Food & Drink

Don’t be fooled by health claims related to alcohol consumption

Research showed that drinking Champagne allegedly reduces memory loss, or so said the Internet earlier this year.
Research showed that drinking Champagne allegedly reduces memory loss, or so said the Internet earlier this year. TNS

Once again we find ourselves engulfed in the magical season when believing in things that seem too good to be true is not only acceptable but encouraged behavior.

I don’t mean jolly old elves or the two-day delivery guarantees of online shopping sites. I’m thinking of how this stretch of calendar between Black Friday and the first Monday of the new year casts a spell that extends far beyond traditional Christmas legends. It’s a time of year when reasonable people talk themselves into all manner of self-deceptions, outlandish tales one can tell oneself only when the air is filled with the scent of fake snow and Sparkling Pine Yankee Candles, lies like: “I’m sure I’ll have this Visa bill paid off by Valentine’s Day” and “One more peppermint truffle couldn’t possibly nudge the scale much” and “I’ll have a third glass of Champagne, but just to help ward off the dementia.”

It’s a first-rate example of my favorite untruth to indulge in: the alcohol-is-good-for-you-Internet-legend.

Amber Nimocks

This last flight of fancy is one I’ve been keeping in mind just for the holidays, even though it blew up Twitter shortly before Thanksgiving. It’s a first-rate example of my favorite untruth to indulge in: the alcohol-is-good-for-you-Internet-legend. It has the twin crucial elements of fantasy and fact. The fantasy is that a delicious potable long thought to cause nothing but headaches actually possesses long-term health benefits. The fact is that a kernel of research-based truth is buried deep beneath the hype and hysteria. According to snopes.com, that deflator of all that is outlandish and wonderful on the Internet, this report is not only overblown, it’s also a couple of years old.

The kernel of truth comes from a 2013 study conducted by researchers at the University of Reading, England. As reported in the British media, the finding of this study was that one to three glasses of champagne per week may counteract the memory loss associated with aging. Regrettably, the subjects involved in this research were not middle-aged wine columnists who were challenged to simultaneously sip bubbly while completing crossword puzzles, but rather old rats who were fed small amounts of champagne and then set off to wander through mazes. Researchers saw a link between the phenolic acids in Champagne and the rats’ ability to remember their way to the treats at the end of the maze. No work has been done to observe similar effects on people. Should the research ever move on to humans, I volunteer to be involved in early trials. Britain’s National Health Service debunked the media hype by describing the effects of Champagne on future dementia as unknown, but the effects of regularly drinking too much alcohol as “likely to cause many other health risks.”

My second favorite tidbit-I-wanted-to-believe this year held that drinking two glasses of red wine per day would help you lose weight. It made the rounds earlier in the year, but has remained doggedly popular. Again, rodents, not humans, were involved in the study, as reported in The Independent. Researchers observed weight loss in mice fed resveratrol, a polyphenol chemical found in red wine and other fruit. It is thought that it enhanced the mice’s ability to convert their own ordinary flab into “brown” fat, which burns calories. Imagine getting your fat off its lazy butt and making it help you lose weight. Stepping in to dash red wine lovers’ dreams was, again, the U.K.’s National Health Service, which pointed out that researchers made no claim that the effect they observed would be repeated in humans. Even more discouraging, they said most resveratrol is filtered out of wine in the process of making it. Ultimately, “The proven risks of drinking too much red wine probably outweigh any possible benefits from trying to convert white fat to brown fat.”

The proven risks of drinking too much red wine probably outweigh any possible benefits.

The U.K.’s National Health Service

Talk about a bunch of Grinches. I guess I’ll have to settle for believing in more traditional Christmas tales, like the one where a tired woman exchanged all her ill-fitting clothes gifts without a single receipt or the mythical day when the city actually collected the post-holiday recycling. A glass or two of bubbly should help keep the spirits bright while we see if either of those come to pass.

Amber Nimocks is a former News & Observer food editor. Reach her at ambernim@yahoo.com.

Sip Tip

I approve of any drink whose name can be used as either a noun or a verb, and wassail is just the one for the holidays. Wassail refers to both the cider-based drink and the act of singing about the drink or the apples or the trees it comes from. Actually, I’ve never been too clear on who we’re singing to when we wassail, but it’s always merry. This version is adapted from “The River Cottage Booze Handbook”: In a saucepan, bring to boil 1 quart still cider, 1 cup apple juice, 6 cloves and 4 cinnamon sticks. As soon as it starts to simmer, add a cup of sloe gin and 1 or 2 sliced oranges. Serves 4.

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