Just for the Health of It

Under the heading of disconnected connections –– which includes the topics of Good Government and Ray Nagin, Compass Directions and New Orleans, Pretty and Nutria and Saving Money by patronizing Sales –– come the seemingly unrelated topics of Good Health and Drinking Alcoholic Beverages.

For most of our lives, we have been lectured to and sometimes penalized by pronouncements that drinking beverages containing alcohol is not good for us. Never mind that the human experience with fermented liquids dates before 8,000 years ago; to many seemingly informed people, the stuff is not fit for human consumption.

Keep in mind that we hear all sorts of horror stories about really crazy acts people commit after over-imbibing. And please know that I am not talking about any of that. Too much of anything is not really a good thing. Alcohol is no exception. So I pledge allegiance to all those who say, “Know when to say when.”

But even the naysayers about alcoholic beverages, which include both wine and spirits, must admit these satisfying liquids are natural products, made from the bounty of the soil. Grapes, fruits, grains, flowers, leafy plants, spiny plants, nuts, beans and the like are all involved in the manufacture of alcoholic beverages. These products of harvest are put through various processes, sometimes with the additions of sugars and yeasts, also natural products, and the outcome is something that is quite tasty and fun to enjoy.

We, being natural beings ourselves, are “open” to experiencing the pleasures. Again, unless we take the matter too far or have other medical conditions that do not tolerate the “visitor,” can these beverages really be bad for us?

In fact, we are now learning that quite the opposite may be true. We have known for some time, thanks to the television program 60 Minutes and other sources, that the French live longer and are generally in better health throughout their lives than many other cultures, thanks to something that has been dubbed “the French paradox.”

There are a variety of dietary differences between the French and us lazy, overweight Americans. Then there is the matter of genes, which may play a large role in the digestion of foods and beverages.

What is scientifically known, thanks to the identification of naturally occurring ingredients in wine, is the presence of a substance, resveratrol, that, according to many medical studies, is associated with a reduction of coronary heart disease; a reduction in the growth of cancer cells in lab dishes; and longer life in yeasts, worms, fruit flies, fish and mice.

Resveratrol is created by plants, specifically grapevines, berries and peanuts, when the plant itself is under strain, such as too much sunshine or too little water. Interestingly, grapevines perform best under stress, so in grapes and the juice of grapes, resveratrol levels are quite high. And the compound is easily absorbed by our bodies but not retained, sort of like Vitamin C.

But the real story is the appearance of significant health benefits derived from resveratrol. And a prime source of this good-for-you compound is red wine. There are ongoing studies being conducted here in New Orleans attempting to further identify the wine that offers the most resveratrol per sip, and in preliminary results it appears to be pinot noir.

The results of another study have been released recently that seem to prove that women who drink alcohol in moderation gain less weight as the years go by than women who do not consume wines or spirits. This is particularly interesting in light of the fact that most of us underestimate the amount of calories contained in alcoholic beverages.

A medical research team at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston conducted studies over a 13-year period with a test group of almost 20,000 females over the age of 39 who had normal weight for their height. Their lifestyle choices were tracked via a questionnaire administered every four years.

Nearly all the women gained weight as they aged. Those who did not drink alcohol gained an average of 8 pounds. The drinking group gained an average of 3.3 pounds. The effect of the alcohol group was seen in a wide cross section of the study group, including those who drank red and/or white wines, beer and spirits, but the most pronounced effect was seen among women who drank primarily red wine. 

Then there’s the story of grape seed oil, which requires a very hard pressing of the seeds of grapes after the wine pressing. The oil of grape seeds is excellent for automobile biodiesel fuel, as a more healthful oil for frying foods and as a nonallergenic base for cosmetics.

This biological product that results from crushing grapes has, to this point, only been used as a fertilizer to return nutrients to the vineyards. Now many other uses are being discovered, and implementation into our lives is a reality. 

The point here is that sometimes what is decried as being bad for you can actually be quite the opposite. Again, to restate the obvious, we all know that when judgment is impaired or faculties compromised, that is not good.

Yet whenever you are enjoying a nice glass of an adult beverage and you find yourself being evaluated in a negative way, just tell your accuser, “Hey, I only do this for my health!”              

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