'Tis the season for big, rich meals, and two new studies conclude that drinking wine not only improves digestion but lowers the risk of belt loosening afterward.
In research published online in the British Medical Journal, a team at the University Hospital of Zurich found that drinking white wine with a heavy meal of fondue lead to the cheese lingering in the stomach for longer. However, the negative side effects sometimes associated with slow digestion, mainly heartburn, were notably absent.
According to the team, led by co-researcher Mark Fox, now a gastroenterologist at the Queens Medical Centre in Nottingham, the traditional Swiss meal is normally consumed with white wine or with black tea, and they wanted to see which is better for digestion, as locals have strong feelings about both choices. "There is no scientific basis to this decision, just old wives’ tales," Fox said.
A total of 20 individuals, ages 23 to 58, took part in the study. None reported problems with alcohol and all participants were trim. Half ate fondue with white wine, the other half with black tea. Afterward, the researchers measured the rate of the food digestion for several hours. A week later they repeated the experiment, switching beverage choice.
They found gastric emptying was significantly faster when fondue was consumed with tea rather than with wine, which is a good thing for the wine drinkers, Fox explained. "Having slow gastric emptying means the nutrients are being fed slowly into your system," he said. "Your body will take up this energy very efficiently."
The study also found that if people consumed alcohol with meals, their appetites tended to shrink. That result correlates with another recent study that finds wine drinkers are less likely to gain weight than their peers.
Results from the SUN project, a long-term experiment being conducted in Spain at the University of Navarra’s department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, followed 9,300 alcohol drinkers for six years, charting their dietary habits along the way.
They found that beer and spirits drinkers tended to put on weight, gaining an average of 4 ounces every year, whereas wine drinkers showed no weight gain. "No association between wine consumption and yearly weight change or the risk of developing obesity was apparent," wrote the authors of the study, slated for publication in an upcoming issue of the medical journal, Nutrition.