White wine drinker? You might want to consider a switch

What makes a glass of red so much better than white? Professor Tim Spector explains.

Tim Spector, world-leading expert on gut health, has important information for white wine drinkers about why they might want to consider switching their tipple to red.  

The advice follows his own research into whether red wine provides benefits for your gut health. The study, from researchers at King’s College London (KCL), where Spector is Professor of Genetic Epidemiology, explored the effect of different alcoholic drinks on the gut microbiome and health. 

Professor Tim Spector sitting in a kitchen with food and drink in front of him that is beneficial for your gut healthCredit: Zoe Ltd

The study looked at 916 UK female twins and found that people who drank red wine had a wider variety of gut bacteria compared with people who drank other alcoholic drinks. White wine was linked to a smaller increase in the variety of gut bacteria, while beer, cider and spirits were not linked to any increase. 

A more diverse gut microbiome is considered a healthier one. 


What is the gut microbiome? 

The gut microbiome is the trillions of microorganisms (bacteria, viruses and fungi) that live in your digestive tract. Scientists are still learning more about our microbiome, but it’s estimated that each person has around 1,000 species of bacteria in their gut.

It’s still the case that overall, alcohol can damage your health. But if you enjoy a glass of white wine (or a beer, or a whisky) it could be worth switching to red wine.  

The key to the difference is grape skins. When making red wine, the skins are left in contact with the grape juice whilst it ferments into wine. Grape skin contains lots of polyphenols (natural antioxidant compounds found in plants), explains Spector, which gut microbes like to eat, and which help them to reproduce. 

“In red wine, the effects of the red of the skin outweigh the bad effects of the alcohol,” he told us. 

Red wine has three times as many polyphenols compared with white wine, which is why you might want to make the swap. 

Two glasses of red wine sat on a wooden barrel surrounded by red grapes.Credit: Shutterstock/Rostislav_Sedlacek
The grape skin in red wine contains polyphenols which are beneficial for gut bacteria.

Spector’s tips for swapping from white to red

Not a fan of red wine? Spector shared some suggestions to help your tastebuds adapt.  

“You can try switching [from white] to rosé, which has slightly more polyphenols and is in between [white and red wine]. 

“Or try half a glass of red wine after putting it in the fridge, or with an ice cube in it – it often tastes like white wine if it’s chilled.” 

He also suggests trying “artisan cider” (that is, cloudy craft cider) as an alternative to red wine, something which he discusses in his latest book Food for Life. This is because some artisan ciders can contain the same levels of polyphenols as red wine, which suggests they might provide similar health benefits.

Woman holding a glass of red wine to her mouth outside.Credit: Shutterstock/PeopleImages.com – Yuri A

Why is diverse gut bacteria so important?

When speaking to Dr Michael Mosley on his BBC podcast Just One Thing in January, Spector explained that having a wide range of gut bacteria supports your overall health because they act like a “pharmacy” producing healthy chemicals which are crucial to your metabolism, immunity and digestion. 

Recent research published in the Nature Medicine journal, which Spector contributed to, shows a healthy gut can reduce the risk of developing chronic illnesses such as heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. 

This is especially relevant in later life because research shows diversity of the gut microbiome tends to reduce with age. 

Despite red wine having proven benefits for the gut, in the podcast, Spector explained that this doesn’t mean alcohol is good for you overall. Plus, red wine won’t benefit your gut health if you over-indulge. Spector said the KCL study shows when participants reached three glasses of wine per day, the gut health benefit was lost. 

Other things that support your gut health 

  • A diet filled with a variety of plant foods. Consultant dietitian and chair for the British Dietetic Association for London, Sophie Medlin says: “Our gut microbiome loves fermented foods, but it also really loves plant foods such as nuts and seeds and fibre-rich fruits and vegetables as well as spices and herbs.”   
  • Staying hydrated (with non-alcoholic drinks and not just red wine). 
  • Getting enough sleep. Sleep deprivation leads to changes in gut microbiome make-up. Doctors recommend seven to eight hours per night for the average adult. 
  • Eating slowly. Rushing your meals can negatively impact your digestion and cause bloating and indigestion. Experts recommend chewing each bite of food around 32 times. 
  • Keeping calm. Stress alters the composition of bacteria in the gut, and it can either speed up or slow down digestion. Simple relaxation techniques such as being present in nature can help to combat this. 
  • Staying active. Assistant professor at the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham, Dr Niharika Duggal says doing regular exercise can help keep your gut healthy. The UK recommended guidelines are 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week. 

The NHS advises drinking no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, spread across three days or more, which is equivalent to around six medium (175ml) glasses of wine.

Gemma Harris

Written by Gemma Harris she/her


Gemma Harris has been a journalist for over seven years and is a self-confessed health and wellbeing enthusiast, which led her to specialise in health journalism. During her career, she has worked with top editors in the industry and taken on multiple high-discipline fitness challenges for certain outlets. She is particularly passionate about nutrition; after being diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome in 2016, she discovered her fascination for gut health and founded thegutchoice.com – a dedicated space for providing a hopeful outcome for people with gut issues. Gemma’s core aim is to help others through her writing.

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