Wine lovers tend to have a preference when it comes to red wine or white, and there’s really no winning the debate when the individual palate is the judge. But when it comes to the health benefits of wine, is there a winner?
Studies have shown the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption (we’re talking one to two drinks per day max). And, it general, it is wine that gets the most attention for its health-related properties. One study that examined the relationship between the intake of different alcoholic beverages and death from all causes found that wine drinkers were at significantly lower risk than non-wine alcoholic beverage drinkers. However, we should note that research on the subject has been mixed.
For those of you who subscribe to the notion that a glass of wine a day may help keep the doctor away, you might be wondering if it makes a difference whether you fill that glass with red or white. And that is what researchers set out to uncover in a study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. Specifically, they were interested in the role of red wine versus white in inhibiting cholesterol oxidation induced by free radicals.
It’s no secret that high LDL cholesterol puts people at greater risk for cardiovascular disease. The excess sticks to the walls of your arteries forming plaque, which can cause those arteries to harden and narrow (atherosclerosis). If a blood clot forms and blocks an artery, you could suffer from a heart attack or stroke.
However, it’s not cholesterol per se, that’s the culprit. Rather, the problem occurs when LDL cholesterol becomes oxidized, or inflamed. And the grapes from which wine is made contain powerful antioxidant compounds known as polyphenols — specifically, anthocyanins, catechin and resveratrol — that possess antioxidation properties.
Because red wine’s link to cardiovascular disease prevention may be closely linked to its anti-cholesterol oxidation activity, researchers decided to examine the capabilities of red and white wines in lowering cholesterol oxidation.
For the study, they used two whites (Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc) and two reds (Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon). Rather than examining human subjects, researchers used an emulsion system in which the cholesterol level was 100 mg/100 mL (approximately equivalent to the level in human blood fluid). A free radical reaction initiator was used to accelerate the cholesterol oxidation.
Believe me, read through the specific methodology and you’ll feel like you could use a glass of wine, but basically, researchers created a model that could be used to evaluate different antioxidants against cholesterol oxidation at a condition similar to that found in our bodies.
Now, cholesterol oxidation is initiated by free radicals in the environment and produces cholesterol hydroperoxides. These are not stable and continue to be oxidized to cholesterol peroxides, eventually forming 7-ketocholesterol, which remains in your system after oxidation and is toxic to the endothelial cells of blood vessels. Further, 7-ketocholesterol largely deposits in the plaque of cardiovascular disease patients. So researchers looked at how the wines inhibited 7-ketocholesterol production at different adding ratios and found …
The Verdict Is In
Sorry, white wine lovers, you lose. Red wine was much more efficient than white in inhibiting cholesterol oxidation – 50 times more efficient to be more precise.
According to the study authors: “No 7-ketocholesterol was detected in 48 hours of oxidation for white wines at a 1:10 ratio or for red wines at a 1:500 ratio in the emulsion.”
In other words, one portion of the red wine could significantly protect 500 portions of the emulsion having a cholesterol level equivalent to the normal human bloodstream from free radical oxidation stress for 48 hours, while one portion of the white wine only protected 10 portions.
So, what’s behind the disparity between red and white wines?
It’s All About the Antioxidants
If you remember, we previously mentioned three antioxidants found in wine: anthocyanins, catechin and resveratrol. When compared to anthocyanins, catechin and resveratrol are more readily absorbed in the bloodstream without degradation after ingestion, and those were the two the study authors focused on.
As they noted, the contents of polyphenolic antioxidants in red wine are affected by a number of variables including grape variety, vineyard location, cultivation system, climate, soil type, vine practices, harvesting time and enological practices. It makes sense that the same would go for white wine. Additionally, polyphenols are found in the seeds and skins of grapes, which are used in the making of red wine, but white wines are mostly made without skins or seeds.
For the wines used in this study, the levels of the antioxidants were as follows:
- Chenin Blanc: 10.6 mg/L catechin; 0.3 mg/L resveratrol
- Sauvignon Blanc: 11 mg/L catechin; 0.3 mg/L resveratrol
- Merlot: 140.6 mg/L catechin; 0.7 mg/L resveratrol
- Cabernet Sauvignon: 132.5 mg/L catechin; 1 mg/L resveratrol
Perhaps you’ve read about the benefits of resveratrol, including its function in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. And it is a powerful antioxidant to be sure; however, the level of resveratrol in red wine is 10-20 times lower than that of catechin. And in this study, researchers said catechin demonstrated a higher antioxidant capability than resveratrol, leading them to hypothesize that it is catechin rather than resveratrol that may significantly contribute to the antioxidant capability of red wine in retarding cholesterol oxidation.
They concluded, “On the basis of the results of this study, it may be assumed that if the catechin level in a red wine is 150 mg/L, consuming 60-70 mL of a red wine containing >10 mg of catechin would be very helpful in inhibiting the oxidation of LDL cholesterol of a healthy person for 24 hours without consideration of other antioxidants and metabolism factors. This study establishes that moderate red wine consumption is beneficial to health.”
This is great news for red wine lovers, and may even convert a few of us white wine drinkers. But please remember that we’re talking about a glass of wine a day, not a bottle. The negative effects of alcohol will vastly outweigh any positives if you’re drinking heavily.
But do consider enjoying a nice glass of vino with a nutritious meal tonight and toast to continued good health and longevity.
 Gronbaek M, Becker U, Johansen D, Gottschau A, Schnohr P, Hein HO, et al. Type of alcohol consumed and mortality from all causes, coronary heart disease, and cancer. Ann Intern Med. 2000;133:411–9.
 Tian L, Wang H, Abdallah AM, Prinyawiwatkul W and Xu Z. Red and White Wines Inhibit Cholesterol Oxidation Induced by Free Radicals. J. Agric. Food Chem. 2011: 1-6.