If you like wine, you've probably raised a glass (or two) to the reports that drinking it is good for you. Some research has shown that moderate wine drinkers are leaner, exercise more(!), and consume more antioxidants, including those not found in wine. But you might be wondering, are certain wines healthier than others? The short answer is yes. Read on for my ranking of wines based on the health protection they may offer — and why moderation is key, regardless of what you pour into your glass.
1. Dry reds
Ruby red wines are the healthiest wines, with more antioxidants than all the other varieties. That's because the grape skins aren’t removed during fermentation. The antioxidants the dark skins provide, such as procyanidins, have been linked to health benefits including heart disease protection, and possibly longevity.
For the record, researchers note that wines from southwest France and Sardinia tend to have higher levels of procyanidins. On average, wines from these two areas had five times more procyanidins than wines from Spain, South America, the U.S., and Australia.
2. Orange wines
After dry red, your best bet is orange wine, which has been described as "white wine made like red." In white wine making, the skins are typically removed just after the grapes are pressed. In orange wines — which are made with green grapes — the skins remain in contact with the juice (for anywhere from one week to one year), which results in wine with an orange hue. This is why orange wine is sometimes referred to as “skin contact wine." In addition to color, the skins impart plenty for good-for-you antioxidants.
Generally, rosé is made using red wine grapes, but the “skin contact” time is shorter than with red wine and orange wine. For red wine, it may be one to two months; whereas for rosé, it’s often 2 to 20 hours. Less contact time means fewer antioxidants.
4. Dry whites
In white wine production there is generally no “skin contact” time, which means phytonutrients from the skin don’t make their way into the wine. While I don't think dry white is a "bad" choice, it's just missing some of the potentially protective properties of its more colorful counterparts.
5. Sweet whites
Sweet white wines are sweet because, of course, they contain more sugar. For example, a five-ounce pour of Moscato contains 21 grams of carb, with 13 as sugar. Compare that to the same portion of chardonnay, which has 3 grams of carb with 1 as sugar. Think of these varieties as dessert, and make them occasional treats.
A few final notes...
I recommend purchasing organic wine, both because it's better for the environment, and to avoid pesticide residues. In one French report, 100% of 92 wines tested contained pesticide residues. While we don't fully know the effects, some research links pesticide residue exposure to infertility.
What's more, organic wines don’t contain added sulfites, preservatives that can trigger nasty side effects for some people, from a stuffy nose and sneezing to asthma-like symptoms and headaches. Whatever the type, choose organic whenever you can.
And make sure you don't go overboard. The current nutrition and health guidelines recommend a maximum of one drink a day for women, and two for men. For wine, one drink is defined as five ounces, which is a little less than the size of a yogurt container. And nope, your drink allowance doesn't “roll over” — meaning you can't abstain for three days, and then polish off a whole bottle in one night.
An alcohol intake above moderate increases the risk of heart disease, and is linked to a higher risk of liver cirrhosis, high blood pressure, cancers of the upper gastrointestinal tract, and stroke.
It's also important to note that even in moderation, wine and other types of alcohol are associated with a greater risk of breast cancer. Plus, a new studyconcluded that more than five drinks a week may shorten life span.
What all this means is that how much you drink is far more important that what you drink. And if you have a family history of breast cancer, not drinking at all may offer the best protection. As for those protective antioxidants in red wine, you can gobble them up in the form of whole dark grapes, or add a splash of Concord grape juice to your H2O.
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a consultant for the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets.