This day is associated more with four-leaf clovers, the color green, and a lot of drinking than the man it's named for...
St. Patrick's Day commemorates the English man who became the patron saint of Ireland and died on March 17 around the year 460 A.D. St. Patrick's Day is a religious day in Ireland, but it's one of the biggest drinking days of the year here in the U.S.
So, in honor of tomorrow's holiday, I thought I'd share with you a list of the most beneficial alcohols, so that you can make the best choice for what to enjoy, according to science and me, your good friend Doc.
Now, if you're hoping for mixed drinks like margaritas or pina coladas, you won't find them here. Most of those mixed drinks had to come off the list right away because they're loaded with sugar. We've written before about how terrible excessive amounts of sugar can be for your body (read more about sugar from our Master Series: Three White Foods That Kill... and Three That Cure)... not to mention the role they play in spiking your blood sugar and potentially causing a wicked hangover.
That being said, let's dive right in...
It may not surprise you to see wine at the top of any list. (And not just because I have my own wine label.)
You may have heard of these things called antioxidants... Antioxidants protect your body from harmful molecules – called free radicals – that slowly damage your cells. Free radicals form as a waste product from our cells as our bodies process food and react to the environment around us.
If a body is unable to effectively remove free radicals, it will eventually experience a condition called oxidative stress – which is associated with various diseases and conditions like inflammation, cancer, stroke, heart disease, and immune deficiency.
Some antioxidants are produced by our bodies (endogenous) and others come to us via the plants we consume (exogenous). Wine contains an abundance of one particular type of exogenous antioxidant known as the polyphenol.
Polyphenols are the most abundant antioxidant in our diets – with more than 8,000 identified varieties – because they're found in many different fruits and plants.
As antioxidants, polyphenols neutralize free radicals. Polyphenols battle inflammation, which is a major cause of illnesses like Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and heart disease. Regular consumption of polyphenols is also linked to digestive and brain health.
Wine gets much of its polyphenolic content from the skin and meat of the grapes that go into the process of making the wine, as well as from the wooden barrels that house the wine. However, the polyphenols found in wine are different than those found in grapes, indicating that these compounds change during the wine-ageing process.
Other things that will affect the polyphenolic content of wine include the soil that the grapes were grown in, the weather conditions during a grow season, the amount of water the grape plants received, and how ripe the grapes were when they were used to make the wine.
Red wine typically has more polyphenols than white wine – 1.8 grams per liter (g/L) versus 0.2 to 0.3 g/L – making it the healthier choice in comparison.
Although the grapes used in making wine will cause the makeup to vary from wine to wine, some of the polyphenols that are commonly found in wine include:
- Caffeic Acid – Caffeic acid can also be found in foods like olive oil, turmeric, coffee, apples, kale, and pears.
- Myricetin – Myricetin is common in foods like cranberries, swiss chard, garlic, blueberries, and lemon.
- Quercetin – Quercetin is also available to us by way of shallots, asparagus, cherries, peppers, and broccoli – among other foods.
- Resveratrol (in red wines only) – Resveratrol can also be found in foods like blueberries, peanuts, pistachios, grapes, and dark chocolate.
Regular readers know I like to have a 3 to 5 oz. glass of wine with meals when I can.
Next up on our list is good 'ole beer. Like wine, beer also contains polyphenols, making it another excellent choice for consumption...
But beer also contains B vitamins, potassium, calcium, thiamine, iron, and zinc, all thanks to the cereal grains and yeast that were used to make it. And while the amounts of these nutrients are modest compared with what you would get from eating fruits and vegetables – who says you can't do both?
The B vitamins in beer help your body repair DNA (B3), keep your skin healthy (B3), support your nervous system (B6), and play a role in cellular energy production (B6).
Studies have shown that low to moderate beer consumption – meaning one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men – can lower a person's risk of cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases.
Drinking dark beer is also more beneficial than light beer because there are higher levels of antioxidants.
In fact, after running my first marathon, all I wanted to do was eat a delicious bratwurst and chase it down with a satisfying Guinness.
And speaking of meat, beer makes a fantastic marinade – especially dark beer. Not only does it reduce the cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that occur in the smoke that's produced when dripping fat burns up on the grill... it also traps the PAHs in the food, which creates that delicious grilled flavor.
Whiskey also gets a spot on our list because it too has – you guessed it – polyphenols.
Interestingly, whiskey's polyphenolic content comes from the oak barrels that it's housed and aged in. When the oak barrels are being made, they go through a seasoning and a charring process. This process creates a chemical change to the ellagitannins in the wood, resulting in ellagic acid.
Over time, the whiskey pulls some of the ellagic acid from the wood and incorporates it into its own chemical structure.
Ellagic acid is known to remove toxins from your body and reduce free radicals. It can slow the growth of cancerous tumors, is associated with improving metabolic disorders (like obesity and Type 2 diabetes), and reduces inflammation and the appearance of wrinkles caused by UV-B light.
So you may want to consider enjoying a tumbler of whiskey after dinner. And if whiskey neat isn't your thing, try it with a splash of cola. The sweetness of the cola helps cut down on the bite of the alcohol very effectively.
I have to stress the fact that in discussing drinking, I don't mean getting drunk. I'm talking about sipping one – maybe two on a rare occasion – alcoholic drinks a day.
If you're someone who has the slightest inkling that drinking may be causing problems in your life, I strongly encourage you to pay attention to that feeling and do the work necessary to remedy those problems. Moderation is the goal here and we understand that it's a lot harder for some people to maintain than it is for others.
If you want to do what I do, don't drink too much on St. Patty's Day.
Cheers – or sláinte (pronounced slan-cha), as it is said in Ireland – to your health, wealth, wise choices, and a happy everything.
What We're Interneting...
- Alcohol, An Astonishing Molecule...
- Who was St. Patrick?
- Something different: Watch actress Saoirse Ronan try and teach Stephen Colbert an Irish accent.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
March 16, 2021