Commentary: I’ll drink (and eat) to that

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New York City’s plans to limit supersize drinks got shut down by a judge Monday, after Mayor Michael Bloomberg had gotten an ordinance passed banning sugary sodas larger than 16 oz. per serving. But who cares about soda when other news about a much stronger beverage is even better?

Over the past several years, news coverage feasted on the hypothesis, based on legitimate but seemingly irreproducible scientific research, that a compound found in red wine may help support a healthier, longer life. However, the feel-good story surrounding that discovery quickly became controversial. Various scientific authorities weighed in with criticism, some even claiming that the original research was bogus.

However, in a major new study reported just this week in Science, those researchers demonstrated that the compound, called resveratrol, does acts directly on a protein integral to cellular metabolism related to the development of inflammatory diseases.

Raise your glasses, people!

“This will be a major step forward for the field,” David Sinclair, a Harvard Medical School molecular biologist and lead author of the study, told Nature. “The controversy has scared people off from studying these molecules.”

A decade ago, Sinclair and his co-workers reported that resveratrol activated enzymes that remove acetyl groups from proteins thought to be involved in the ageing process. Shortly after that revelation, Sinclair co-founded Sirtris, a Cambridge, Mass.-based company aimed at developing potential therapies for age-related diseases. Just four years later, GlaxoSmithKline, the UK-based pharmaceutical giant, bought up the company for $720 million.

That kind of cash will slow down the aging process. Big time.

And buy plenty of red wine to toast a long, healthy life.

Red meat, red wine: Better together?

More importantly—because only winos consider red wine complete all by itself—the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition just published a study showing that the saturated fat found in red meat isn’t associated with negative nutritional impact commonly heard in reference to “saturated fat.” According to several news reports, including Great Britain’s Daily Mail, the kind of fat you consume by eating beef is actually associated with health benefits: lower cholesterol and a reduction in other risk factors for heart disease.

“Saturated fat has become public enemy No. 1 for heart health, the one food type guaranteed to clog arteries and raise the risk of a heart attack,” the story explained. “But emerging evidence suggests not all saturated fat should be tarred with the same brush—one type of saturated fat, known as stearic acid, may actually protect the heart against disease.”

Stearic acid, a saturated fatty acid found in beef, pork, chicken, cheese and chocolate (and also olive oil, but we already assumed that’s healthy), is one of a number of saturated fatty acids found in such foods. However, unlike other saturated fatty acids, studies show that consumption of stearic acid has no adverse effect on blood cholesterol levels or other risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

In fact, stearic acid appears to be beneficial—suggesting, as one commentator put it, that “Red meat and chocolate are not the heart-health disaster zones we assume they are.”

And red wine, let’s not forget.

When a recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that eating lean beef on a daily basis actually improved cholesterol levels, the researchers noted that the stearic acid was responsible for the positive changes.

This isn’t exactly shocking. Because while it’s fun to take the conclusions of limited research studies straight over the top and laugh about living off a diet of red meat and red wine, obviously, that’s a menu that won’t take anyone to nutritional nirvana.

But these studies underscore a fact that scientists and nutritionists have been harping on for years: Achieving good health—or perhaps avoiding chronic disease, might be a better way to put it—is a multi-faceted challenge. By themselves, beef and wine certainly aren’t dietary home runs.

But if judicious consumption of both helps someone go from first to third a little faster (to extend the analogy), that’s certainly worth celebrating.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.


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