People who consume alcohol in moderation are healthier, yet the relationship between alcoholic beverage preference and health benefit or risk has not been extensively investigated. In a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Barefoot et. al. surveyed alcoholic beverage preference in a large and homogeneous group of highly educated upper-income Americans and found that beverage choice has implications beyond the relative physiological benefits of alcohol. Wine drinking has consistently been associated with reductions in cardiovascular risk due to the presence of polyphenols in wine, but in the current study wine drinking was additionally correlated with healthier overall dietary and lifestyle choices. Conversely, the authors suggest that concurrent diet and lifestyle patterns may explain the higher rates of morbidity and mortality among nondrinkers.
The 2,864 men and 1,571 women participants, averaging 48 years old, were part of the University of North Carolina Alumni Heart Study, a long-term investigation of cardiovascular risk with a special emphasis on psychosocial variables. The study population was unique in that the subjects had a wide variety of alcoholic beverage preference (beer, wine, spirits, or no preference); and they were 99% Caucasian, affluent, highly educated, and from the same geographic region.
Health and lifestyle differences were greatest between participants who preferred wine and those who preferred other alcoholic beverages or were abstainers. Women reported healthier dietary habits than men, regardless of alcoholic beverage choice. Men and women who preferred wine consistently consumed less saturated fat and cholesterol, smoked less, and exercised more than those who preferred beer, spirits, or had no preference. Abstainers, who made up 20% of the subjects, have been shown in previous studies to have higher disease and death rates than moderate drinkers. Negative health and lifestyle factors among the abstaining subjects, including lower intake of fruits and vegetables and higher rates of smoking and red meat consumption, may explain why non-drinkers have poorer health than drinkers.
An implication of the study is that the benefits of wine drinking may not be merely physiological; preferring wine as an alcoholic beverage may be part of an overall pattern that leads to better health. The authors suggest that future research might focus on dietary and lifestyle differences between those who drink and those who abstain, as well as on the relative health advantages of alcoholic beverage choices.
Barefoot, John et al. Alcoholic beverage preference, diet, and health habits in the UNC Alumni Heart Study. Am J Clin Nutr 2002;76:466-72.
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