Several previous studies have touted the benefits of drinking wine to prevent heart disease-a concept known as the "French paradox." A recent study of diet and drinking patterns published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, however, reveals that people who drink wine tend to choose foods that are healthier for the heart.
Lead author of the study, Dr. Anne Tjonneland from the Danish Cancer Society, Institute of Cancer Epidemiology, says "The important message in our study is that there is a strong association between the intake of wine and healthy food habits. Studies showing wine-drinkers to have lower incidence of ischemic heart disease may be attributable not only to the wine itself, but to their other dietary choices."
The study included a random sample of 48,763 Danish men and women. Subjects were asked to complete a questionnaire about their drinking and eating habits. Data were analyzed and grouped according to drinking patterns as nondrinkers or wine, beer, spirits, or mixed (combination) drinkers; wine drinkers were further grouped according to average number of drinks per month. Frequency of intake of foods considered indicators of a healthy diet were determined from the questionnaire. For the purposes of this study, a "healthy diet" was defined by high intake of fruit, vegetables, salad, and fish; reduced intake of saturated fat; and the use of olive oil in cooking. Results showed that that moderate wine drinkers (1 to 3 glasses per day) consumed the most heart-healthy diet.
While the authors acknowledge that the patterns revealed in this study may be a Danish phenomenon, it is likely that their findings are representative of drinking and eating patterns in other regions as well. However, how much influence a healthy diet has on the etiology of ischemic heart disease compared to the intake of wine, remains to be answered in a prospectively designed study.
Contact: Anne Tjonneland, M.D., Ph.D.
American Society for Clinical Nutrition/American Society for Nutritional Sciences