Getty Images

Getty Images

The health and wellness benefits of red wine have made headlines in recent years, but they were first noted in the beginning of the nineteenth century when a physician discovered a strange pattern that has since been labeled "The French Paradox;" or rather, what was observed as the ability of the French to have low incidents of coronary heart disease despite their propensity to smoke, consume a diet high in fats, and deliberately exercise relatively little. This led experts to look at another possible factor: wine. Turns out, red wine contains an exceptional level of antioxidants... but what does that actually mean? And what are antioxidants anyway? Let's break it down.

How Antioxidants Work:

Within the body, it's a lot like there's a game of tag going on constantly between free radicals (unstable molecules) and antioxidants, which are like free radical scavengers, essentially. Let's talk about free radicals and this game of tag. Free radicals begin the game as "it." The chemical fact about free radicals is that they're missing an electron, so they have to steal an electron from another molecule in order to become stabilized. When a molecule is tagged, that molecule then turns into a free radical that is missing an electron, so they must tag another. Any tagged molecules must, in turn, tag other molecules to become stabilized. This begins a chain reaction in the body called a free radical reaction that continues unless stopped by the appearance of, you guessed it, antioxidants. But how do antioxidants stop the reaction? They do this by tagging back those tagged molecules and neutralizing them, or in science terms, donating extra electrons to free radical molecules, which then haults the chain reaction. The problem here arises when those antioxidants are low in numbers and the chain reaction gets out of control. This is a term called oxidative stress.

Foods high in antioxidants, like red wine, play a role in combating the many diseases, ailments, and minor illnesses associated with oxidative stress. In the major field, those diseases are illnesses like Parkinson's disease, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, and chronic fatigue syndrome. While there isn't yet a concrete link between red wine and health benefits that has been formally recognized by the medical community, we continue to witness the antioxidant benefits observed in laboratory settings.

In red wine, the main antioxidant involved is called resveratrol. This type of antioxidant is found in fruits such as raspberries, blueberries, and red grapes, hence--wine. Not all red wines contain high levels of resveratrol, though. The grapes make all of the difference. The top winner here is the Malbec variety of grapes, as they have the thickest skins. Here are all of the top contenders for antioxidant density:

  • Malbec
  • Merlot
  • Pinot Noir
  • Petite Sirah
  • St. Laurent
Getty Images

Getty Images

What is Resveratrol?

Resveratrol is a type of phytoalexin, which is basically a form of plant antibiotics, or what exists in a plant's immune system. Yep, plants have immune systems, too . The substance is found in the vines and skins of red grapes and is recognized for anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, blood-sugar stabilizing, muscle restoration, and cardiovascular benefits. The compound is also belongs to a group of plant-based substances called polyphenols. Flavonoids are a type of polyphenol, and this is the same beneficial substance found in chocolate. Flavonoids are also found in tannins, which exist in red wine. Tannins can create that dry depth of flavor in a red wine. And as far as the alcohol content, even that has been shown to be beneficial. It helps boost good HDL cholesterol levels and protects against blood clots in the body. Alright, that's enough scientific terms for now. If you happen to have a glass of wine, take a big sip. You've earned it.

Malbec Grapes/Getty Images

Malbec Grapes/Getty Images

Malbec Grapes/

So how much red wine do you need to reap those benefits? There seems to be a varying range of general recommendations on this, but our friends over at TIME covered a study that was done where participants drank one (5-ounce) glass of wine per night. Here's what happened. This also begs the question, can you easily get the health benefits of red wine into your diet even if you don't want to drink it? Yes, and here's how:

Cooking with Red Wine

A great way to still get that kick of antioxidants from red wine is to use it in your cooking. The alcohol content will be reduced by any high-heat, but the flavor boost and some of those health benefits can still remain. Red wine can be used in anything from pot roasts to desserts, and offers a pleasantly rich and fruity, yet earthy flavor.

[gallery ids="24528,24531" type="rectangular"]

[gallery ids="24530,24529" type="rectangular"]

Remember, as with most anything alcohol-related, you will get the most out if it if you choose a quality bottle (which does not necessarily mean an expensive bottle). Next time the vino is calling, and you want to stretch the bottle a bit further or maybe just switch things up a bit, give one of our favorite wine cocktails a try: