Coffee versus wine: which is healthier?


Coffee and wine each have different purported health benefits

It takes time and careful reading to sort through the claims and criticisms


In this decanter, wine. In that pot, coffee. The one, a social libation with floral notes. The other, a picker-upper with perhaps a hint of cocoa.

They are two drinks with vastly different functions, millions of consumers, and various claims and criticisms of their health benefits. Let’s sift what we know.

The health case for wine

Perhaps the most oft-cited benefit of drinking wine is that it can help raise HDL, or “good” cholesterol. This is true.

But as the American Heart Association points out, there are other ways to raise HDL, too. The association notes that physical activity has the same positive effect, and niacin supplements can raise HDL quickly.

Moving on, another bit of encouragement: An analysis published in 2005 in Diabetes Care found that moderate alcohol consumption can lower the risk that a person will develop Type 2 diabetes.

However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is, at best, neutral about the claims that drinking wine or other alcoholic beverages can provide health benefits. Says the CDC: “While some studies have found improved health outcomes among moderate drinkers, it’s impossible to conclude whether these improved outcomes are due to moderate alcohol consumption or other differences in behaviors or genetics between people who drink moderately and people who don’t.”

Wine does help people relax, and that’s often a very good thing. But too much can impair a person’s sleep, which has the opposite effect.

The health case for coffee

Last fall, the journal BMJ published a meta-analysis of coffee research and determined “coffee consumption was more often associated with benefit than harm.”

It was a sweeping review of published research, which looked at a range of health effects, from cancer to heart disease. It sought to adjust findings for other effects, such as smoking, and examined a broad range of consumption patterns, from low to “one extra cup per day.” The analyses found the most positive effects between drinking coffee and liver health, but also found positive effects for people with Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.

The authors did note an exception for pregnant women and women at risk of a fracture. Unborn children could be affected when their mothers drink caffeinated coffee, when caffeine has double its usual half-life, meaning “the relative dose of caffeine from equivalent per cup consumption will be much higher than consumption outside pregnancy.”

Earlier, a broad study of European coffee drinkers concluded “coffee drinking was associated with reduced risk for death from various causes,” though other observers say the results may be explained by factors other than coffee drinking.  

The argument against wine

Yes, there are reasons to hope wine consumed in moderate amounts is a healthful drink. But the American Heart Association isn’t buying them. Yet. 

“How alcohol or wine affects cardiovascular risk merits further research, but right now the American Heart Association does not recommend drinking wine or any other form of alcohol to gain these potential benefits,” the nonprofit association declares. 

Of course, people who drink too much alcohol, whether wine or other forms of intoxicating drinks, can run into a lot of problems, from impaired judgment to excessive calorie intake. Problems associated with excessive consumption of alcohol, according to the CDC, include:

  • Liver damage
  • Pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas
  • Certain cancers affecting the liver, mouth, throat, larynx and esophagus
  • High blood pressure
  • Psychological problems
  • Second-order problems, causing injuries and damage by driving impaired or domestic abuse

Further, the CDC says, some people shouldn’t drink alcohol at all. These include pregnant women, alcoholics and people taking medications that can interact with alcohol.

And for those clinging to the idea that the resveratrol in red wine has health benefits, JAMA had a crushing reply in 2014: “The antioxidant resveratrol found in red wine, chocolate and grapes was not associated with longevity or the incidence of cardiovascular disease, cancer and inflammation.”

The argument against coffee

The health risks of coffee popped into the news this spring when a Los Angeles judge ruled that coffee shops in the state must post warnings that a substance produced when coffee beans are roasted can cause cancer. The ruling shocked many who make and drink coffee, but it vindicated the nonprofit Council for Education and Research on Toxics, which had sued to make coffee vendors acknowledge that roasting produced acrylamide, a carcinogen. 

Starbucks and other roasters named in the lawsuit may appeal the ruling.

Less topically, a 2006 review published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition determined “coffee consumption is associated with increases in several cardiovascular disease risk factors.”

Finally, people who work at coffee production plants may be at greater risk for lung disease, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Expert resources

Looking for diet and lifestyle recommendations to build healthy eating and drinking habits? Providence has a range of nutrition services and specialists, as well as providers in every medical specialty. You can find a Providence provider near you in our online directory. Check out recipes and tips from our nutrition specialists.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

About the Author

We are all about food! The Providence Nutrition Team loves to talk about and share our expertise on how to help you find the right diet, food types and maintenance tactics to help you live life to the fullest...while also enjoying the best foods that mother nature has to offer.

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