Red Wine and Cholesterol

Does drinking red wine with red meat protect your heart? Nutrition Diva peeks behind the headlines to see what this latest research really tells us.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #248

Nutrition Diva listener Ann writes: "I recently heard about a study that found that drinking red wine while eating red meat will stop cholesterol from staying in the body. Is there any truth to this?">


There is some truth to this rumor, Ann. A study published earlier this year in the Journal of Functional Foods found that combining red wine with meat blocked the formation of a compound thought to be involved in the formation of LDL (or, "bad") cholesterol in the body.

See also: The Difference Between LDL and HDL Cholesterol


But as the study made its way from the lab, to the press office, to the media, and finally to the public, an awful lot got lost in translation.  Many of the headlines, for example, touted the benefits of drinking red wine with red meat or steak.  The meat used in the study was actually ground turkey.  Why? Because ground turkey is quite a bit higher in polyunsaturated fats, or PUFAs, than beef.  During digestion, these PUFAs tend to become oxidized, giving rise to compounds that interact with cholesterol in a way that makes it more dangerous. 

Surprise: Beef May Be More Heart-Healthy Than Turkey!

Many people assume that a turkey burger, which is lower in saturated fat and higher in PUFAs, would be more heart-healthy than a steak.

I want to pause before I go on, because what I just said may have surprised you. We're used to hearing that saturated fat is the bad guy, linked to high cholesterol and heart disease. In fact, many people would assume that a turkey burger, which is lower in saturated fat and higher in PUFAs, would be more heart-healthy than a steak. And yet these researchers chose turkey over beef, because of its propensity to produce these cholesterol-damaging compounds.  

See also: Chicken Versus Beef

Talking Turkey with Scientists

Researchers took 14 healthy volunteers and had them eat a turkey burger for breakfast, 4 days in a row. (Eating the burger for breakfast was the easiest way to ensure that their stomachs were completely empty.)  Then they checked their blood for compounds associated with oxidized PUFAs.

Sure enough, the levels of those compounds went up every time they ate the burgers.  For the second phase of the study, 6 of these subjects (the ones who had exhibited the biggest increases in oxidized PUFAs) repeated the entire study: 4 more turkey burger breakfasts. This time, however, the researchers wanted to see what would happen if they added red wine to the meal. They theorized that the polyphenols in red wine might prevent the oxidation of the PUFAs in the meat - thereby neutralizing this particular threat. 


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.