Don’t Give Up the Wine, Ladies

When trying to lose weight, alcohol is one of the first things that people cut out of their diet. Up until recently, consumers heard that alcohol offers nothing more than empty calories. Most people believe that alcohol is a dangerous depressant that stimulates weight gain, lowers immune system function, and causes high blood pressure. Fortunately, studies are showing that some of these assumptions may be untrue.

One study, reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine, showed that women who drink alcohol are actually less likely to become obese. After studying over 19,000 women, researchers concluded that middle-aged women were 30% less likely to become obese when consuming one to two drinks a day. 1

Men, on the other hand, weren’t as lucky. In 2003, a British study found that male drinkers were more likely to gain weight, even when consuming alcohol in moderate amounts.2 Research suggested that the weight gain was due to an overall increase in calories. Men tend to eat more when drinking, while women tend to decrease their caloric intake so they can indulge guilt-free.

What Does this Mean for Women?

First, this means that women don’t have to give up wine to lose weight. Many women would agree that giving up the foods you love is one of the worst parts of dieting. When allowed a few indulgences, like a glass or two of wine, sticking to a healthy diet will be much easier.

Of course, this also means that women need to be smart about their alcohol intake. One or two drinks a day does not mean one or two frozen margaritas. One margarita can contain hundreds of calories. Even some mixed drinks pack a meal’s worth of calories. Low calorie options, like wine, are obviously much more sensible.

It’s also important for women to watch their serving sizes. Many people make the mistake of underestimating how much they drink. One standard serving of wine is five ounces. However, when pouring wine, many people fill their glass until it’s almost full. This may be closer to two servings. If you choose to have another glass, you may end up drinking close to four glasses of wine without giving it a second thought. Those calories can add up quickly, and unfortunately, cause weight gain. Drinking too much alcohol may also damage the liver, depress the nervous system and increase breast cancer risk3, resulting in health problems rather than health benefits.

What Other Health Benefits Does Wine Offer?

When sticking to one to two servings a day, wine offers a variety of health benefits.4 Not only does moderate alcohol consumption lower a woman’s risk of obesity, it may also benefit the heart, lower cholesterol, and even increase the metabolism–at least for a short time. Studies have shown that the female metabolism will temporarily increase to process alcohol more efficiently. Again, men get the short end of the stick and show no metabolic reaction to alcohol. This shows another reason why women can consume alcohol without gaining weight.

When talking about heart health, much of the benefit from wine comes from its supply of procyanidins and resveratrol. Procyanidins are a type of flavonoid, known for lowering cholesterol, supporting healthy arteries, and increasing endurance. Resveratrol is a powerful antioxidant found more abundantly in red wine. This antioxidant is great for the heart, prevents diabetes, and inhibits fat cell growth, according to a German study presented this week at The Endocrine Society’s annual meeting in 2008.5

Wine also contains catechins, which are another type of flavonoid. These flavonoids work to neutralize free radicals and prevent certain types of cancer. Wine may even prevent Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Most people would be surprised at the sheer number of health benefits gained from drinking wine.

Which Wines Are the Most Beneficial?

While most wine offers some benefit, some types do stand out from the rest. Red wine offers the most benefit because of its high resveratrol content.

Younger, less processed wines are also better for you. During processing, many wines lose their procyanidins, which is much of what makes wine so beneficial. When looking for the healthiest wines, women will want to look for young, non-processed red wines from France and Italy. These wines will bring you the greatest benefits, while helping you keep unwanted pounds at bay.