Red wine lovers should drink as many varieties as possible to benefit their gut, a nutrition expert has said.
Decades of evidence suggests red wine is good for the heart in moderation.
But to have a healthier gut, people should try lots of different types, including unfashionable grape types which contain different plant chemicals, according to Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London.
He also suggests, to protect sleep, people should drink wine as an aperitif rather than indulging in the traditional wine and cheese after dinner.
Scientists say variety is key to making red wine healthy. Experts advise people to eat 30 different vegetables, fruits and plants a week to benefit from the different compounds they contain
Or rather, British people should consider following a more Mediterranean way of life and have long lunches with wine instead of drinking it later in the day.
But variety is key, according to the scientist, who also advises people to eat 30 different vegetables, fruit and other plant types a week, to benefit from the different compounds they contain.
Professor Spector told the Wine Blast podcast: ‘My advice for wine lovers is keep loving wine and still drink wine, primarily for the pleasure, but at the back of your mind think, could I be trying different bottles or varieties that might actually be healthier for me and that I might enjoy?
‘Diversity is also important – if you take the analogy from foods, having a range of different grape varieties in your diet means that you are going to be helping different gut microbes inside you and you will increase your your gut health and diversity.
‘So don’t just stick with the same wine. Get out there. Try the hundreds or thousands of different grape varieties that we generally don’t enjoy.
‘Let’s get those rare ones back on the map again, because each of those could be helping you nourish really healthy gut microbes inside you and improve your health.’
A study led by Professor Spector’s team in 2019, involving participants in the UK, US and Belgium, found people who drank red wine had a wider range of gut bacteria, which is linked to better gut health.
This was not seen for white wine, which may be because red wine has the grape skins left in for most of the fermentation process, so has high levels of polyphenols – plant compounds which are good for the gut and can reduce the inflammation in the body linked to poor health in older people.
Not everyone likes red wine, but Professor Spector had advice for people who do not. He said: ‘Put it in the fridge, as the Spanish do, and close your eyes – and basically tests show people can’t tell the difference at a chilled temperature.’
While red wine still has some difference in taste after being chilled, and some people do not like bitter flavours, it is preferable to white, based on studies of polyphenol levels.
But the benefits for gut bacteria seem only to be from drinking red wine in moderation, from one to two glasses, the professor told the podcast, which is hosted by married wine experts Susie Barrie and Peter Richards.
He cautioned that alcohol is not good for the gut, so he would not advise non-drinkers to start having red wine and, while an alcoholic drink can help people get to sleep earlier, it can disturb sleep so that people have poorer quality sleep.
The author of the book Food for Life: The New Science of Eating Well said: ‘We should be perhaps promoting wine early on as the aperitif in the early stages of the meal, not maybe as much right at the end with the cheese, as I do, and overdo it.
‘Because that’s really close to when you’re into bed.’
Ideally, the nutrition expert said, people should think about a long Mediterranean-style lunch.
Despite having no alcohol in it, grape juice does not appear to be as healthy as red wine, according to Professor Spector, as the fermentation of wine increases the complexity of the plant chemicals.
He said: ‘It shows that if someone could create a fully fermented red wine, and really lower the alcohol, they really would have a healthy drink on their hands.’
For those who continue to dislike red wine, however, the good news is that artisan or craft cider, made with apples or pears, can contain a similar level of polyphenols.’
DO YOU DRINK TOO MUCH ALCOHOL? THE 10 QUESTIONS THAT REVEAL YOUR RISK
One screening tool used widely by medical professionals is the AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Tests). Developed in collaboration with the World Health Organisation, the 10-question test is considered to be the gold standard in helping to determine if someone has alcohol abuse problems.
The test has been reproduced here with permission from the WHO.
To complete it, answer each question and note down the corresponding score.
0-7: You are within the sensible drinking range and have a low risk of alcohol-related problems.
Over 8: Indicate harmful or hazardous drinking.
8-15: Medium level of risk. Drinking at your current level puts you at risk of developing problems with your health and life in general, such as work and relationships. Consider cutting down (see below for tips).
16-19: Higher risk of complications from alcohol. Cutting back on your own may be difficult at this level, as you may be dependent, so you may need professional help from your GP and/or a counsellor.
20 and over: Possible dependence. Your drinking is already causing you problems, and you could very well be dependent. You should definitely consider stopping gradually or at least reduce your drinking. You should seek professional help to ascertain the level of your dependence and the safest way to withdraw from alcohol.
Severe dependence may need medically assisted withdrawal, or detox, in a hospital or a specialist clinic. This is due to the likelihood of severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms in the first 48 hours needing specialist treatment.