Research suggests that moderate consumption of alcohol -- specifically red wine -- may improve your cardiovascular health. Antioxidants found in the seeds and skins of red grapes are believed to lower the risk of heart disease by reducing "bad" low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, increasing "good" high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and lessening blood-clotting factors. With this in mind, you may never see happy hour the same way again -- but moderation is key. One to two servings per day for men and one serving per day for women maximizes benefits.
Drier red wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, offer higher antioxidant levels than sweeter counterparts. A study published in the September 2007 issue of "Nutrition Journal" found that participants of any age who drank 400 milliliters of Cabernet Sauvignon daily for two weeks had increased blood levels of antioxidants and reduced markers of oxidative stress.
Petite Syrah and Pinor Noir
University of California researchers have studied wines to determine which types have the highest active levels of antioxidants. Results indicate that Cabernet Sauvignon had the highest level, with Petite Syrah -- also spelled Sirah -- and Pinot Noir close behind. Petite Sirah is a completely different grape than varietal Shiraz and creates a wine of richer color and texture, with a peppery profile in comparison.
Merlots are a good source of catechins and resveratrol -- both are antioxidants -- which can help to improve "good" high-density lipoprotein cholesterol. Pair a red wine such as Merlot with dark chocolate for a double dose of antioxidants on Valentine's Day, because dark chocolate is also a rich source, suggests Susan Ofria, a registered dietitian at Loyola University Health System's Melrose Park Campus.
White wines are produced from the pulp of grapes, with the skins discarded. As a result, white wines do not contain the high levels of antioxidants found in reds. However, a study published in the September 2008 issue of "The Journal of Nutrition" found that participants who consumed either red or white wines in moderation had increased blood plasma levels of resveratrol. Also, both white and red wine drinkers showed increases in nitric oxide production -- a marker of cardiovascular health.