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Prior to sitting down at the table for Thanksgiving dinner, I had a quick exchange with a family member about whether drinking red wine was good. It started because they were about to fill their glass for a second time, and said (only half-jokingly) “after all, red wine is good for me!”

So I asked why they thought that, and they said that they heard red wine was rich in antioxidants and resveratrol, so it was an important part of their diet. I didn’t want to get into it with them right there and then, since our Thanksgiving table has been conflict-free for quite a while, and I wanted to keep it that way. But, it got me thinking about how some foods get a reputation for being healthful just because they contain higher than average levels of a particular vitamin, mineral, compound, macronutrient or substance.

Focusing on a single component of a food, and using that to then declare the food healthy, can lead easily lead you down the wrong path.

Look at it this way, if you add a crushed up multivitamin to a Big Mac it wouldn’t become a healthy sandwich simply because it now contains 100% of your daily RDA for key vitamins and minerals.

By the same token, just because red wine contains resveratrol and other antioxidants doesn’t mean it’s a superfood and you should drink as much as possible, because it’s also empty calories, subjects your liver to extra stress, can significantly impact your quality of sleep, and can hasten the onset of dementia and other vascular problems. And recent studies have called into question the popular thinking that the compounds in red wine actually translate to better health [doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.1582].

We don’t eat antioxidants and vitamins and macronutrients, we eat foods. And when we’re looking at whether a food is something we should be eating, we need to look at the healthfulness of the food as a whole, not just whether it happens to have a chemical or compound that scientists believe may be good for us.

So if you feel like your diet is lacking in antioxidants, have a handful of blueberries instead of that next glass of wine.

Or if you feel like having a glass of wine, then have a glass of wine. I understand that a glass of wine or cocktail can be a nice treat sometimes. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re drinking a health tonic.

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