Earlier this year I saw an article that optimistically claimed that drinking a glass of red wine was as good as a workout. Glossing over any of the finer detail,I am sure many readers thought that they might just need some more red wine in their diet. After all the Mediterranean diet was based on the benefits of enjoying a good glass of red, right?
It is well documented the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet and its association with longevity. The basis of the traditional Mediterranean diet includes an abundance of seasonal fruit and vegetables, legumes, fish, protein in moderation, quality dairy, bread, pasta and some good olive oil. This healthy diet is then washed down with a nice glass of wine, often red.
The French Paradox is the diet that goes against everything you are told by a doctor to do. Enjoy a baguette with cheese, a little foie gras and also a good glass of wine. The French Paradox refers to the academic study that Bordeaux University conducted in the early 1990’s that concluded that the French consumed more fat in their diet but had a significantly lower incidence of coronary heart disease than Americans and English.
As we blindly follow the next new diet fad, whether it involves consuming only 500 calories a day or intermittent fasting, you have really got to ask what we are doing wrong? We know how traditional diets have sustained well being for centuries yet we fail to embrace the simplicity of them in favour for something that is more punishing and unsustainable.
In considering the Mediterranean Diet and the French Paradox I have come to a few conclusions on how we fail to embrace the best of these European diets and succumb to the pitfalls of modern western life.
Portion size: protein in Europe is very expensive and often varies in availability. It is common that in a restaurant a couple will share a steak. Our idea of indulging in baguettes and cheese in France in reality translates to a baguette and a small piece of cheese shared amongst a family. Portion size also applies to glass size. Of late our wine glasses have grown to the size of a small Jacuzzi. A standard wine serve is 125 ml, if you are not sure how much this is go to a restaurant in Sydney and they will quickly remind you how little it really is.
Eating Seasonally: as a first world society we are used to having cherries in winter and oranges all year long. Meat and fish are always in constant supply and we never seem to be without. Traditionally people ate with the seasons and this controlled the quality of the food we ate. They were not genetically modified, cold stored for distance travel or over sprayed with pesticides.
Sedentary life: there is no denying it we are moving less. If we compare the lifestyles of the French where they walk into town to buy their bread and cheese and walk back home again. We maybe just grab it from the fridge and nestle into the comfort of our lounge.
Stress: plays a huge influence on how we metabolise our food. Stress increases our cortisol levels and as a result makes our fats oxidise. This leads to weight gain and chronic disease. The communities which the Mediterranean diet is based on is a simple life where you make do with what is available. The traditional idea of a small glass of wine to finish a simple meal in modern reality is a fish bowl glass as a reward for coping with another crazy day. The wine for so many isn’t a culinary elixir it becomes an emotional crutch.
Poor quality fats: Australians are slowly beginning to understand the difference between good and bad fats. The problem lies in our dependence of package foods that are still full of canola and other poor quality oils. Packaged pastries, biscuits and cakes usually contain trans fats and we still consume to much fried food. However, we are still afraid of dollop of butter in mash potatoes. Greeks and Italians use olive oil liberally and it is known to be cardio protective. The French are generous with their butter and use animal fat in their cooking and don’t have the level of obesity we have.
Maybe it’s not the resveratrol’s or the olive oil? It’s our lack of romantic language.
Red wine and resveratrol’s: The skin in red grapes are known for their high content of resveratrol a fat-soluble phytochemical. Resveratrol’s therapeutic actions are anti-aging, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer. Resveratrol in grapes is produced as a defence against pests and fungus. It is this defence mechanism that gives resveratrol’s a high anti-oxidant action that protect the body from stress, injury and abnormal cell division.
Resveratrols are also shown to be beneficial in reducing the damage to the brain in Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease. It reduces oxidative damage and protects the brain neuron’s.
The idea that a glass of red wine is will prevent heart attacks is true as the resveratrol’s increase the Nitric Oxide needed for smooth blood flow through the arteries. An interesting consideration on the availability of resveratrol may lie in its fat soluble structure. Without the essential fats needed in our diet resveratrol may not be of any value. The Mediterranean and French diets with their abundance of quality fats may assist the red wine to act more therapeutically in the body.
If you are limiting yourself to red wine as a source of Resveratrol it is good to know that blueberries, bilberries, mulberries and peanuts are all high in Resveratrol. The highest plant sources of Resveratrol are Japanese giant Knotweed and pine bark. It is these sources which resveratrol supplements are formulated. Resveratrol supplements may be of therapeutic benefit in supporting conditions of cardiovascular disease, premature aging and neurodegenerative diseases.
The best message I can give about red wine is enjoy moderately with happiness. Make you diet the focus with an abundance of fresh seasonal produce and don’t hold back on some good extra virgin olive oil. Increase your physical activity and reduce intake of all the processed food that has adulterated the best of our traditional diets. Bon appetite!
For further information and consultation on your diet and nutrition make an appointment with Holy Mackerel Health today.