One of the most well-documented benefits of red wine is a heart protective effect. One to 2 drinks per day of red wine have been shown to increase HDL cholesterol by about 11-17%. This extra HDL cholesterol can then serve to remove some of LDL cholesterol from the circulation and lessen the amount of material available for fatty plaque formation.
Plaque formation may be further hindered by the polyphenols in red wine that possess antioxidant properties. Some researchers believe that resveratrol might be the key ingredient in red wine that helps prevent damage to blood vessels, reduces “bad” cholesterol and prevents blood clots. The resveratrol in red wine comes from the skin of grapes used to make wine. Because red wine is fermented with grape skins longer than is white wine, red wine contains more resveratrol.
Scientists at the University of California, Davis, have identified another group of chemicals in red wine that is linked to the ability to lower cholesterol. Called saponins, these glucose-based plant compounds are being found in an increasing number of foods. Saponins seem to lessen the risk of cardiovascular disease by preventing the absorption of cholesterol in the body. Interestingly, some of the same wines that show the lowest levels of flavonoids, like red zinfandel, contain high levels of saponins. The average red wine contains three to 10 times as much saponin as white wine and, in general, a higher alcohol content translates to higher saponin concentrations.