For good health, try a daily glass of red wine

  • By Mike Gianunzio Special to The Herald
  • Friday, November 2, 2007 3:02pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Do you have a bottle of American cabernet sauvignon in your cupboard or wine rack?

If you do, go get it and move it to your medicine cabinet.

OK, maybe not.

Instead, fill up a wine glass and let’s talk about how red wine might prolong your life and make you healthier.

Drinking a daily glass or two of red wine, especially the kind with lots of tannins, may be the key to adding years to your life and feeling better along the way.

I’ve always wondered why my grandfather Nunzio, who had a very hard life as an iron ore miner in cold northern Michigan, lived to be 94 with little aid from modern medicine.

Nunzio drank red wine all of his life, from sneaking a bottle in the seminary where he was sent as a teenager, to the red wine he made during Prohibition, and to the nursing home where he lived out his last few years.

I worked after school every day in that nursing home and would sneak an extra glass of his “red medicine” to him from the nurse’s station after he’d already taken his small daily allocation.

Grandpa was benefiting from some powerful chemicals in red wine. Nunzio lived more years than his wife and all of his 12 children but one — and she just turned 95.

One of those chemical compounds is reservatrol. It sounds like a gasoline additive, but scientific studies have found that it has a range of health benefits, from protecting the heart and blood vessels to providing antibacterial properties.

Reservatrol is produced naturally by grape skins in response to fungal infection. Because red wine is produced by fermenting the grape skins and juice together, red wine gets loaded up with this compound.

White wine usually is not made with grape skins, just the juice, so little, if any, reservatrol is found in white wine.

Procyanidins, compounds found in grape seeds, are great for your health, particularly your heart. These compounds are good for blood vessels, making them stronger and less constricted. They are also linked to reducing joint pain, macular degeneration and inflammation.

Procyanidins also are found in cranberries, apples and dark chocolate.

Are you ready for a red wine and dark chocolate diet?

That may be a stretch, but “The Red Wine Diet,” a new book by Roger Corder, a professor of experimental therapeutics at Harvey Research Institute of London, presents convincing arguments for drinking red wine every day to live a longer healthier life.

Studies have shown that particular wines from different countries have higher levels of procyanidins than others. People living in rural southwest France, Sardinia and Crete have diets rich in procyanidins. Studies have shown that these people live longer and are healthier. For years, science has not resolved the “French Paradox.”

Why do the French eat such rich and fatty foods, such as butter, steak and 400 different cheeses, and yet have much lower incidence of coronary heart disease than the rest of the Western world?

It seems that it is because the French have been huge consumers of red wine.

In the United States, the red wine with the most procyanidins is cabernet sauvignon and blends of that wine with other red wines such as merlot, especially those with high tannin levels.

Some wineries let their grapes hang longer on the vines before harvesting them to reduce tannins and get higher alcohol content.

The best grapes for procyanidins are picked on time and fermented longer with the grape skins.

If you like French wines, try the red wines of southern France, such as Bordeaux, Cote du Rhone and Burgundy. These are predominantly made with cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc grapes.

Italian wines made from the nebbiolo grape, such as Barolo and Barbaresco, fit the high-tannin red wine profile. They have lots of procyanidins.

Both red and white wines have other beneficial chemical compounds, such as antioxidants, flavonoids and polyphenols. In some countries, wine has even been used to treat wounds.

Some studies show that red wine may help to prevent cancer.

Population studies have shown a link between wine consumption and lower risk of heart disease.

A new study, just published in the Journal of Carcinogenisis, reports that laboratory mice that are fed reservatrol in chemical form developed tumors in the prostrate at a much lower rate than mice fed a normal diet. These mice got the equivalent of one bottle of red wine a day.

That’s a lot of wine on a daily basis, but this compound can be taken as a supplement.

Red wine has always been a component of the “Mediterranean diet.” This healthy diet includes mainly fruits, vegetables, breads and grains, beans, nuts, olive oil, a moderate amount of dairy products and, of course, tomatoes, alone or in wonderful pasta sauces. Fish and chicken are eaten twice a week; red meat is eaten only once or twice a month.

Processed foods are out; food with added sugar is rarely eaten. It’s a diet that reduces the risks of cancer and heart disease and is a way to maintain optimal health in old age.

I am not recommending getting smashed every night on red wine or gorging on chocolate to get healthier.

Grandpa Nunzio also walked every day, ate lots of nuts such as almonds and walnuts and took out his frustrations on shovels of iron ore.

In our stressful, technology-based, sedentary lifestyles, moderation and exercise are critical.

A daily dose of red wine with a good nutritious meal may be that extra factor for living longer and healthier.

Michael “Gino” Gianunzio is a lawyer, winemaker and artist who lives on Camano Island. He can be reached at theislanditalian@yahoo.com.

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