Is Wine Really Better For You Than Beer?

Nutrition // Amanda Turbill, APD, MNutr&Diet, BSc (Molecular Genetics)

Us Humans have been drinking (and arguing) about the health merits of alcohol for thousands of years. Its merit is noted not only as a social drink of choice but also, historically, as a tonic for all kinds of health ailments. For years experts had crowned wine the victor of health-giving benefits in the ‘which alcohol is ‘healthier’ argument’. BUT, with brand new 2020 research to consider, we have to ask again. Is wine actually better than beer? Let’s take a closer look…

What is it in red wine that shows such promise?

A little history first. You may have all heard about the ‘French Paradox’. This phenomenon was identified in the 1980’s after population studies showed overall better health and lowered chronic disease risk among the French. The French were known to indulge in certain foods which are not always promoted as being heart friendly, namely cheese. But it seemed the concurrent intake of small quantities of red wine helped to subside the ‘damage’ from other foods. 

Red wine’s main benefit seemed to be its rich source of phytonutrients, namely resveratrol. This is a very powerful antioxidant found in the skin of the grape. Dietary sources of antioxidants are important for the body to reduce the oxidation which occurs in the body, this being linked to many chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancers.

What about beer?

Beer doesn’t contain the same amount of resveratrol antioxidants as red wine. But recent research has shown that it still does contain antioxidants as well as other beneficial nutrients (plant compounds, vitamins and minerals). AND, in moderation, beer may provide the same heart health benefits as a similar amount of red wine.  This latest research accounted for non-alcohol healthy choices that red wine drinkers concurrently make. Namely, a coinciding increase in fruit and vegetables. Without these ‘other’ factors, the health benefit of wine vs beer seemed equal, due to the equal ethanol content in both.

Wine and Beer stand side by side?

Ethanol (the alcohol in both wine and beer) seems to positively affect clotting, because of its influence on good cholesterol. It also benefits other cardiovascular risks, including insulin sensitivity (see this resource). 

The potential benefits of small amounts of alcohol in reducing an individual’s stress also can’t be overlooked.

So, it seems that beer and wine can stand side by side on the winner’s podium. However! Whilst small amounts of either may be linked to positive health benefits, heavy drinking will always be associated with major negative health impacts. This includes an increased risk of weight gain, cancers, alcoholism, liver disease, cardiovascular disease as well as breakdown of family and social units. 

Alcohol is both a ‘tonic’ and a poison, and, as the old adage goes :

“the dose makes the poison”.

 The ‘better for you’ choice

There are many reasons why ‘no alcohol’ is a better choice. Should you choose to enjoy a beer or wine, it is recommended you do so in moderation. A ‘moderate’ level of alcohol is usually defined (in Australia) as no more than 2 standard drinks per day and no more than 10 standard drinks per week:

 wine 

And, of course, it must be highlighted (made italic AND underlined) that there are many better and more healthful ways to get your daily antioxidants. Grapes and berries contain ten times more resveratrol than red wine. All wholefoods, nuts, fruits and vegetables contain a rich source of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, without the risks alcohol pose.

So, there you have it, what you drink isn’t nearly as important as how you drink. So, should you choose to have a tipple, drink sensibly. And if you don’t drink, there’s no ‘health reason’ to start. You can get all the cardiovascular and health benefits in the world with exercise and healthy eating 🙂 

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