Wine…Raise a Glass To Your Health, But Make Sure Its Organic!

Wine…Raise a Glass To Your Health, But Make Sure Its Organic!

Dr Cesar Lara

Is your wine healthy, or a health hazard? Do you know what's really in your bottle of wine? What are the benefits of drinking organic wine versus natural wine?

Red wine, in particular, is shown to improve health outcomes, such as the reduced risk for heart disease and obesity. With that said, while drinking wine—in moderation—may contribute to positive health effects, not all wine is created equal.

Problems with Standard Wine

The same types of concerns regarding the mass production of processed food, such as the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), added sugar, and other additives, also apply to the wine industry. In fact, some conventional wines have up to 70 added ingredients, such as preservatives, unnatural yeasts, food dyes, residual pesticides, added sulfites, and extra water to increase volume.

Modern wine production processes(1), such as growing grapes closer together to increase yields, leads to a delay in fruit maturity, retention of excessive acidity, and a reduced wine quality.

Here are potential problems associated with standard/commercial—non-organic—wines:

Not Organically Grown

Just like commercially grown vegetables, standard wine can contain pesticide residual from grapes sprayed with various chemicals. Farms that produce organic grapes, on the other hand, meet organic farming standards, meaning the grapes cannot be sprayed with chemical insecticides, pesticides, or herbicides.

Organic—and some natural wines—are produced with methods that improve soil quality and improve nutritional content. Healthy soil(2) containing more beneficial organisms has increased protection against harmful microbes and mold, plus it can yield a wine with more complex and interesting tastes.

Higher In Sulfites

Sulfites found in wine stabilize and prevent spoiling. Sulfur compounds, especially sulfur dioxide (SO2), are a byproduct of fermentation and aid to reduce microbes and bacteria. Sulfites that are added to wine can be made from SO2, sodium sulfite, sodium bisulfite, potassium bisulfite, potassium metabisulfite, or sodium metabisulfite.

Because sulfites prolong the shelf-life of foods and drinks, they are found in many processed foods, such as beer, juice, crackers, dried fruit, potato chips, processed meats, and jams. Many of these may contain 10 times more sulfites than wine.

Does organic wine contain sulfites? All wines contain sulfites because grapes naturally have sulfites within their skin and because sulfites are produced during fermentation.

With that said, some wines contain more sulfites than others, due to having added sulfites. To make the wine last longer, manufacturers will add extra sulfites. Wine labeled "sulfite-free" are those with low levels, 10 mg/L or less.

Are sulfites actually bad for you?

Contrary to what many people think, sulfites are not responsible for hangover symptoms, such as headache and nausea. Some studies have shown that people experience the same types of headaches after drinking sulfite-free wines.

Alcohol and histamine responses may actually be contributing to most hangovers. Tyramine, a natural chemical found in wine, has been linked to changes in blood pressure, which may also contribute to headaches.

Sulfites are poorly understood; therefore, this doesn’t mean that sulfites are not problematic in any way.

What are the side effects of consuming these sulfites?

Majority of conventional wines contain sulfite levels between about 50 and 100 mg/L. In comparison to white wine, red wine tends to have lower sulfites because it's preserved partially by natural tannins.

People who have a sulfite intolerance(3) can experience strong reactions to foods and drinks with sulfites—this is similar to having an allergic reaction. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, headaches, tingling, swelling, nausea, vomiting, itching, or a rash.

Severe allergic reactions to sulfites are rare; nevertheless, many people who don't have a confirmed allergy still claim sulfites cause them to feel unwell—much like a gluten intolerance versus a true gluten allergy or celiac disease.

Phthalate Contamination

Endocrine disruptors, like phthalates, are linked to fertility issues and cancer. These are commonly found in plastics and cosmetics, but a study of French wines discovered dibutyl phthalate in just about two-thirds of the wines analyzed(4). Almost 17 percent of the wine samples didn’t contain one of three of the phthalates tested.

Not Made With Wild or Natural Yeast

Yeast converts the naturally occurring sugars found in grapes into alcohol; therefore, non-organic, and even many organic wines, are made by adding yeast(5) to improve fermentation.

However, non-organic wine may be processed using GMO ingredients. More than 99 percent of wine you see on the shelves are made using commercial yeast. Only very few wines are made with wild yeast indigenous to where the grapes are grown.

Added Sugar

It's not new to you that gapes contain natural sugars, but did you know winemakers choose to add sugar to improve the taste?

Indeed, they do. They are passing on additional calories and contributing to other problems, such as increased inflammation and weight gain.

Higher In Alcohol

The US government requires that wine labels list the alcohol content, but not their ingredients. Nonetheless, the alcohol content isn’t always very accurate; it can be up to 1.5 percent greater than the amount on the label.

The average alcohol content of most conventional wines is between 14 to 17 percent by volume. And some natural/dry wines, depending on the specific production methods, contain about 9.5 to 11 percent. The differences may not seem like much, but it can definitely affect how you feel after you drink it and the next day. Lower alcohol content leads to fewer hangover symptoms.

Enjoying a glass of wine, preferably red, contains a healthy dose of the powerful and healthy antioxidant resveratrol. Wine has been associated with boosting your immune system, increasing bone density, reducing risk of stroke, heart disease and diabetes, while also lowering cholesterol. A medical epidemiology study has associated red wine with decreasing the risk of prostate cancer. The recommended daily limits are one glass for women and up to two for men. Keeping these benefits in mind and the art of making wines, whenever possible, I choose the organic wines as they bring all the benefits without the cellular toxins that are often and commonly present in the commercial wines. Cheers!!

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