While natural wine contains many health-boosting compounds, like polyphenols and antioxidants, is it actually healthy for you? Let’s talk a look at the facts!
To me, and many others, wine is so much more than an alcoholic drink. It’s a part of an experience- dining, friendship, culture, and more. Wine is a pleasure and enjoyment. And simply, it’s delicious.
Yet, fundamentally, alcohol is a toxin. I know, don’t hate the messenger. But, if that’s actually true, how can I be talking about the health benefits of wine? How can a toxin be healthy? Despite alcohol being a toxin, wine actually contains many nutrients that can boost health. In fact, there have been numerous studies that show correlations between drinking wine and improved health. More so, those who live in blue zones (regions with the world’s longest living populations) are known to enjoy a glass or two of wine every night!
With all this said, there are many factors that determine the extent of wine’s health benefits, including how much wine is consumed, sourcing and farming, sugar and alcohol content, and much more. Truth be told, there is a fine line between reaping the health benefits of wine and suffering from it’s negative, toxic effects. So, let’s diver a little deeper to better understand all that wine has to offer- the good and the bad.
How often and how much wine you consume can drastically effect whether it creates toxicity in the body or offers positive health benefits. For women, a glass per day (for men, 2 glasses) has been shown to actually improve health, including cardiovascular function and insulin resistance. However, excess consumption or binge drinking can do some serious harm to your body. Drinking excessively not only makes you feel physically and mentally awful, but it depresses the immune system, increases calorie consumption, and may negatively influence decisions. For these reasons and more, it’s important to drink in moderation. To avoid the negative side effects of wine, aim to drink 8 oz of water for every glass of wine. Also, please, please, please, never drink and drive!
Wine is made from grapes and, surprise surprise, grapes naturally contain quite a bit of sugar. The sweeter the grape, the higher the sugar content. In addition to the natural sugar from grapes, some winemakers add sucrose to their wine to boost it’s alcohol content. Other winemakers stop the fermentation process early by using sulfur dioxide, which can result in excess residual sugar in the wine. The only true way to know the sugar content of wine is to contact the winemaker or check their website. Unfortunately, gaging sugar content by taste alone is an unreliable method, as the tannins and acidity in wine can mask it’s sweetness.
Farming & Sourcing
Just like any food you consume, quality matters. Always. The grapes that create your wine matter just as much as the produce and meats you eat. Many vineyards use pesticides and herbicides to protect their grapes, but the health consequences of these chemicals just aren’t worth it, in my opinion. I always opt for organic wines, or better yet, dry farmed wines.
As opposed to conventional wines, natural wines opt for biodynamic, organic, and dry farming and sustainability. According to the USDA, in organic wines, “grapes are grown without synthetic fertilizers and in a manner that protects the environment and preserves the soil.” Biodynamics states that, “Biodynamic wineries look at their farms as a single, living organism and structure their farms around astrological and lunar cycles that are believed to optimize the whole living system.” Alternatively, dry farming is performed without supplement irrigation. Dry farm vineyards save water, increase the amount of available nutrients, and enhance polyphenol content.
Sulfites are a powerful, yet natural substance that protect wine from turning bad quickly. To keep from spoiling, sulfites are often found in high amounts in conventional wine. While sulfites aren’t inherently bad, they can increase hangover symptoms or cause other symptoms in those who are sensitive to this chemical. Some winemakers argue that despite not resulting in negative health consequences, sulfites are bad for the wine. Sulfites sterilize the wine, which strips it of it’s “life”. As a result, the wine becomes predictable, and essentially, lifeless. At the end of the day, you can be the judge of whether or not sulfites are a positive or negative trait for you.
The alcohol content of wine typically varies from 10-15%. The higher the alcohol content, the higher the calories, toxins, and risk of intoxication. For these reasons, choosing a wine with lower alcohol content is often your best bet!
Health Benefits of Natural Wine
If you didn’t clue in by now, natural wines offer more health benefits than their conventional counterparts. In fact, natural wines are full of antioxidants, healthy bacteria, and more! However, it’s important to note that natural wines consist of three categories:
- Dry-Farmed– Dry wines are produced without supplemental irrigation and rely solely on moisture from the soil. This way, grape vines often grow deeper into the soil, reaping the benefits of various bacteria.
- Organic– These wines that are made from grapes that were grown without the use chemical or synthetic herbicides. These wines contain 60-70% more antioxidants.
- Biodynamic– According to biodynamics.com, “a biodynamic farm or garden is an integrated, whole, living organism.” As a result, biodynamic wines are rich with nutrients and bacteria.
All of the above are considered to be a form of “natural wine.” However, you should be wary of any wine bottle that simply claims to be “natural” without further explanation. The term “natural” has become quite a trendy buzzword, and unfortunately, is often used as a marketing ploy.
So, what are the benefits of truly natural wines?
That’s right- live bacteria! As you probably know, our gut is made up of bacteria- both good and bad. Probiotics and prebiotics feed the good gut bugs to help balance the gut microbiome. When natural wine ferments, it increases the amount of gut-healthy bacteria. Unlike conventional wines that strip it’s contents of bacteria, natural wines have been shown to provide health benefits, similar to those of probiotic.
Wine is rich in antioxidants, polyphenols, and flavonols. These antioxidants boost the immune system, increase good gut bacteria, and may even improve heart health.
Low in Sugar and Alcohol
Natural wines are made without added sucralose or sulfur dioxide to create a low-alcohol and -sugar wine. Since alcohol and sugar are technically toxic, these lower amounts will often protect you from experiencing a “wine headache” or hangover the next morning.
My Favorite Natural Wines
To best protect yourself from toxins and promote optimal health, I always recommend opting for organic, natural wines. As a result, you can reap the health benefits without many of the unwanted consequences. For all these reasons and more, I make my wine selection very carefully. These are my favorite natural wines:
I usually find these wines at my local Whole Foods!
Natura (my go-to when I need a last minute bottle)
Honestly, I drink Dry Farm as often as possible because I trust their sourcing and production the most. Also, I appreciate the variety they offer.
PS You can claim a bottle of Dry Farm Wine for a penny, here!
All-in-all, wine is like everything else… it’s all about moderation. Unless you’re like my grandfather who alway says, “Everything in moderation, including moderation itself!” (Which might be my favorite quote ever.)
If you’re wondering my opinion about the health benefits of wine, I say “Cheers!” Personally, I enjoy a glass or two of wine a few times a week, simply because I enjoy it! With that being said, I do opt for natural wines as often as possible.
So, what about you? Are you a wine drinker? Do you have a personal favorite to share? Let me know in the comments!