As the time approaches to say good-bye to 2015, you're probably thinking about how to change your lifestyle for a healthier, better you in 2016. We bet we could guess what your New Year's wellness resolutions are, but our most-popular wine and health news stories of 2015 have already tipped us off. Among the top topics: Calories, keeping your mind sharp, heart health, better sleep and exercise.
The volume of research studies and dietary news published each year can be overwhelming. So we've shared the newest info you need to know about how moderate wine drinking fits into all five subjects, making it that much easier to stick to your resolutions this year!
What's one of the top resolutions New Year after New Year? Dropping those nagging extra pounds, of course. So we tackled some of your most common questions in one roundup: How many calories are in a glass of wine? The quick answer: Most dry table wines contain 120 to 130 calories in a 5-ounce glass. But read on for more details: how many carbs are in wine, how much lower are "low-calorie" wines, whether wine's calories are "empty" and links between moderate drinking and lower weight gain.
To help you track your calorie intake, in December 2015, the FDA started requiring chain restaurants to post calorie counts for both food and alcohol. Wine Spectator took a look at what impact that might have: Most restaurants will just show a range on their wine lists, instead of showing minute differences among brands of Chardonnay.
Although the federal government now permits voluntary nutritional Serving Facts on alcohol-beverage labels, few have taken the opportunity. Treasury Wine Estates announced in December that it would provide calorie information for its entire international portfolio, which includes Penfolds, Stags' Leap, Matua and Beringer, beginning with the 2016 vintage. Each bottle will list a website with the details.
But as senior editor Tim Fish reminds us, in this calorie comparison, a glass of wine is probably the least of our worries among dietary indulgences. Just pay attention to how much you pour: Many people don't recognize what a 5-ounce portion looks like, and different glass sizes can throw you off.
Numerous studies have shown that people who exercise regularly also tend to drink alcohol in moderation. Two new studies suggest that this is not just a coincidence. Alcohol consumption and exercise may actually be interrelated: Both activities release chemicals into our brains that make us feel good, and each activity also motivates us to engage in the other. Moderate drinkers exercise more often than non-drinkers, and exercise more on days they drink more (and vice versa). As long as you're not a problem drinker or gym addict, this intertwined relationship is nothing to worry about, the researchers say, but it's worth being aware of so you can make healthy choices.
Another 2015 study found that a compound in wine may help you recover from a hard workout. Supplemental resveratrol, an antioxidant also found in foods such as berries and peanuts, is linked to a decrease in muscle damage caused by strenuous exercise—at least in rats, according to research published in the journal Biomolecules & Therapeutics. So is that another reason gym rats turn to a post-workout drink—it's actually healing? Promising, but the amount of resveratrol given the real rats is more than humans could get from wine in a day, safely or otherwise. And, it should go without saying, overdoing it can prove disastrous to your athletic performance.
KEEPING YOUR MIND SHARP
After all your holiday parties, this next tip may seem counterintuitive. A long, alcohol-fueled night can lead to poor decisions, hazy memories and a loss of coordination, but light to moderate wine drinking, accompanied by a healthy diet, seems to yield some benefits for brain function as we age, without significantly hindering our memory and motor skills.
New research indicates it could even help reduce dementia and Alzheimer's, a degenerative brain disease characterized by loss of memory and other cognitive functions. In one 2015 study from Chicago's Rush University Medical Center, researchers showed that following a specific plant-heavy diet—one that includes moderate consumption of wine—could slow cognitive decline in older adults with Alzheimer's or dementia.
In addition, a 2015 study from Georgetown University found that people suffering from mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease who took large doses of the polyphenol resveratrol maintained higher levels of a protein called amyloid-beta 40. The scientists are excited by these findings because amyloid-beta 40 is a key biomarker for doctors monitoring Alzheimer’s patients. It declines as Alzheimer’s advances, thus the study suggests that resveratrol could help slow the disease’s progression.
Resveratrol was shown to have other possible benefits for mental health by a team at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine. Their 2015 study found that resveratrol may reduce inflammation of the brain caused by stress and mitigate depression-related behaviors in the process.
Medical researchers now believe that damage to the brain that causes memory loss and behavioral changes begins "silently" years before symptoms appear. So it's sensible to evaluate your diet and drinking habits now rather than later.
MAINTAINING A HEALTHY HEART
Polyphenol-rich red wine has gotten all the press and glory for wine's cardiovascular benefits, while white wine often ends up relegated to the corner. But you don't have to forgo your favorite Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc if your heart-healthy diet includes a daily glass of wine. Alcohol itself has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, and white wine contains helpful antioxidants too.
In a 2015 study out of Israel, both red and white wine drinkers saw lower cardiometabolic risks, the factors that can lead to heart disease or complications from type 2 diabetes, though the advantages differed slightly. Red wine drinkers saw a more significant boost in HDL (or "good") cholesterol, while white wine drinkers gained superior blood sugar controls. "The alcohol was probably the main platform in both red and white wine, while the interaction of ethanol with phenols, mainly in the red wine, benefited the lipid profile," said lead investigator Iris Shai, a professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
And researchers from multiple Italian institutions, including the University of Turin and Versilia Hospital in Tuscany, demonstrated in 2015 that white wine has the potential to improve arterial health through a polyphenol called caffeic acid, which encourages blood vessels to produce more nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator—that means it can relax arteries and lower your blood pressure, which helps prevent numerous cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and chronic kidney disease—and also reduces the risk of plaque forming on arterial walls. More research in this area is needed, but at least you can feel comfortable drinking whatever you want: red, white or rosé.
In today's always-connected world, who doesn't feel like they could use more sleep? Improving your sleep pattern can increase your mental acuity, lower levels of stress and energize your body. But alcohol of any type, at the wrong time, can interrupt your sleep cycle.
If you have used alcohol to get to sleep, then you've done your body and mind a huge disservice. A nightcap will make you drowsy but will prevent a restful sleep, recent research from Australia's University of Melbourne has confirmed, via EEG monitoring of study participants. "Alcohol is not actually a particularly good sleep aid," Dr. Christian Nicholas, a research fellow at the university's Sleep Research Laboratory, told Wine Spectator. "Even though it may seem like it helps you get to sleep quicker, the quality of the sleep you get is significantly altered and disrupted."
During the first part of the night, alcohol tends to increase deep, slow-wave sleep, when the body repairs and strengthens itself, but later on it interrupts this dreamless sleep. Earlier research also found that alcohol disrupted mentally restorative REM sleep, the dreaming phase.
So stick with a glass or two of wine with dinner. That amount is unlikely to disturb your sleep, Nicholas says, and your blood alcohol level should have dropped by bedtime. If you do have trouble sleeping, make sure that the last sip of wine takes place a few hours prior to laying your head on a pillow.