June 5, 2012

Red Wine and Coffee: Miracle Foods or Empty Buzz?

If you’re like most people you probably have a vice or two that you'd prefer didn't exist, like compulsive shoe shopping or a penchant for Cherry Garcia right before bed. Wouldn’t it be great if the "bad" things you did on a regular basis turned out to actually be good for you? In that vein, recent research suggests that two popular "bad" drinks, wine and coffee, may provide some surprising long-term health benefits. Of course, outlandish claims regarding the health benefits of unhealthy foods and activities have been made before. Don't believe the buzz just yet: read on before you start tipping a glass or a cup to learn the specific health benefits of wine and coffee, as supported by real scientific research.

Red Wine
You've probably heard claims about the heart-health benefits of red wine. Don't even bother with the white stuff: Unfortunately, the delicious chardonnay that pairs so well with your fish entree doesn't do much for your long-term well-being–unless you happen to make some new friends over a bottle of it.

Mikkeller Black Hole Barrel Aged Edition Red Wine
Red wine's supposed benefits are outlined below.
  • Flavonoids. These antioxidant compounds reduce bad LDL cholesterol while improving good HDL cholesterol and preventing harmful blood clots, reducing your heart's workload.
  • Resveratrol. Another powerful antioxidant, resveratrol is a double whammy, promoting the growth of nerve cells while inhibiting tumor growth. Dry reds contain higher concentrations of this substance.
Wouldn't it be nice if that Venti coffee delivered more than a few jittery hours of productivity? It just might. Caffeine, the very active ingredient in coffee, has been shown to improve your memory, problem-solving abilities, and physical stamina. It also appears to promote digestive system health and delay the onset of serious nervous-system diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Recommended Dosage
Even the most enthusiastic wine and coffee boosters stress that moderation is key for both drinks. If you're female, take no more than one four-ounce glass of wine and two eight-ounce cups of coffee per day. Men can safely double those doses, but don't get overenthusiastic. In this case, more has not determined to be better.

Now for the bad news. Some of the supposed health benefits of wine and coffee haven't been conclusively proven, and may be available without indulging in these substances to the point of unfortunate side effects. Resveratrol, for example, occurs naturally in the skin of red grapes, so it's possible to enjoy some of the health benefits of red wine without the risk of a  hangover. What's more, the studies that have proven resveratrol's ability to shrink tumors required the equivalent of 150 bottles of wine in a single dose. Don't try that at home.

If eating tasty grapes instead of drinking red wine for the rest of your life doesn't sound like an unmitigated disaster, drinking unfiltered coffee might just turn out to be one. That's because the oils and contaminants in strong coffees that eschew the filtering process, like Turkish and Greek varieties, may actually increase your body's bad LDL cholesterol. Remember: When in doubt, filter it out.

It's probably safe for you to break out a bottle of red wine to celebrate the news that it provides some real long-term health benefits, but don't drink it all at once. Getting your daily coffee fix won't hurt either, but moderation is key there are well: Caffeine can cause jitters, blood-pressure spikes and other nasty side effects.

In the end, remember, drink to your health but do it with care.

Will Rawson is a budding wine connoisseur and freelance blogger, who writes about healthy living topics. Will's goal is to help you live a healthier life.

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