This article was updated on June 25, 2021 to reflect recent information.
- Coffee and wine each claim different health benefits.
- Yet they’re not always as healthy as they claim.
- COVID-19 has impacted wine and coffee drinking.
[4 MIN READ]
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 through what we know.
Wine and your health
Raise a toast!
Some studies show that people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol have lower rates of heart disease. They might even live longer than those who don’t drink wine. Red wine especially may offer the greatest benefit for a lower risk of heart disease and death. The reason is that it contains higher levels of natural plant chemicals that have antioxidant properties, which might protect artery walls.
And here’s good news for the aging brain: Researchers at Iowa State University published the results of a study in a December 2020 issue of Journal of Alzheimer's Disease. It drew on the data of nearly 2,000 adults and found that drinking alcohol, especially red wine, every day was related to improved mental function. It can also be tied to greater cognition in a person’s later years.
Lower your glass
Talk about mixed messages. Studies show that drinking too much alcohol can raise your risk for heart disease and stroke. It can also cause a rise in blood pressure, lead to weight gain and increase triglycerides (levels of fats) in the blood.
When it comes to diabetes, research published in 2018 in The Lancet, is more straightforward. It suggests that if you’re diabetic, no amount of alcohol is safe.
Of course, people who drink too much alcohol, whether wine or other forms of intoxicating drinks, can run into a lot of problems, from poor judgment to extreme calorie intake. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), problems linked to drinking too much alcohol 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
The CDC also says that some people shouldn’t drink alcohol at all. These include pregnant women, alcoholics and people who are taking medicines that can interact with alcohol.
And for those clinging to the idea that the resveratrol in red wine has health benefits, health information site MedlinePlus isn’t very encouraging: "People who consume higher amounts of dietary resveratrol do not seem to have a lower risk of heart disease compared to people who consume lower amounts. Also, taking resveratrol by mouth does not seem to improve levels of cholesterol or blood fats called triglycerides in people at risk for heart disease."
What’s a wine lover to do?
Consider this advice from the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommends the following:
- Adults of legal drinking age can choose not to drink
- If adults choose to drink, on days when alcohol is consumed, use moderation by limiting intake to:
- 2 drinks or less in a day for men
- 1 drink or less in a day for women
The Guidelines also stress that if you don’t already drink alcohol, don’t start for any reason. If adults of legal drinking age choose to drink alcoholic beverages, drinking less is better for health than drinking more.
Coffee and your health
Dietary information from three large, well-known heart disease studies suggests drinking one or more cups of caffeinated coffee may reduce heart failure risk. This is based on research reported in a 2021 issue of Circulation: Heart Failure, an American Heart Association journal.
When it comes to diabetes, coffee may also play a positive role in prevention. A 2020 report in the American Diabetes Association’s Diabetes Care magazine states that there’s evidence coffee may reduce diabetes risk in women. An example: Having about five cups of coffee a day, instead of none, is related to a 30% lower risk of Type 2 diabetes. This is based on an extensive analysis of 30 studies.
In 2017, 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. 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 researchers noted however, that pregnant women and women at risk of a fracture should not drink at all.)
Lower your cup
Hate to be a caffeine buzzkill, but keep in mind that there’s not yet enough clear evidence to support drinking more coffee to lower the risk of heart disease. It’s much more likely to help for people to stop smoking, start losing weight and exercise more.
It may be hard to remember, but caffeine is a drug — and an addictive one at that. Drinking your caffeinated coffee every day means you could become dependent on it and find it tough to quit or even cut back. You probably know the effects of trying to quit cold turkey:
- Throbbing headaches
- Foggy thinking
This can go on for a day or two until your body adjusts.
Here’s more tough news to swallow: Coffee may be the reason you have heartburn. Java has a high acid content, which can irritate your gastrointestinal tract. Sadly, there’s not much that will help you avoid this caffeine gut punch. Drinking decaf doesn’t work — and may even make it worse. Switching how you brew or roast your coffee won’t help either. The only solution is to avoid coffee altogether.
Coffee, wine and COVID-19: The pandemic’s effect on our drinking habits
American poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson had this to say about wine: “Give me wine to wash me clean of the weather-stains of cares.”
In a similar vein about java, comedian Jerry Seinfeld once remarked, “We’re not in great shape. We didn’t get a good night’s sleep. We’re a little depressed. Coffee solves all these problems in one delightful little cup.”
Neither of these comments were tied to the pandemic. Yet at the height of this world-shaking event, many people probably shared those sentiments as they reached for their wine glass or favorite mug. Here’s a quick look at it how it all shook out.
Coffee and the pandemic
The National Coffee Association’s 2021 National Coffee Data Trends (NCDT) report found one consistent fact in their reporting about the pandemic: Americans weren’t giving up their coffee, period. Although there was an overall decline in consumption over the year (which may or may not be due to lockdowns), 58% of Americans still reported drinking coffee within the past day.
Here’s java drinking by the numbers:
- 85% of coffee drinkers said they had at least one cup of coffee at home. That’s up 8% since January 2020.
- A whopping 23% of coffee drinkers bought a new coffee machine of some kind during the year.
- Drive-through coffee ordering was up 30%.
- App-based ordering rose by 30%.
These devoted drinkers seem to be thriving on this simple thought by an unknown java-lover: “Life happens. Coffee helps.”
Wine and the pandemic
As already discussed, too much wine is an unhealthy choice by any standards. When life happens — and it happened in a big way with the pandemic — some people went to wine for help. In and of itself that may not be a bad thing, since a small glass might be relaxing. But it’s vital to know when help becomes a hindrance.
Case in point: A research letter published by the JAMA Network reported a whopping 54% increase in national sales of alcohol for the week ending March 21, 2020. While it could be supposed that some people were “stocking up” before a total lockdown, the number still reflects a concerning rise in alcohol consumption.
So concerning in fact, that only a few weeks later the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that alcohol use during the pandemic could make health problems worse and increase risk-taking behaviors.
Still, wine — especially red wine — can help relieve stress and anxiety. The reason may surprise you: our old friend resveratrol. In a study published in 2019, researchers found that resveratrol may be an effective choice instead of drugs to treat depression and anxiety. That’s because this plant substance blocks enzymes in the brain that are linked to those mental health issues.
So, which is healthier: coffee or wine?
It’s hard to say. They have their good and not-so-good points. Perhaps you enjoy one over the other. Maybe you’re a tea drinker or a teetotaler. Or maybe you support the philosophy that “life is what happens between coffee and wine.” Whatever your beverage of choice, just remember: You can’t go wrong with moderation.
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