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Drinking wine with meals may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes compared to drinking without food

Business Insider US
Some well-known white wines include Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and AlbariƱo. Mykhailo Lukashuk/Getty Images
Some well-known white wines include Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Albariño. Mykhailo Lukashuk/Getty Images
  • Drinking wine at meals, but not without food, may lower your type 2 diabetes risk, new study shows.
  • The study of over 300,000 adults for an average of 11 years didn't find benefits of beer or liquor. 
  • Non-alcoholic components of wine or lifestyle factors could explain the findings. 
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

If you're going to drink alcohol, drink wine — not beer or liquor — with meals, a new study about alcohol intake and diabetes risk suggests. 

Past research has shown moderate drinkers may have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes than non-drinkers or never-drinkers, but the current study is the first to show how diabetes risk may differ based on how drinkers consume their booze. 

The findings, presented today at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle & Cardiometabolic Health Conference 2022, add to controversial research linking moderate alcohol consumption with certain health benefits, but do not indicate that non-drinkers should start, the AHA and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention say.

Beer and liquor drinkers had a higher risk of type 2 diabetes  

To conduct the study, researchers looked at data from nearly 312,400 adults in the UK Biobank who said they imbibed regularly. The participants didn't have diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, or cancer when they enrolled in the study, and were excluded if they reduced their alcohol consumption due to illness, doctor's advice, or pregnancy.

The participants were 56 years old on average and almost entirely (95%) white. Slightly more than half were women. 

The researchers wanted to find out if past trials showing moderate drinking has a positive effect on glucose metabolism translated to a reduced risk of diabetes, and to see how that might differ based on when participants drank.

Over an average of 11 years, the analysis found about 8,600 participants, or 2.75%, developed type 2 diabetes.

Drinking with meals, as opposed to without food, was associated with a 14% lower risk of type 2 diabetes. That benefit was most common among wine drinkers, the analysis found. In contrast, beer and liquor intake was associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.

The report doesn't indicate how much participants drank, but emphasises that moderate consumption — no more than one drink a day for women and two for men — is key. The study also didn't differentiate between white and red wine, or ask during which meal or meals participants drank. 

"The message from this study is that drinking moderate amounts of wine with meals may prevent type 2 diabetes if you do not have another health condition that may be negatively affected by moderate alcohol consumption and in consultation with your doctor," study author Dr Hao Ma, a biostatistical analyst at the Tulane University Obesity Research Center in New Orleans, said in a press release. 

He told Insider the results have affected his own drinking patterns. "I'm trying to drink some wine with my meals, but for now, I still prefer light beer," he said. 

Non-alcoholic components of wine or lifestyle factors could help explain the results  

Since the study mostly included white adults, the results can't be applied to more diverse populations. Plus, it was based on self-reports, which are notoriously faulty, particularly when it comes to booze. 

It's also unclear if the link between wine consumption at meals and reduced diabetes risk has to do with non-alcoholic components in wine itself, like antioxidants and polyphenals, or other factors, like that people moderately drinking wine at meals have healthier diets overall, Vandana Sheth, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist who was not involved with the study, told Insider. 

People sipping wine at meals may also be more likely to be well-off, and reap other health benefits like access to good healthcare. 

"We found that participants who have 'healthy' drinking habits also have a healthier lifestyle than others," Ma told Insider. "However, further adjusting for lifestyle factors and other covariates did not change the results." 

But since the beer and liquor drinkers in the study didn't experience the benefits — and in fact were more likely to be harmed — it seems the alcohol itself wasn't doing participants any favours. 

In January, the American Heart Federation issued a controversial policy brief saying there's no safe level of alcohol consumption for the heart and criticising popularised research concluding that moderate drinking is heart-healthy.

"These claims are at best misinformed," brief co-author Monika Arora said in a news release, "and at worst an attempt by the alcohol industry to mislead the public about the danger of their product."

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