Q: I enjoy having a glass of red wine at night to unwind, but I'm concerned that it may be hindering my weight loss and health goals. Can it stay, or does it need to go?
A: I've covered alcohol and weight loss in a previous Diet Doctor column (check it out here); While you may need to temporarily eliminate your evening glass of wine to reach a weight loss goal, you should add it back into your diet during the maintenance phase. There's a sweet spot regarding alcohol and health. Research shows that drinking one glass of wine four to six nights per week can help you live longer and increase your 'good' (HDL) cholesterol. These perks seem to be attributed to alcohol in general, not specifically to red wine. However, a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveals a new benefit of drinking that is specific to the antioxidants found in red wine—digestive health.
Your digestive tract houses a wide variety of bacteria, some good, some bad. Decreases in good bacteria and/or increases in bad bacteria have been linked to a growing list of health issues, including weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease. Red wine can help shift the types of bacteria in your digestive track so there's more of the good kind, making you healthier and potentially leaner.
Here's how it works: Red wine's red color comes from antioxidants called polyphenols. Polyphenols can help improve your health in a variety of ways, but one problem with certain polyphenols, especially the ones in red wine, is that your body doesn't absorb them very well. It has been estimated that almost half of the polyphenols consumed are not absorbed during the normal initial phases of digestion. While this sounds like a bad thing, the unabsorbed polyphenols become food for the good bacteria in your digestive track. This is exactly what Spanish researchers found when they examined the digestive tracks of people who drank red wine every day for 20 days.
In addition to improving the quality of the bacteria in digestive tracts, study participants also saw improvement in several major risk factors for cardiovascular disease, like triglyceride levels. This is likely due to the fact that the good bacteria in your digestive tract can help improve metabolism for a faster rate of burning that fat.
The bottom line: Enjoy your nightly glass of red wine (4-6oz) to reap the benefits of a longer life, higher good cholesterol levels, and improved digestion and metabolism.