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Is red wine good for your heart?

No, is the simple answer

The French paradox – in spite of high saturated fat intake, the French die less of coronary heart disease thanks to their higher consumption of red wine

The concept that drinking red wine can prevent cardiovascular disease dates back to the early nineties, when Serge Renaud and Michel de Lorgeril published a paper in the Lancet entitled,   ” Wine, alcohol, platelets and the French paradox for coronary heart disease”. They argued that whereas their consumption of saturated fat was high, mortality from coronary heart disease was low compared to the US and the UK. They called this the “French paradox” The difference was the French drink more red wine, there was some protective polyphenols that came straight from red grapes. The studies were based on data from three French cities, Toulouse, Strasbourg and Lille. CHD mortality was much lower in Toulouse compared to Strasbourg and Lille, however wine consumption was much higher in Toulouse compared to the other two cities.

In the 1990s, wine  sales in europe were declining, with many young people switching to beer, wine drinking was seen to be old-fashioned. The wine industry jumped on the “French paradox” story promoting an epic marketing campaign which instilled in a lot of people the idea that drinking red wine is good for your heart.

A great deal of research ensued and found, while there was some beneficial effects from the extracts from grapes, the amount of wine needed to get enough resveratrols to produce a significant effect would be incompatible with the toxic effects of alcohol.

The key to below the norm mortality rates from CHD in Toulouse, was not red wine but diet. While they drank more red wine and ate slightly more cheese, they ate a lot more vegetables, a lot more fruit, half the butter and more vegetable fat and more bread. In other words they were eating more fruit and vegetables and ingested more fibre, less saturated fat, more polyunsaturated fat and more grains.

The popular narrative of the French paradox gets the premise and the conclusion wrong. It is wrong to assume that saturated fat is all that matters to predict cardiovascular risk, since we know it is just one of the many dietary factors involved. And it is dead wrong to suggest that drinking a few glasses of red wine is all you need to make it better. If anything, the whole story proves once more the concept that the balance of diet in general is more important than any single component in preventing disease and ensuring good health.

http://www.nutrition.org. 01/18/2013; Stefano Vendrame