How Heart Disease Created America’s Wine Industry

For decades, red wine has been the “healthy” alcohol, set on a pedestal against its contemporaries. But, is red wine actually good for you? Where did this idea come from? We speak with a cardiologist about red wine’s health benefits.

Following is a transcript of the video:

Jack: This is an inviting glass of wine. Inside is about 125 calories, about 15% alcohol by volume, and some antioxidants. Of course, we didn’t always think about it this scientifically. Humans have been drinking wine since the Dark Ages. The ancient Greeks even worshipped a god of wine. It wasn’t until the 20th century that we started asking ourselves, is red wine good for us? And that question is now more relevant than ever. After all, Americans have never consumed so much wine in their lives, but recent studies have shown that no amount of alcohol is good for you, and it seems pretty absurd that after all of this time, something so ingrained into culture could suddenly be bad for you. What if 10,000 years of human history has been wrong?

Dr. Nicole Harkin: If someone comes in and they’ve never consumed alcohol before, I certainly wouldn’t recommend starting to drink. Jack: So how often do patients ask you about red wine? Harkin: It’s definitely a common question I get. So I think the type of patients that tend to come to me do ask about alcohol consumption. It’s up there with, you know, stress.We all, you know, living in New York…

Jack: I began to wonder, where exactly did this idea that red wine is good for you come from? To answer that, we need to go to France. The year is 1976. It’s May 24, and France’s finest judges of wine gather for a blind tasting to decide which wines are the best in the world.

George Taber: The judges were the most famous wine experts that France had to offer.

Jack: That’s George Taber, the only journalist at the event now known as the Judgment of Paris, something that would change the world of wine forever.

Taber: Believe it or not, the California wines won in both the white category and the red category.

Jack: George reported the news, the French were furious, and Americans quietly rejoiced about something that they didn’t even really know they were good at. Up until this point, wine wasn’t a widely consumed beverage in the States.

Taber: Well, it was starting to become fairly popular, but not that much, it was still kind of the drink of the snobs…

Jack: Wine consumption and production would increase greatly during this time, setting the stage for what was to come.  As wine drinking grew in America, so did something else: waistlines.

Tape: 600 quality wieners pass through the famous hot dog highway.

Jack: An increase in processed foods boosted the amount of sugar and salt Americans consumed on a daily basis, sparking a nationwide obsession with weight and, more importantly, health. It was the perfect stage for what would happen next.

Harkin: For all countries, if you plot out kind of saturated fat and animal cholesterol consumption against cardiovascular disease, you sort of see a linear-based relationship whereby the more animal products you eat, the higher the rate of death. The French seemingly, for whatever reason, despite their large quantities of saturated fat intake, had a lower risk of cardiovascular death.

Jack: This went against conventional science at the time, but the French, despite their love of fatty meats, cheeses, and butter, had apparently found a loophole. In 1989, this unusual trend was coined the French Paradox. Two years later, “60 Minutes” premiered a landmark broadcast explaining the French Paradox and suggested that France’s regular consumption of red wine was what was protecting their hearts.

Morley Safer: So the answer to the riddle, the explanation of the paradox, may lie in this inviting glass.

Jack: At the time, “60 Minutes” was the highest-rated show on television, and middle-aged baby boomers now had this planted into their brains: You can eat all the meat and cheese and butter you want, all you have to do is drink more wine. Sales in the ’90s skyrocketed. Vineyards expanded, and everyone was drinking the hot new health beverage. The good reputation of wine is often attributed to its antioxidants like resveratrol, but there’s not enough resveratrol in wine to have beneficial effects. Right now, it’s just a good marketing term. It turns out it’s not just red wine that has some sort of health benefit. It’s any alcoholic beverage.

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How Heart Disease Created America’s Wine Industry