Can You Drink Red Wine on the Mediterranean Diet? [Evidence-Based]

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Red wine is the drink that people associate with the Mediterranean diet and is often cited.

However, there are a lot of different factors to consider in whether you should actually drink it.

This article will cover all the common questions surrounding drinking red wine on the Mediterranean diet so you can make an informed decision.

Can You Drink Red Wine of the Mediterranean Diet? How Much?

Since the Mediterranean diet doesn’t have one definitive set of guidelines, there isn’t a definitive answer.

Essentially, the concept of the Mediterranean diet was formed in the 1960s by a researcher called Ancel Keys. He observed that the people living in Mediterranean countries like Italy and Greece had higher life expectancies and lower rates of heart disease.

It was these communities that did drink a little red wine, hence why the Mediterranean diet traditionally allowed the drinking of some red wine.

However, is important to acknowledge that as more research has been done into the Mediterranean diet, over time that research can change.

Usually, a small glass of red wine a day is allowed per day, but unless you’re drinking it already, you shouldn’t actively try and drink more red wine.

Benefits of Red Wine

Contains Beneficial Antioxidants

Red wine is made from red grapes, which are rich in many antioxidants. In particular, it contains the antioxidants resveratrol and proanthocyanidins, which are believed to be the most beneficial antioxidants for health.

  • Proanthocyanidins may be able to reduce oxidative damage to the cells in your body, and possibly may be able to prevent heart disease and cancer (1)
  • Resveratrol has been linked to reduced inflammation and reduced risk of heart disease. Studies in animals found that resveratrol can help increase life expectancy (23).

The issue with drinking red wine for its antioxidant is that it is found in very low volumes. To consume the amount of resveratrol used in the animal studies, you would need to drink multiple bottles per day, which is obviously not recommended.

May Lower Risk of Heart Disease

Some studies show there is a J-shaped curve between wine consumption and the risk of heart disease.

Like a J, this means that those who completely abstain have a slightly higher risk than those at very small volumes, but the risk increases dramatically soon after.

One study concluded that moderate red wine intake within a healthy diet was safe and moderately reduced cardiometabolic risk. This risk refers to risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing diabetes (4).

However, higher intake increases the risk of heart disease dramatically (5, 6).

Drinking small amounts of red wine may able to reduce the number of risk factors for heart disease, including:

  • Retaining ‘good’ HDL cholesterol and reducing the oxidization of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol (78).
  • Lowering blood pressure (9).

However, more research is needed to validate how red wine affects these risk factors.

Other Health Benefits

There have been studies on red wine and its other health benefits, usually as a result of its antioxidant content. These include:

  • Reduced risk of dementia: small amounts of red wine per day have been linked to a reduced risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (1011).
  • Reduced risk of depression: One study of middle-aged and elderly people found those who drank between 2-7 glasses of wine a week were less likely to be depressed (1213).

Problems with Red Wine

Red wine has a number of concerns that you should consider.

Weight Gain

Red wine contains a lot of calories – a 5oz glass of wine is about 120 calories. It’s about twice as much as beer and soft drinks.

An occasional drink will be unlikely to affect your weight goals, but it’s also very easy to see how you can end up drinking a couple of extra glasses of wine will add up considerably.

Studies find excessive consumption can lead to high-calorie intake and therefore, gain weight (1415).

Liver Cirrhosis

Studies have found that the risk of developing liver disease increases if you drink more than 30g of alcohol (roughly 2-3 glasses of red wine). People with advanced cirrhosis generally only survive 1-2 years (16).

Alcohol Dependence

Excess wine consumption can lead to addiction.

Factors such as family history, mental health issues and environmental and social factors all play a role, but the frequency and volume of alcohol consumption are very important.

Should I Drink Red Wine on the Mediterranean Diet?

Although red wine is allowed on the Mediterranean diet and an occasional glass should be fine, it’s 

The majority of the health benefits of the diet come from its choice of foods, rather than the red wine itself.

For example, many studies find that:

  • Olive oil has anti-inflammatory properties and can help protect against risk factors for heart disease like high blood pressure.
  • Nuts and seeds can help aid weight loss and reduce LDL (the ‘bad’) cholesterol.
  • Fatty fish contains many omega-3 fatty acids that are essential for both good heart and brain health.

Studies that look at red wine across different criteria tend to be very mixed and there are obvious issues with drinking too much alcohol in general.

Therefore, an occasional glass is fine if you’re drinking, but don’t go out of your way to drink more.

How to Choose the Healthiest Red Wine

There are a few factors to consider if you are drinking red wine on a Mediterranean diet:

  • Low alcohol percentage: alcohol has a negative impact on your health when consumed in large quantities, so you should try and find a lower percentage where possible, less than 12.5% ABV (although many will be around 12-14%).
  • Low sugar: ideally this will be under 10g of sugar per liter. These tend to be dry, red wines, which tend to have around 1g of sugar per liter.
  • Reservatrol levels: although consuming more resveratrol is good, as discussed, the amount of red wine that needs to be drunk means it doesn’t make sense to choose a red wine purely for its resveratrol content.

Therefore, look for red wines with low sugar and low alcohol percentages. These include red wines such as:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon 
  • Pinot Noir
  • Sangiovese 
  • Tempranillo 
  • Merlot 
  • Malbec
  • Syrah 
  • Garnacha 
  • Zinfandel

To Sum Up 

Red wine was drunk within traditional Mediterranean cuisines in small quantities. However, many of the benefits of the Mediterranean diet seem to be from the choices of food.

There may be health benefits from drinking a small amount of red wine such as reduced heart disease risk. These may come from its rich antioxidant profile, one of which is resveratrol. However, bottles need to be drunk to match the benefits found in studies, which isn’t recommended.

There are also definite problems with drinking red wine such as alcohol dependence and weight gain, which many studies show increases a variety of health factors.

Generally, an occasional glass should be fine, but you shouldn’t actively drink more solely because red wine is allowed on the Mediterranean diet.