French Paradox Uncorked The so-called French Paradox has engaged scientists and health experts in an energetic debate on the effects of alcohol on health. The French, as a nation, have a low incidence of coronary heart disease despite their supposedly fat-rich diet. The widely accepted reason was their wine drinking habit. Wines, especially red wine, contain antioxidants that elevate good cholesterol levels. Consequently, it has become fashionable for doctors to recommend that their patients knock back a glass or two of red wine every day. Yet, there has always been some concern that the cause and effect may not be that straightforward. Now, fresh research seems to suggest that there is more to the French Paradox than meets the eye. New findings indicate that wine drinkers in general symbolise a certain lifestyle and the benefits of wine are at least in part due to that. A team of Danish researchers analysed 3.5 million shoppers and found that wine drinkers tended to buy more fruits, vegetables, low-fat meats and cheese than other shoppers. Beer drinkers bought ready-to-eat dishes, cold cuts, sausages, sugary items and soft drinks. These divergent shopping lists suggest that lifestyle choices may be as important as the type of alcohol a person drinks when it comes to determining mortality risk. A parallel study among wine drinkers showed that they tended to be more educated, wealthier and in better physical shape than beer drinkers or even teetotallers.
Similar results were found in a study in California suggesting that lifestyle, background and demographics are an important factor when paired with wine. It seems that no matter where they live, wine drinkers have healthier lifestyles. A study of 4,500 former University of North Carolina students found wine drinkers the healthiest category. They smoked less than those who drank beer or spirits, exercised more, consumed more fruits and vegetables and had higher fibre intake than all the other groups. Also, in most cases, wine is drunk as an accompaniment to a meal, where alcohol is better tolerated by the body. Beer or other spirits tend to be enjoyed on a fairly empty stomach. The bottomline is that the French Paradox is not just to do with wine drinking. Still, even with evidence that wine is not the powerful elixir it is cracked up to be, it would be stupid to discount the health benefits of a glass of Shiraz. Scientists have identified some 6,000 antioxidants in red wine. So go ahead, uncork that bottle. Just leave out the French fries.