For several decades, scientific studies have found evidence that wine, cheese and coffee may all offer health benefits for your heart, when consumed in moderation. Recently, some researchers have questioned if these benefits have been exaggerated. But a new in-depth scientific review of recent research by a team at Italy's University of Naples Federico II looked at how low to moderate consumption of those three food products impact cardiovascular disease, and the findings continue to support moderate consumption.
The literature review, led by Dr. Gabriele Riccardi, professor of endocrinology and metabolic diseases at the University of Naples Federico II, and published by the European Society of Cardiology, analyzed multiple studies on the association between food groups and incidences of cardiovascular disease. Riccardi utilized the electronic database PubMed, along with cohort studies such as the large-scale Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea trial, to gather data.
Although Riccardi's expansive nutritional review covered the benefits and risks of consuming differing amounts of meats, eggs, fish, nuts, legumes, cereals, chocolate and more, the results on wine, cheese and coffee were especially notable.
For cheese, Riccardi notes that a 2020 meta-analysis of studies found an 18 percent reduction in the incidence of myocardial infarction (heart attack) in subjects who habitually consumed cheese, while a 2017 meta-analysis reported a 17 percent reduction in the incidence of cardiovascular disease for high vs. low consumption groups of fermented dairy products (cheese, yogurt, etc.). Two meta-analyses, which looked specifically at how much cheese was consumed, reported an average 12 percent reduction of coronary heart disease for those consuming 50 grams (about 1.8 ounces) per day of cheese.
Riccardi also discovered that consumption of three cups of coffee per day is associated with a 10 to 16 percent reduction in risk of heart disease incidence and mortality. But the dose-response analysis indicates that the protective association disappears for consumption higher than five cups daily.
How about moderate wine consumption? Riccardi's review showed that two glasses of wine per day is associated with a maximal risk reduction of 32 percent of cardiovascular disease, compared to people who drink no alcohol, but anything higher than that increases risk. He also found that moderate beer consumption (one can per day) is associated with a 20 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease, compared to abstainers.
Riccardi believes alcohol has a vasodilating effect that allows more blood to reach the peripheral tissues. "As a consequence of the increased blood flow, a greater amount of insulin reaches the muscle cells, thus increasing glucose utilization and reducing its concentration in blood," Riccardi told Wine Spectator. "In addition, moderate alcohol use reduces fibrinogen levels and clotting factors as well as inflammatory markers, thus reducing the risk of cardiovascular events."
Riccardi encourages moderate consumption of full-bodied red wines because they are highest in polyphenols and have significant anti-inflammatory effects that can contribute to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. He adds that polyphenols in one or two glasses of wine may be too small to have a beneficial effect, so consuming other polyphenol-rich foods such as chocolate, coffee, tea or tomatoes, in moderation, can have a greater impact on health.
Riccardi is confident that new methodologies are leading to more accurate and objective evaluations of our dietary habits, but admits the randomized clinical trials used in this review may not always lead to consistent results since there are so few of them. But he was surprised to see that the relationship between moderate alcohol consumption and cardiovascular disease was consistent between studies that were performed in various countries on people of different ethnicities and with a variety of dietary habits.
"A glass of good wine is the natural complement of a meal that couples gastronomic pleasure and healthiness," Riccardi said. "Many centuries of human experience have taught us that longevity and quality of life can be significantly improved by what we eat and what we drink."
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