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Studies show wine is heart healthy, but what about the calories?

A glass of wine a day keeps the doctor away. Could this be true? WebMD talks to experts to learn how we can get the health benefits of wine or alcohol while keeping our weight in check.

Do Like the French?

The French diet is often used as an example of how wine can improve heart health. The French have a fairly high-fat diet but their heart disease risk is relatively low. And some have attributed this to red wine.

But there are so many differences between the lifestyle of the French and Americans from their activity levels to the foods they eat. You cannot isolate red wine as the magic bullet for disease prevention says Alice Lichtenstein, DrS, Gershoff Professor at Tufts University.

Choose whichever alcoholic beverage you enjoy, drink it in moderation and try to have it with meals, advise Lichtenstein and Eric Rimm, DrS, a Harvard researcher.

Arthur Agatston, MD, cardiologist and creator of the popular South Beach diet, encourages patients who enjoy alcohol to also drink it with meals.

"Alcohol can stimulate the appetite so it is better to drink it with food. When alcohol is mixed with food, it can slow the stomach's emptying time and potentially decrease the amount of food consumed at the meal," asserts Agatston. His alcohol of choice is red wine due to the antioxidant resveratrol. However, he agrees that any alcohol in limited quantity will provide the same health benefit.

There is a misperception that red wine is abundant in antioxidants. "It does contain some, but they are not always well absorbed. If you want antioxidants, you are better off eating a spinach salad with vegetables than drinking a glass of red wine," Rimm tells WebMD.

Lower Your Cholesterol

Alcohol also can have a very powerful effect and increase HDL "good" cholesterol by 20% if used moderately and in the context of a healthy diet along with regular physical activity, says Rimm. Higher HDL levels are linked to lower risks of heart disease.

"The research evidence points to ethanol, or the alcohol component, of beer, wine, or spirits as the substrate that can help lower cholesterol levels, increase 'good' HDL cholesterol," he says.

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