High-fiber Tempranillo red grapes -- which are used to make certain red wines, like Rioja -- may actually have a significant effect on cholesterol levels.
Healthy study participants who consumed the same grape supplement found in red wine saw their LDL, or "bad cholesterol," levels fall by 9 percent among the healthy. Participants with high cholesterol experienced a drop of 12 percent. What's the big deal? Excess LDL ends up getting deposited in arterial walls and forming plaque, which causes arteries to stiffen and blood pressure to rise, ultimately leading to heart attacks.
On top of lowering bad cholesterol, polyphenols -- the antioxidants in red wine -- can help keep blood vessels flexible and reduce the risk of unwanted clotting. They can be nearly as effective as aspirin. But be careful: Chronic heavy drinking damages the heart, so, as with most things, moderation is key.
The skin of red grapes -- a rich source of red wine's natural compound resveratrol -- may actually help diabetics regulate their blood sugar. Study participants who took a 250 mg resveratrol supplement once a day for three months had lower blood glucose levels than those who didn't take the pill. Plus, resveratrol-takers also had significant decreases in total cholesterol and systolic blood pressure. Researchers suspect that resveratrol may help stimulate insulin secretion or activate a protein that helps regulate glucose and insulin sensitivity.
Resveratrol may also be the key to keeping your memory sharp. The compound has been shown to hamper the formation of beta-amyloid protein, a key ingredient in the plaque found in the brains of people with Alzheimer's. For an extra boost, do crossword puzzles and brain teasers for an hour before cooling down with a glass of wine.
If you hate getting sick (and who doesn't?), the antioxidants in red wine may help keep you healthy. A 2010 study found that among 4,000 faculty members at five Spanish universities, those who drank more than 14 weekly glasses of wine for a year were 40 percent less likely to come down with a common cold.
Why? Antioxidants are believed to fight infection and protect cells against the effects of free radicals, which may play a role in cancer and other diseases. Another antioxidant boost? They may also lower sex hormone levels to protect against breast cancer.
According to researchers, the resveratrol you get from drinking one glass of red wine three or four times a week may be enough to starve any nascent cancer cells. Scientists dosed human cancer cells with resveratrol and found that the compound inhibited the key action of a cancer-feeding protein.
Clearly, resveratrol is a bit of a limelight hog when it comes to the healthful compounds in vino. But research suggests piceatannol, the chemical compound our bodies convert from resveratrol, deserves some credit. This compound was shown to actually prevent the growth of fat cells in a series of lab tests. How? Researchers say that piceatannol binds to the insulin receptors of fat cells, essentially blocking the pathways necessary for immature fat cells to mature and grow.
Who said your red wine consumption had to be limited to the glass? You can include the drink in your dinner, either as a sauce or complementary ingredient, and still reap its benefits.