Wine, dairy linked to better health

Study observes fewer bad health outcomes for diet with more wine

Anne Aurand / The Bulletin /

Consuming moderate amounts of wine and cheese may indicate that you're on a path of good health, at least more so than if your diet includes much in the way of sweetened beverages and desserts.

According to a recent study, people who drink wine and eat higher-fat foods such as meat and dairy are less likely to develop abdominal obesity — an indication of health risks — than people who eat foods high in calories but lower in nutritional value (junk food).

The study, published in The Journal of Nutrition, followed 1,146 women for seven years. The women were between 25 and 77 at the beginning of the study and had no history of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer or metabolic syndrome, which is a complex and unhealthy condition characterized by abdominal obesity, hypertension, elevated blood sugar and unhealthy blood lipid levels. Researchers explored the relationships among various dietary patterns, body fat distribution, smoking and metabolic syndrome.

At the beginning of the study, women provided information about their food and beverage consumption. Dietary patterns were categorized based on the women's food habits. Participants were periodically tested for various disease risks, such as body weight, hypertension and blood lipids.

Women whose diets were categorized into a “wine and moderate eating” group consumed comparably more wine, organ meats, eggs and high-fat dairy products than other groups.

The group categorized as having a “higher fat” dietary pattern consumed a lot of animal fats, sweets, refined grains, soft margarine and oils.

The “empty calorie” group consumed notably higher amounts of sweetened beverages and desserts than the others.

In comparing various health benchmarks, researchers found that the “wine and moderate eating” and the “higher fat” clusters of participants had lower odds of abdominal obesity compared with the “empty calorie” cluster.

Previous studies, according to the authors, have associated higher dairy and cheese intake — low-fat and high-fat products — with lower amounts of abdominal obesity.

Dr. Ruth Kimokoti, an author of the study, said the mechanism by which higher-fat diets reduce the risk of abdominal obesity is not clear.

Dairy foods and meats were key foods in the “wine and moderate eating” and “higher fat” patterns, but that doesn't suggest that cheese and meat are responsible for less abdominal fat.

“Their effect on abdominal obesity needs to be considered in the context of the overall diet. They may interact with other foods or, conversely, other foods may counteract the effects of meats and high-fat dairy foods,” she said.

As for the wine, she suggested, “Alcohol reduces the inflammation that is associated with obesity. Phytochemicals in wine may likewise reduce the size of fat cells.”

“This is indeed an interesting and somewhat provocative paper,” said Shelley McGuire, an associate professor of nutrition at Washington State University and national spokeswoman for the American Society for Nutrition, in reference to the study.

It was an epidemiologic study, she emphasized, which means one can't conclude that high fat diets prevent abdominal obesity. A controlled intervention study would be required to make such a statement.

On that same note, the study cannot make any definitive conclusions about alcohol and its relation to health. (However, McGuire said, quite a few studies suggest that moderate alcohol consumption is beneficial in terms of factors involved with heart disease and metabolic disorders, such as Type 2 diabetes.)

As for wine, she said, the authors didn't set out to look at alcohol. It just turned out that people who drank alcohol and consumed high-cholesterol foods such as eggs and organ meats tended to share common dietary patterns, McGuire said. They happened to drink very little in the way of sweetened beverages, too.

The noteworthy results from the study, McGuire said, probably center on the sweetened beverage factor.

“I would propose that the associations (between dietary patterns and abdominal obesity) might be due to lower sweetened beverages in the higher fat and wine/moderate eating groups,” she wrote in an email.

Researchers controlled for caloric consumption, so differences in calorie intake probably don't play a role, she said.

“If anything, I'd suggest that the nutrient density (nutrients per unit calorie) is simply higher in the higher fat and wine/moderate eating groups compared to the empty calorie group. Nutrients like the antioxidants (e.g., vitamin C, selenium, beta-carotene) may play important roles in obesity prevention,” McGuire wrote in an email.

Generally speaking, she said, calories consumed and expended matter to weight, and weight is associated with metabolic syndrome. Also, she said, not all calories are equal.

“Food contains more than calories. Sometimes we forget that we also eat food to get all of the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that we need. Eating a diet characterized as being high in 'empty calories' means that you're getting the majority of your calories from junk foods that don't contribute anything to our vitamin and mineral needs. This is likely just as bad for your health as eating too many calories or not exercising enough,” she said.

In other words, choose nutrient-dense foods and eat them in moderate amounts.

The study doesn't suggest that one particular diet plan is better for one's health.

Overall, McGuire concluded: “The results from this study are far from conclusive.”

And Julie Hood Gonsalves, a registered dietitian and associate professor of science and health at Central Oregon Community College, said while the study left her with many questions, its takeaway message is: “Moderation is an important key to good nutrition. Even if eating a higher-fat diet, being moderate about eating 'empty calorie' food is likely protective with respect to metabolic syndrome. Moderate wine drinking has been shown in this and other studies to be protective of the cardiovascular system.”

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