Wine weaves its way through many fabrics of our lives, whether that glass is a celebration, a dinnertime accessory, a pairing with small bites or a staple of the "wine mom culture." Wine can also be a distinction of sophistication – taste separates a sommelier from a Moscato-loving college student.
According to a 2019 YouGov poll, American wine drinkers prefer red wine to white or rosé, but only slightly. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel were the top choices for red wine drinkers.
Here’s what to know about its impact on your health before you break out another bottle.
What is the healthiest wine?
The healthiest wine is dry white wine, or any wine grown in cooler climates because it has less sugar and alcohol, says Debbie Petitpain, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Here's why:
Some wines have residual sugars, or natural sugars leftover from fermenting the grapes. Others, like dessert wines, have added sugars. The other key factor is alcohol – another source of concentrated calories in wine. Because wine doesn’t offer many nutrients other than these calories, you’ll want to search for a wine lower in both sugar and alcohol.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women. With wine, this means a standard 5-ounce glass of wine with a 12% ABV, or alcohol by volume. If you choose a higher-alcohol wine (Zinfandel, for example, is typically 14% ABV or higher), you’ll go above the recommended limits even if you have a 5-ounce pour.
Dry white wines typically have an ABV between 9-11%, Petitpain says.
“You can still have your 5 ounces but you’re not consuming quite as many calories, or you can enjoy a slightly larger pour without overdoing the recommended daily servings,” Petitpain says.
Where your wine is made makes a difference. Warmer regions allow for a longer growing season, so the grapes get more ripe before they’re picked. This leads to wines higher in sugar and alcohol. A few examples of cool climate wine regions are parts of the Pacific Northwest, northern France, New York, Chile, Hungary, New Zealand, northern Italy, South Africa, Austria, Germany and northern Greece and Macedonia, according to Wine Folly.
Type of wine aside, there are a few other ways to drink wine in the healthiest way possible. If the taste is important but you could take or leave the booze, try a non-alcoholic wine. If you anticipate more than one glass, alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Or, make your glass into a wine spritzer.
“Adding a club soda or even a sparkling flavored water to dilute your wine somewhat, that can actually give you a larger serving size without adding more alcohol or calories to your drink,” Petitpain says.
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Is wine good for you?
Research about the benefits and risks of moderate drinking is ongoing. Some studies show potential links between moderate red wine consumption and longevity or between moderate alcohol intake and cognitive functions. Others show that any level of alcohol intake will affect our health negatively.
What’s clear is that medical professionals will never encourage you to start drinking for health benefits, Petitpain says. Research shows no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy. Excessive drinking can cause or exacerbate about 200 different kinds of diseases, the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism previously told USA TODAY.
One antioxidant found in red wine is resveratrol, which comes from grape skin and has anti-inflammatory and disease-preventing properties. Some other wines contain it, too. It’s also present in foods like tomato skin, chocolate and peanuts.
“You would have to drink a lot of red wine to get those beneficial effects for your health, so (the recommended) one glass of red wine a day isn’t going to provide enough,” registered dietitian Alex Aldeborgh previously told USA TODAY.
A recent study published in BMC Medicine found that alcohol consumption may have both positive and negative effects on cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk. The study observed metabolites, byproducts of metabolizing a substance that can serve as signs of diseases. Of the 60 observed, seven metabolites linked long-term moderate alcohol consumption to an increased risk of CVD. Three metabolites linked the same drinking pattern to a lower risk of CVD.
This study is just one puzzle piece to help keep the “complexity of alcohol” in context with overall health, Petitpain says. Part of that is figuring out how much of the benefits come from alcohol and how much are from plant nutrients during the grape fermentation process.
“There’s probably a sweet spot like there is with most things where a little bit may be health protective for some people but too much actually starts to go in the wrong direction,” Petitpain says. “This lower-alcohol wine would allow you to have some without taking in too much.”
Discover more health tips for your daily diet:
Healthiest ice cream: What to know before grabbing a “healthy” ice cream
Healthiest soda: The answer is tricky – here’s what to know
Healthiest alcohol: Low-calorie, low-sugar options to try
Healthiest chocolate: How milk, dark and white stack up
Healthiest cocktail: Recipes to try for a low-sugar drink
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What is the healthiest wine? Red and white wine benefits, explained.