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

Unfortunately, they broke one of the cardinal rules of study design: They changed two things at once.  In addition to giving the subjects a glass of red wine to drink with their breakfast burger, they ALSO treated the turkey meat with a polyphenol-rich red wine extract before they cooked it.  Sure enough, when the subjects had this polyphenol-enhanced meal, they had a much smaller increase in oxidized PUFAs afterwards.   (The fact that they showed up to work every day that week with wine on their breath was, well, it was all in the name of science.)

Telling people that drinking red wine with their turkey burger will block the formation of LDL cholesterol is pretty far-fetched. 

The problem is that we have no idea whether the result was due to treating the meat with polyphenols or because of the red wine they drank with the meal. Maybe it was a little bit of both.  But let's just say that most of the effect was due to the meat treatment. In that case, it would be completely wrong to say that drinking red wine with meat blocks the formation of LDL cholesterol.

And, obviously, this study has nothing whatsoever to do with steak. Yet, what did the headlines read? "Drinking red wine with steak lowers cholesterol."  Honestly, this kind of thing makes me want to tear this cartoon tiara off my cartoon head and grind it into the ground under my sparkly cartoon heels. 

Every Study Does Not Deserve a Headline

Seriously, aside from the bit about changing two things at once, I have no problem with this study. For researchers, it's another snippet of evidence into the ways in which foods interact with each other and with our biology in ways that contribute to or decrease disease risk.

For scientists who know how to evaluate these findings and put them in their proper context, it's useful information. But to pass this along to the public as evidence that drinking red wine with meat lowers heart disease risk is really putting the cart before the horse. 

See also: Correlation vs. Causation

Eat Your Polyphenols!

In terms of real world applications, this study supports the idea that polyphenols have health benefits. But red wine is not the only way to get them. Artichokes, chocolate, flaxseed, apple juice, tea (black and green), berries, plums, hazelnuts, and coffee are also good sources. 

Thanks, Ann, for your question. If you have a topic you'd like me to address or a study you'd like me to evaluate, feel free to email me at nutrition@quickanddirtytips.com or post your question on the Nutrition Diva Facebook page.



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.