Posted on Aug 20, 2021, 1 p.m.
You’ve probably heard that red wine is good for you—or at least “less bad” than other kinds of alcohol. A big reason for this reputation is resveratrol: a nutrient found in grapes (and a few other plants) that’s been touted for supporting a long, healthy life.
But before you start uncorking everything in your cellar, you should know this: not all wines have the same amount of this “longevity” nutrient. Here’s our ranking of wines with the most to least resveratrol, and whether it’s better to get resveratrol from wine or a supplement.
What is resveratrol, anyway?
Resveratrol is a stilbenoid, a kind of compound produced by plants. It is thought that plants use stilbenoids to ward off things like funguses and microbes. Indeed, this is one of the reasons that resveratrol is found predominantly in the skins of fruit such as grapes, blueberries, and raspberries: it is part of the plant’s defense system. (You can also find resveratrol in the stems and roots of certain plants—probably for the same reason!)
Resveratrol has many health benefits—particularly to the heart and mitochondrial function. It also promotes healthy insulin sensitivity, supports a healthy inflammatory response, and has been studied for its ability to encourage healthy cognitive function as well as its role as a key liver health supplement.
Because it’s found in grapes (Vitis vinifera and Vitis labrusca), resveratrol is also in wine. There are also trace amounts of resveratrol in raw peanuts, peanut butter, and cocoa powder. But since absolutely no one is reading this article to determine how much peanut butter to eat, we’ll get right to the good stuff:
How much resveratrol is in wine?
Vino. It’s been around for centuries and adored by wine aficionados on every continent. Wine—red wine especially—contains tannins and polyphenols and of course, resveratrol. These compounds have their own distinct health benefits…and interestingly enough, some types of wine have more of these compounds (especially resveratrol) than others. So which one do you pick?
Short answer: red wine. Why? The reason has to do with how red wine is made. Most wine is made by mashing grapes up into a pulp, called the crush. Then, yeast is added and it’s all fermented in a giant vat. Mashing the grapes (instead of just squeezing them like in a juice press) allows the juices to come into contact and absorb the flavors and compounds that are only found in the seeds and the skins.
Both red and white wine are made this way. The difference is that with white wine, the pomace (that’s the left-over skins and pulp and seeds) is quickly separated from the grape juice before fermentation. On the other hand, the juice destined to become red wine is fermented with the mushy stuff—this allows much more of the resveratrol from the grape skin to make it into the wine. It’s also where the rich, complicated flavor comes from!
While you’ll note that red wine clearly is the winner in resveratrol content compared to its paler counterparts, you’d still have to drink hundreds of glasses to get the same amount of this nutrient as you’d find in a single resveratrol supplement. (Which we’d hardly call “healthy.”)
What is orange wine?
So now we know that the difference between red and white wine (other than the color of the grapes) is that you take the pomace out of white wine before letting it ferment. But what if you didn’t? Turns out, you’d get “orange wine,” which is also called amber wine.
Orange wine is native to Eastern European countries like Slovenia and Georgia. It is made similarly to red wine, except you use white grapes instead of red ones. This gives the wine a distinct, complicated flavor… and presumably more resveratrol than “regular” white wines!
Is it better to get resveratrol from wine or a supplement?
You can supplement with resveratrol in doses ranging from 250 mg all the way up to 1 g a day. That said, you’re probably thinking, “Can I get the same amount of my resveratrol from food? Or maybe even wine?” The short answer is, unfortunately, “no.” This is because of how little resveratrol there is in food (or wine, for that matter).
When it comes to alcohol, moderation is key—and too much regular alcohol consumption is going to have a deleterious effect on your longevity if you’re going for “live as long as possible.”
Is red wine good for you?
In moderation, red wine can be part of a balanced diet. Unfortunately, the idea that red wine is some kind of panacea just doesn’t add up. The folk wisdom that “people who drink red wine live longer” is probably more aptly attributed to the positive effects of healthy eating habits such as the Mediterranean Diet: lots of healthy fruits, vegetables, and legumes and low in processed fat, red meat, and complex carbs. (And yes, choosing red wine over other liquor sources.)
And while we know that a lot of alcohol isn’t good for you (sorry), we also know that resveratrol is. So while you can get resveratrol from red wine, you’re much, much better off taking a daily resveratrol supplement.
What is resveratrol used for?
Resveratrol in its supplement form—usually trans-resveratrol—has a variety of potential health benefits. The main one is longevity, but to understand how resveratrol could potentially support a longer lifespan, you have to understand calorie restriction and its effects on your health.
It is fairly well-documented that calorie restriction diets may help you live longer. A “calorie restriction diet” means consuming significantly fewer calories (some argue for as little as about 60%) than you would ordinarily get from your diet, while still obtaining all the necessary vitamins and minerals by eating nutrient-dense foods and supplementing.
Thing is, these diets are really hard to stick to. Good news: it appears that resveratrol supplementation mimics the effects of a calorie restriction diet.
Resveratrol activates similar genes to the ones that switch on when you’re on a calorie-restricted diet. These are the genes that favorably modulate the biological effects of aging, and may benefit the heart, brain, and liver while supporting a healthy inflammatory response.
Resveratrol has serious antioxidant properties as well. Oxidizing free radical compounds left over from cellular metabolism can cause oxidative stress everywhere from your heart to your brain…even your skin, which in turn can lead to the physiological aspects of aging. Resveratrol helps protect against that oxidative stress.
What is trans-resveratrol?
Here’s where it gets a little technical. In organic chemistry, a compound can have two versions, each shaped as mirror opposites of each other, though they are technically made up of the same elements and chemical groups. These mirror-image compounds are called geometric isomers and are differentiated by the prefixes cis and trans (Latin for "this side of" and "the other side of”, respectively).
Why does this matter? Because of how your body and chemical compounds interact, one of these two mirror opposites is usually a “better fit” than the other. This is called being more “biologically active.”
Simply put, this means your body can make more use of one geometric isomer. Sometimes, your body cannot use the other one at all! In the case of resveratrol, trans-resveratrol is the best fit for your health. Trans-resveratrol is also more stable in powder form, making it ideal to take as a supplement.
Can resveratrol reverse aging?
At the time of writing, there is no way to reverse aging. That said, we can (and should) adopt as many healthy lifestyle habits as we can—everything from regular exercise to clean, nutritious diets. Doing so will support what experts are now calling health span: the idea that staying as healthy as possible for as long as possible will lead to a life that’s worth living…no matter how long that turns out to be.
This article was written by John Gawley and scientifically reviewed by Michael A.Smith, MD on Life Extension, working to help you achieve your wellness goals with the best nutritional products that science can offer ~ “You’ve got the goals, we’ve got the goods.”
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before making any changes to your wellness routine
Content may be edited for style and length.
Materials provided by:
- Ector, B.J. et al. “Resveratrol Concentration in Muscadine Berries, Juice, Pomace, Purees, Seeds, and Wines.” Am J Enol Vitic., January 1996, https://www.ajevonline.org/content/47/1/57.abstract
- Higdon, Jane, Ph.D. et al. "Resveratrol." Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/dietary-factors/phytochemicals/resveratrol
- Vidavalur, Ramesh, MD et al. “Significance of wine and resveratrol in cardiovascular disease: French paradox revisited.” Exp Clin Cardiol., Fall 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2276147/
- Weiskirchen, Sabine et al. “Resveratrol: How Much Wine Do You Have to Drink to Stay Healthy? 1, 2, 3.” Adv Nut., July 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4942868/