Those slices of pizza and tall cups of soda aren't just making you fat—they could also be draining your muscle strength. But drinking red wine might reverse the effects—well, sorta.
In a nutshell: Researchers from Georgetown University have found that an antioxidant in red wine could help counteract the muscle-degrading impact of a high fat, high sugar diet. According to previous studies, a high fat diet has been found to reduce the protein and fiber composition of skeletal muscles in rodents and humans, which researchers have identified as a risk factor for the development of obesity, insulin resistance, and type II diabetes.
But one of the 23 Surprising, Healthy Benefits of Alcohol is resveratrol—an antioxidant found in red grapes (and thus, red wine), peanuts, blueberries, strawberries, apples, and cocoa. It has been found to mirror the positive, muscle-maintaining effects of aerobic exercise in mice fed a high fat/sugar diet, and the Georgetown researchers speculated that this antioxidant may help minimize the harmful effects a high fat/sugar diet has on muscle strength. In this study, published in Frontiers in Physiology, monkeys were fed a high-fat, high-sugar diet, and either given resveratrol supplements or a placebo.
According to the lead author, Dr. Hyatt, resveratrol played a major anti-aging role in helping to maintain properties in muscles that made them resistant to fatigue. "Skeletal muscles [with these properties] can sustain longer periods of activity and could contribute to improved physical activity, mobility, or stability, especially in elderly individuals," he explained.
Unfortunately, downing red wine isn't likely to duplicate the same muscle-protective results: You'd have to drink 225 glasses of vino a day to ingest the same amount of resveratrol the monkeys did during the study—kinda defeating the whole "everything in moderation" adage. However, if comes to choosing a glass of Pinot over a shot of vodka, wine will be your best bet at providing any additional health benefits: Moderate wine consumption has been associated with lower risk of all-cause mortality, and many animal studies have connected resveratrol with enhancing exercise performance, blasting fat, and protecting against obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Just keep it to a glass at a time to avoid flooding your body with inflammatory by-products of alcohol breakdown.
Eat This! Tip
Looking to reap the rewards? If you're a wine drinker, consider a Pinot Noir from Spain or California—these boast the highest resveratrol levels out of all grape varieties and regions. But your best bet, according to researchers at Washington State University, is to fit in three servings of resveratrol-rich fruits and nuts a day. That's because many of the beneficial antioxidants found in wines are filtered out during the production process. Fresh fruits and nuts, on the other hand, will maintain these antioxidant levels, and will provide a range of additional nutrients that are lacking in a glass of wine, from gut-protective fiber to anti-inflammatory polyunsaturated fats.
Either way, it's important to remember that just upping your intake of resveratrol would only act as a band-aid fix to a high fat/high sugar diet, and these results haven't been duplicated in humans. The authors stress that maintaining a healthy diet will be the best way to curb your risk of diet-related diseases and muscle deterioration.