Red wine for weight loss? You talkin’ to me?

by Denis Faye - The Nutrition Nerd | February 10, 2015

taxi-driver-mohawkThere’s nothing more chilling than watching a bunch of public relations pimps go all Harvey Keitel on a sweet, innocent Jodie Foster of a scientific study. It seriously makes me want to shave myself a mohawk, pack some heat, and go all Taxi Driver on the situation.*

Today’s source of my nerdy, unstable consternation is this press release from Oregon State University entitled “Another reason to drink wine: it could help you burn fat.”

Here’s the first paragraph:

Drinking red grape juice or wine – in moderation – could improve the health of overweight people by helping them burn fat better, according to a new study coauthored by an Oregon State University researcher.

Huzzah! Science tells us that red wine is officially a weight loss solution! Bring on the Cab Sav!!!

Or maybe not. The excitement surrounds a phytonutrient called ellagic acid which, in a study on mice featured in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, appears to impact fat metabolism–but not in the way you’re thinking. Four more paragraphs down, we get this:

These plant chemicals are not a weight-loss miracle, cautions Shay. “We didn’t find, and we didn’t expect to, that these compounds would improve body weight,” he said. But by boosting the burning of fat, especially in the liver, they may improve liver function in overweight people.

Oh no! Snake oil clean up in aisle twelve! That’s not the bill of good the headline sold! Or, I mean, maybe it is! I mean, it is, but it isn’t! Dagnabbit! I’ve been hornswoggled!

Long story short, if you’re overweight and you drink a glass or two of red wine each day, it might help you avoid fatty liver disease. It also might help manage your blood sugar. It will not, however, in any way, help you lose weight. but that’s kind of boring given being skinny is much more important than not dying, so the media chose to run with that misleading headline instead. “Drinking red wine could help overweight people burn fat better, scientists claim,” shouts The Independent. “How a glass of red wine can be slimming,” The Daily Mail declares. “Red Wine can help You burn fat, says science,” insists Elle Magazine.

In each case, the real story is buried later in the copy (more or less), but who reads articles past the first paragraph anymore? The headline is the thing! (If you’ve actually read this far, feel free to hit me with a big, fat “You’re wrong, sucker!” on Facebook.)

And by the way, the mice were actually fed a grape extract, not vino. Claiming red wine will have these benefits is a bit of an extrapolation–so while we’re doing that, why not extrapolate on the benefits of the healthy-yet-less-indulgent foods containing ellagic acid, such as most berries, pomegranates, walnuts, or pecans?

I’m all for a one or two standards drink per day. There are plenty of health benefits. Even if you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll probably be okay drinking that much–but don’t kid yourself. It’s not helping you lose weight. The resveratrol and elegiac acid are swell, but ultimately, it’s just 100-300 calories of unregulated sugar and alcohol.

So if you’re looking for strategies to deal with excess weight, instead of protecting your liver and blood sugar while staying heavy, why not focus on losing the weight and therefore letting the problems resolve themselves? After all, in the words of weight loss expert Travis Bickle, “you’re only as healthy as you feel.”

Okay, technically, he was more of a blood loss expert, but you get the point.

*figuratively, of course. (The lawyers made me add this.)
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