Occasional alcohol consumption has proven health benefits. This holds especially true for red wine, as it contains numerous all-natural chemicals that help prevent disease and promote overall good health. Interestingly enough, both the alcoholic and non-alcoholic constituents of red wine have been shown to offer protective effects against heart and vascular disease, diabetes and even cancer.

In fact, a high intake of red wine is generally thought to contribute to what’s known as the “French Paradox”. This is essentially a catchphrase used to describe the low incidence of heart disease and other chronic conditions among the French and other Mediterranean people despite their high consumption of what Americans consider unhealthy foods like butter, cheese and red meat.

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That is to say, the generally high intake of these wines could very well counterbalance the potential health impact of such foods in ways that retard the disease process. But, in order to fully understand the exact ways in which drinking red wine supports good health, you must first understand the basics pertaining to its production.

In and of itself, red wine is produced by fermenting grape juice extracted from crushed red or black-colored grapes with their skins intact. A brewer’s yeast is used to convert the sugar in grapes to ethyl alcohol (ethanol) with carbon dioxide as a byproduct. Depending on the length of the fermentation process and the resultant taste profile, red wine is classified as dry, semi-dry, semi-sweet or sweet.

The amount of alcoholic and non-alcoholic components housed in red wine depends on the length of the fermentation process. Drier red wines are those that have undergone the full fermentation process during which nearly all sugar is converted to ethanol while sweeter reds are produced when the process is cut short in order to preserve the sugar content and overall sweet taste.

In other words, drier wines house more ethanol while sweeter varieties generally contain more sugar.

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Unbeknownst to many, moderate ethanol intake has been shown to boost immunity and ward off infections, improve general cardiovascular function, alleviate inflammation, lower blood glucose, and reduce the risk of several types of cancer. Interestingly, this holds true of ethanol consumed from all types of alcoholic beverages, including beer.

So, what makes red wine the superior alcoholic beverage?

Well, in addition to ethanol, throughout the process of fermentation in winemaking various compounds called polyphenols are extracted from the skin and seeds of grapes. The chief compounds include resveratrol and proanthocyanidins (condensed tannins), which are both antioxidant in nature. The unique value of red wine is linked to its rich content of polyphenols, which are most concentrated in dark-colored grapes.

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In addition, drier red wines tend to house more polyphenol antioxidants when compared to sweeter reds due to a longer fermentation process. This is an especially important point of clarification for those of you who enjoy dessert reds and other sweeter varieties.

Collectively, the resveratrol and proanthocyanidins housed in red wine have been shown to prevent and, in some cases, reverse atherosclerosis, which is the major precursor of heart disease. They primarily work by supporting the function and overall structural integrity of blood vessels in ways that help regulate blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.

In addition, resveratrol itself lowers blood glucose through the regulation of insulin, which helps in both the prevention and management of diabetes. Proper regulation of insulin also reduces the likelihood of obesity by preventing visceral (belly) fat accumulation and overall weight gain.

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Still, I must emphasize that moderation is the key word when it comes to reaping health benefits from red wine, as chronic overconsumption of red wine and alcoholic beverages in general can lead to unwanted weight gain and other health problems. To ensure that the benefits of wine consumption outweigh the risks, women should err on the side of one 5-ounce glass a day while men should limit their intake to two glasses.

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Now, in spite of the numerous health effects associated with red wine consumption, if you don’t currently drink alcohol, it isn’t necessary to start drinking for potential benefits. In all actuality, you can obtain a substantial dose of health-promoting polyphenol antioxidants by simply incorporating dark grapes and other dark-colored berry varieties into your daily diet.