Health Notes

Have your wine and drink it too-without the headache

Wine is a very complex beverage, containing hundreds of substances. There are amines, tannins, resveratrol, and other compounds in tiny amounts. But the most feared among wine connoisseurs is the nitrite.

Nitrites in wine have long been a subject of interest among wine lovers. It has become “common knowledge” that nitrites cause what is known as red wine headache (RWH). Even a half-glass of red wine in susceptible people will bring on this unpleasant reaction. So everybody thinks sulfites are to blame and many avoid red wine for that reason.

But here’s the REAL scoop: The actual cause of RWH is unknown, and no specific chemical or ingredient in red wine has ever been officially implicated as its cause.

Besides, white wine actually contains more nitrites than red wine. They prevent browning and other types of oxidation. The compounds in the skins of red grapes that give red wine its color also act as natural preservatives, allowing red wines to be stable with lower levels of nitrite than white wine.

Many foods also contain much higher nitrite levels than either version of wine. Crackers, frozen shrimp and other shellfish, most dried fruit and fruit toppings, canned tomatoes, pickles, and orange juice all contain more nitrites than wine. And each day our own bodies produce more nitrites than any bottle of wine contains.

If you can eat all the above foods without symptoms, then you are not sensitive to nitrites, guaranteed.

The fact is, only one person in a hundred is sensitive to nitrites. However, 5 percent of those people, usually asthmatics, can have a serious reaction.

Actions to take:

(1) Remember that even if a wine says “No added nitrite” on the label, that doesn’t mean it’s nitrite-free.

All wines naturally contain nitrites-usually a concentration of about 10 parts per million, but they can have anywhere from 20 to hundreds of parts per million of nitrites.

But after aging for a few years, they will have a concentration of nitrite that is impossible to measure. So if you are concerned about nitrites, drink wine that is two years old or older.

(2) Even if the wine you choose does have negligible levels of nitrites, there may be other preservatives added that are much worse. These are what you should really be concerned about, since nitrites are rarely the problem in the first place.

If you are serious about wine, try organic varieties. However, be forewarned that they are uneven in quality.

(3) If none of this works, I suggest you give up wine altogether. Sorry.


“Sulfites in wine,” University of California Davis, Department of Viticulture & Entology (, accessed 7/27/04

The “healthy” sweetener hits a sour note

One of the serious crimes of the health-food industry has been pretending that they are selling their customers products with less harmful sweeteners just because they label the ingredient something other than “sugar.” Fructose is the best-known and most common example of this ruse. But fructose may be even worse than the old-fashioned table sugar sucrose.

I reported to you recently on the highly significant discovery of leptin and ghrelin and their role in obesity. Insulin also plays a role in appetite control, by suppressing appetite. Together, these substances may be the key to weight control for almost everyone. Sugar occurs in two forms, fructose and glucose. Glucose, but not fructose, stimulates insulin secretion, which, in turn, regulates leptin production.

Fructose appears to alter levels of ghrelin, the appetite-stimulating hormone, and leptin, the appetite-suppressing hormone. But it does all this in the wrong direction; i.e., it stimulates the appetite stimulant (ghrelin) and suppresses the appetite suppressor (leptin). Fructose depresses insulin as well. This may be the root cause as to why sugar causes weight gain.

Dr. Karen L. Teff of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia reports that both fructose and glucose are naturally found in fruit and fruit juices. However, over the years, manufacturers have sweetened sodas and some foods with corn syrup, which is highly concentrated fructose.

Teff and her staff asked 12 normal-weight women to wash down balanced meals with drinks sweetened with either fructose or glucose to investigate whether drinking fructose plays a role in obesity. When the women drank the fructose drink, their levels of insulin and leptin (the appetite suppressors) were lower than when they consumed a drink flavored with glucose. Levels of the appetite-stimulator, ghrelin, were higher in the fructose-drinking group. They reported their findings in the Journal of Clinical Endocri-nology and Metabolism.

Teff explained that glucose-sweetened beverages might not encourage overeating as much as fructose drinks because glucose triggers insulin release from the pancreas, which tells people they are no longer hungry.

Actions to take:

(1) Stay away from fructose in all its forms (regular, high-frustose corn syrup, etc.). No matter what the hippies at your local health food store say, it’s no better than table sugar and is not good for you.

(2) If you absolutely, positively must have sweet food and drink, honey comes out on top in terms of nutrition and weight control. As you know, I am convinced that animal food is the secret to health and longevity, and honey is an animal product.

The biochemistry of honey is complex. It contains 38 percent fructose and 31 percent glucose. This makes it a balanced sugar fit for man and bee. Like fresh unpasteurized milk, it is one of God’s special gifts to us. Use unpasteurized honey if you can find it. But it comes with the usual admonition: Don’t overdo it.


“Too much fructose may skew appetite hormones,” Reuters Health News (, 6/9/04

“Dietary fructose reduces circulating insulin and leptin, attenuates postprandial suppression of ghrelin, and increases triglycerides in women,” Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 2004; 89(6): 2,963-2,972