Perhaps you enjoy Chardonnay? Or Sauvignon Blanc? Maybe a lovely glass of deep purple Merlot or velvety red Cabernet Sauvignon.

Whether you are a ‘never in the week’ or a ‘glass or two every evening while cooking, chatting and relaxing’ type of person, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news: alcohol is poison.

It’s a poison for the liver. The delicate epithelial cells of the stomach and digestive tract is particularly sensitive to its effects. Alcohol exposure also alters nutrient requirements and utilisation.

Photo by Tom Sodoge on Unsplash

Indeed, even ‘normal’ consumption of alcoholic beverages, coupled with a poor or sub-optimal diet, will affect your nutritional status, neurological status (depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, irritability, concentration and mental deficit) and increase your risk of diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Fortunately, most of the time, we don’t drink pure alcohol!

It’s not all bad…

Red wine, in particular, is known to contain high levels of healthful components in the form of polyphenols which have long been touted for their anti-oxidant capabilities being able to ‘scavage’ unruly molecules in our bodies. White wine, unfortunately, contains much lower levels of these potent scavenging molecules. Wood barrel ageing and rosé wines will sit somewhere between white and red.

In the past, scientist focussed on the direct ‘anti-oxidant capacity these phytonutrients possess. However, emerging data show that, at least in part, the colourful pigments abundant in foods instead exert their beneficial effects indirectly via the micro-organisms in the gut*.

Desired gut flora species flourish when colourful pigments abound. They devour them, and you benefit from the by-products they create along the way!

Indeed, purple, red, and blue pigments found in the skins of red grapes (as well as many purple and red berry fruits, some vegetables and many herbs) are now considered necessary pre-biotics. In other words, they are food for the abundance of organisms in your digestive system. These organisms are intrinsically involved in the control of health and disease ‘switches’ in your body.

Happy gut, happy body, happy brain…

Modulation of the biome*, more so than the direct action of the pigments, seems to be the driver behind altered biochemical signalling in the body. Reduced inflammation, heart disease risk and increased anti-oxidant capacity ensue when we expose our ‘biome-buddies’ to vibrant naturally colourful foods and drinks.

The zillions of organisms we carry around in our gut are indeed in charge of our immune system. They largely control our innate capacity to switch on protective mechanisms or switch off detrimental processes that contribute to disease development.

But wine still contains alcohol. I always tell my patients: if you enjoy your glass, you have to ‘earn’ it and you do this by increasing the nutrient density of your diet and simultaneously enhancing your detoxification capacity. Exercise and sweating, combined with an optimal diet is vital! It’s also worthwhile to compensate and make adjustments to minimise undesired physiological effects.

Why change?

The general health recommendation is to stick to less than roughly a litre of wine a week. Managing alcohol consumption will also be of importance if you are trying to lose a bit of weight, want to reduce blood fat and cholesterol levels – particularly triglyceride levels, blood sugar levels or have to get back into ‘work-mode after a nice long holiday break…

A word of advice

Don’t replace wine with high sugar or artificially sweetened drinks! Rather opt for clever substitutions to gently nudge you towards sustainable healthy habits.

Consider replacing your wine-o’clock drink on some days with something ‘low’ alcohol.

Ever heard of de-alcoholised wine?

Research has shown that de-alcoholised red wine exerts similar health benefits than red wine. It’s also a welcome change to most low alcohol drink options as it’s not sweet! In addition, it’s so low in calories, there’s no need for counting!

Cheers! To your health.

*The microbiome is the collection of tiny organisms, of which you carry trillions, in your gut but also on your skin and all orifices.

* Recent research has indicated that ‘Whisky tannins’ which are found in Whisky that has been aged in oak barrels, also exert potential beneficence similar to the anthocyanins found in red wines.

I am grateful for the financial support to write this article. The content of this article is copyrighted and my not be duplicated or used without written permission from the author, Mariza van Zyl Registered Dietician.