source of powerful plant antioxidants, and while they might be more abundant in broccoli, they're way more fun with a bit of a buzz. The most notable disease-fighting compounds in red wine are resveratrol and proanthocyanidins. Research has found that people who drink red wine tend to have lower risk of heart disease, although other lifestyle factors may play a role. It does seem that the powerful antioxidants in red wine help to reduce bad LDL cholesterol while retaining good HDL cholesterol, and may even help reduce blood pressure when consumed in moderation.

2. Reduce Risk of Alzheimer's Disease

Classic Sangria

Recipe to Try: Classic Sangria

A drink a day may also keep Alzheimer's away! Recent research suggests that drinking 1 to 3 daily glasses of red wine was linked to a reduced risk of dementia and Alzheimer's. Scientists found that when red wine passes through the gut, it leaves behind unique antioxidant compounds that can protect our brain neurons from getting damaged or destroyed. This, in turn, may help reduce the chance of developing neurological diseases like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's.

3. Get Happier Gut Bacteria

We know we should eat more probiotics like yogurt and sauerkraut for their natural gut-health benefits, but the good news is you can add your favorite wine to that list, too! Yes, it's a naturally fermented product, much like yogurt, pickles, kombucha and other bacteria-friendly foods, but early research has shown that wine may have more of a prebiotic effect, helping improve the bacterial composition of our gut. Bottoms up for good bacteria!

4. Boost Your Mood

Red-Wine Hot Chocolate

Recipe to Try: Red-Wine Hot Chocolate

Most of us already consider a good glass of vino a bit of a party starter, but research suggests it may do a lot more than just help you crack a smile. Research has linked moderate wine drinking (that's about 2-7 glasses per week) to a significantly reduced risk of depression.

5. Ward Off Diabetes

One large study found that moderate red wine consumption was linked to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes in women, while another found that moderate drinking (of any type of alcohol) could reduce your risk by about 30 percent. (If you have diabetes, though, talk to your doctor about drinking, as alcohol can cause dangerously low blood sugar and also may interact with medications.)

White Wine vs. Red Wine: Which Is Healthier?

Mimosas with Juice Ice Cubes

Recipe to Try: Mimosas with Juice Ice Cubes

Ultimately, alcohol (yes, even wine) should be seen as a treat, not medicine, so if you really only like pinot grigio don't force yourself to drink a glass of merlot. But if you're looking for those heart-healthy benefits and don't discriminate, red definitely does have a leg up. White wine contains the same antioxidants, but the levels are far lower based on how it's made. White wine is produced with limited exposure to the grape skins, which is where the majority of those antioxidants are found. If you're just easing your way onto the dark side, try a more fruit-forward red like pinot noir, zinfandel or gamay.

How Much Is Healthy?

While all of these benefits may have us busting out the bottles, consider the importance of moderation. In the case of alcohol (and yes, even antioxidant-packed wine), more is not necessarily a good thing. In fact, the research generally demonstrates a "U shape" benefit curve, where either abstinence or an excessive drinking habit shows no benefits and may significantly increase your risk of disease.

And, there is a dietary downside to drinking booze. Each glass of wine (and note that a serving is only 5 ounces—some red-wine glasses can hold four times that!) will add 125 calories to your day—not huge, but also not insignificant in terms of daily totals. Plus, even moderate alcohol consumption has been associated with increased risk of breast cancer, which is important to be aware of, especially if it runs in your family. Recent research has shown light drinking to potentially increase risk of other cancers as well.

Our advice? Stick to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommendations for moderate drinking of up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. This obviously excludes populations who should be abstaining like pregnant and nursing women, anyone under the legal drinking age, those operating machinery or driving, individuals with past or present challenges controlling their alcohol intake and those taking medications that interact with alcohol.

For the rest of us, a daily glass of wine may help improve the quality (and length!) of our lives. Cheers to that!

Watch: How to Make Champagne Cocktails 4 Ways

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