This summer, yet another study was released purporting to prove that my red wine habit is actually good for me. “Red wine helps you lose weight!” articles crowed in response to new research showing that the polyphenols in my favorite nightcap apparently have waist-shrinking properties. Added to the presence of antioxidants that may reverse aging red wine is basically a health food, now.
I call bullshit.
Wine is not, nor has it ever been, a superfood.
Whatever antioxidant benefits red wine may boast, the negative effects of drinking too much are far weightier (and too much, as Conner notes, “isn’t a lot” – about two glasses a day). Even moderate alcohol consumption can have negative effects on mental health, skin, and cognition, not to mention metabolic and liver health.
“Honestly,” Conner says, “I think that if you really believe that wine is good for you… you’re weak-minded.”
That said, unless you have alcoholism or another pre-existing condition, wine is not worse than many other vices, like eating too much sugar, not getting enough exercise, or doom-scrolling in the dark before bed. It’s just not a health food – despite what the American media, ever-aware of our desire to continuously demand that our vices somehow serve us in our mission to better ourselves, wants us to believe.
For context: I live in France, a blue zone known for a seemingly other-worldly ability to consume raw dairy, wine, and pastry ad nauseum while still maintaining a solid 182nd place in coronary heart disease deaths around the world.
But while Americans love to cherry-pick elements of the French lifestyle that appeal – think two-hour lunches and daily glasses of wine – they also avoid many other elements that contribute to overall wellness in France, like a near-phobic stance on snacking and a refusal to define themselves by what they do for a living (and thus an utter eschewing of answering the phone pretty much for the entire month of August).
But that’s not the only issue here.
Why, I ask myself, does a glass of red wine have to be a health habit – gleaned from the French or otherwise?
And why, for that matter, do those videos of celebrities sharing “what I eat in a day” (I call bullshit again) paint a square of dark chocolate as a “guilty” pleasure, when
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a) that’s not-so-subtle virtue signaling, seeing as, like red wine, high-quality dark chocolate has been de-vilified of its negatives in the public eye by virtue of its antioxidant content (something it shares with grapes, btw), and
b) if you really wanted to go whole hog on “naughty” choices (scare-quotes definitely intended), have any of these women ever eaten an Oreo? A Twinkie? Even good-quality milk chocolate? There are so many other “guilty” choices that celebs can’t claim they indulge in, because there’s no way to explain away the “naughty” factor of something with no peer-reviewed studies claiming, however weakly, that it’s somewhat “healthy.”
OK, pass me my glass.
Look, we as Americans have this weird tendency to want to distill any proven health benefit found in whole foods down to brass tacks (exhibit A: gobbling curcumin supplements instead of just cooking with turmeric) – and it’s pervaded the way we talk about food at large.
“It’s just part of the language now,” says certified eating psychology and nutrition expert Elise Museles, who notes that as a recipe developer, she finds herself constantly prefacing a new creation with a description, not of the pleasure of eating the dish, but of its health benefits. “I feel like we’ve created a mindset that is all about justification, with why we’re eating certain things or making certain things.”
It’s a mindset that leads us to “apologize” for our enjoyment of simple pleasures – not just drinking red wine or eating a square of dark chocolate but going on a walk in the woods or sitting in the sunshine – by claiming they’re good for us. Which they very well may be!
But also… sitting in the sun just for the heck of it is fine.
For Museles, “we’re putting all of our actions under this microscope, where there has to be some kind of health promoting or health benefit.” And this, she says, leads to a danger: “If we feel this need that we always have to have some health benefit or justify our actions, then that’s gonna disconnect us from how we really feel or what we really want.”
“Because I want to” is just as valid a reason to eat a square of dark chocolate, take a walk, or drink a glass of wine than any purported health benefit – peer-reviewed or otherwise.
“When I was studying nutrition with eating psychology, my mentor used to call it vitamin P, for pleasure,” says Museles. “There’s also something just inherently good about just enjoying whatever it is that you’re eating, drinking, doing.”
Of course, with alcohol specifically, we need to make sure that we’re not toeing the line between pleasure and irresponsibility.
“It’s different than, say, taking a nap,” Museles cautions. “There are consequences if you go overboard.”
But when incorporated responsibly into your routine, red wine can be just that: red wine. Not a vessel for resveratrol or a weight loss tool, but a pure glass of pleasure.
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