Auburn, April 27---One early autumn evening
46 years ago while vacationing in Denver, then-President Dwight
Eisenhower, prepared for bed, following a busy afternoon of national
security briefings, nine holes of golf and a game of billiards with a
going to bed, Ike’s friend tried
to interest him in a nightcap. But the president declined the offer.
He was tired and ready for sleep.
Besides, he wasn’t feeling too well, recalling the
big meal he had eaten earlier that afternoon prepared in typical
fifties-era fashion: "A huge hamburger sandwich generously
garnished with slices of Bermuda onion and accompanied by a pot of
Rising from an uneasy sleep early the next morning,
Ike experienced his first heart attack.
As he learned later from one heart doctor, he may
have avoided the attack if he had taken the "proffered
drink." Even as far back as the 1950s, heart experts were
advising older people to take one drink after dinner because of
alcohol’s effect in dilating arteries and aiding blood flow.
Research conducted within the last couple of decades
has only confirmed this belief.
"Research has pretty much shown moderate
amounts of alcohol – one or two drinks a day – can reduce heart
disease no matter what you drink," says Dr. Robert Keith, an
Alabama Cooperative Extension System nutritionist. "Part of it
stems strictly from the alcohol-related effect, because alcohol
raises levels of HDL, the good cholesterol in your body."
Even better, it’s shown that certain forms of
alcohol, especially red wine, may offer other safeguards beyond
"Red wine contains lots of compounds called
phytochemicals, and many of these are strong in antioxidants,"
"These antioxidants appear to protect not only
against heart disease but other diseases as well."
The big advantage red wine enjoys over other alcohol
products stems from the wide array of these chemicals found in the
product. People who drink red wine consume literally hundreds and
thousands of phytochemicals and flavonoids that may provide
safeguards scientists are only now beginning to discover.
"These phytochemicals may be protecting you in
different ways," Keith says. "In addition to safeguarding
against heart disease, people who drink red wine on a moderate and
regular basis may be protecting their skin, safeguarding their eyes
against cataracts and reducing their risk of some types of
Despite all the good things being said about alcohol
and especially red wine, Keith says it is not an excuse to start
"There’s really a very small window of
opportunity here," Keith says. "After all, consuming two
classes of wine or beer each day is a tall order for many people –
it would be for me personally."
"Also, anything beyond a couple of drinks a day
isn’t healthy. When you drink more than that you run into problems
with alcohol excess – things that may affect your liver or
increase your blood pressure."
This largely accounts for why government agencies
have shied away from recommending alcohol as a health safeguard, Keith
"They’re afraid too many people will view
such a recommendation as a license to drink and to begin abusing
alcohol, he says."
Even so, there are other lifestyle changes that
provide the same sorts of health benefits, Keith says.
"My first recommendation would be to consume
more fruits and vegetables," Keith says. "Grapes are a
very good choice. Wine, after all, is made from grapes, so by eating
grapes you’re the getting the same antioxidant protection
provided by wine."
Tea also contains a large number of phytochemicals
and is a good alternative for teetotalers, Keith says.
Even chocolate is a good choice from the standpoint
of phytochemicals, though he advises avoiding large amounts of this
because of the calories.
Robert Keith, Extension nutritionist, 334-844-3273.)