Thursday, November 19, 2009

Alcohol and healthy diets - what's the story?

We've been harping on about the so-called Mediterranean diet for some time. Much of the recent research on this has come from Spain, where researchers seem to have decided to define the southern European diet as an intrinsically healthy one ie one involving vegetables, nuts, fish and minimal animal fat.. According to this story, the Mediterranean countries only eat small amounts of meat and drink in great moderation. I find this hard to believe.

So today's report from Spain is gratifying. It does not exactly say that the Spanish are heavy drinkers but still quite healthy - but that is the implication. For the report says that the more a Spanish man drinks, the healthier his heart. As an aside, the researchers add that Spanish men  drink quite a lot and indeed the country's vineyards and granaries make it the world's third largest producer of alcohol.

There will be a lot of criticism of the findings. The definition of health is quite narrow - heart disease. What about the other problems alcohol may cause, including liver disease and stroke?

I think there's a more interesting question. Is the finding unique to Spain and similar countries? Is there something about Spain that means drinking is linked to better health. Now the researchers tried their best to disentangle drink from other factors but I wonder if they succeeded.

For instance, in a country that takes its alcohol with its meals, good drinking may be linked to good eating. And whereas in the UK, a good meal probably involves steak, chips and a sugary, fat-laden dessert, in Spain it may involve a menu that's a great deal healthier. In northern Europe also, heavy drinking is associated with the ubiquitous beer belly as drinkers also tend to pile on fat. It seems unbelievable that the obesity that many heavy drinkers suffer from does not also lead to heart disease.

So this is yet another plea for some research on the real diets of the southern European countries. These are diets rich in wine, olive oil and yes also vegetables, fruit, nuts and quite a lot of fish. Let's not pretend the Mediterran lifestyle is entirely healthy. But it may offer some clues as to how to enjoy alcohol better.

No comments:

Post a Comment