There are numerous geographic locations worldwide with growing numbers of of centenarians.
Environmental factors including diet, exercise, fresh air, sunshine, occupation, psychological factors including positive outlook, meaningful life roles, close family ties, spiritual perspective and hereditary factors all work synergistically to promote a long, healthy lifespan. It would be difficult or impossible to quantify the precise role each of these elements may play in maximizing human longevity.
Nevertheless, consumption of compounds called polyphenols found in many plants, particularly a compound called resveratrol has been shown to extend the lifespan of certain short lived experimental animals. Resveratrol is a polyphenol found in grape skins (among many other plants and plant parts) and functions to protect the plant or grape from environmental damage like insect predation, fungi, and UV radiation from sunlight.
The Cannonau grape from Sardinia is the local name for a grape known worldwide as the Grenache grape. Cannonau grape skins are known to produce high concentrations of resveratrol, perhaps because of the high UV exposure they experience in Sardinia.1 The grapes also contain flavanols and procyanidins, which together with polyphenols – powerful antioxidants with cardiovascular benefits, according to an article, as written, by the prominent heart surgeon and Professor at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, Dr. Mehmet Oz. Wine from Cannonau grapes in Sardinia is made in the traditional sense where the grape skins remain for 8-10 days with the juice to produce a higher resveratrol content. Resveratrol stimulates compounds in cells called sirtuins which are known to extend lifespan in experimental animals under caloric restriction.
In conducting research for his book, Blue Zones, Dan Buettner in conjunction with National Geographic, determined that Cannonau wine does in fact play a role in the longevity of the Sardinian population, with an unusually high percentage of centenarians. Dr. Oz credited this to a Mediterranean diet rich in fruits, vegetables, meat and cheese from grass – fed animals, physically active jobs and red wines, made from the little – known, indigenous grape called Cannonau.
It is possible that a high resveratrol intake from red wine made with Cannonau grapes may in part contribute to increased longevity, however, no controlled human or primate experiments have ever been conducted to substantiate this hypothesis. In all of my books, I have always permitted people to drink a glass of wine with dinner every so often, as it is part of the 85:15 rule which permits occasional “cheating”. The key here is moderation.
I’m often asked what my position is on commercial wines, like Holland Marsala Cooking Wine. Marsala contains a substantial amount of salt. Two tablespoons (30 ml) of this cooking wine contains 190 mg of sodium which translates to 483 mg of salt. The typical western diet contains about 10 grams of salt, whereas hunter-gatherer diets may contain less than 1.0 gram of salt. As you might have already guessed, Marsala Cooking Wine is very “un-Paleo” because of it’s high salt content.
Moreover, it contains two preservatives, potassium sorbate and potassium metabisulfite. Sulfites are sulfur based compounds that may occur naturally or are added to a food as a preservative. Sulfites can cause allergies. The FDA estimates that of 100 people one is sensitive to sulfites and their use on fresh fruits and vegetables was banned in 1986. Sulfite containing ingredients in processed foods include: sulfur dioxide, potassium bisulfite, potassium metabisulfite, sodium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, sodium sulfite.
Most commercial wines contain added sulfites to extend their shelf life, just read the label. The exception to this rule are organic wines which are made without sulfites. There are many other organic wineries that produce sulfite-free wines like Frey Vineyards from Mendocino, CA who produce a variety of sulfite-free wines that are both Paleo and are reasonably priced.
When you take the guesswork out, you can put your mind to rest. Read the labels and keep it in moderation.
Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus
1. Sanna G, Ledda S, Manca G, Franco MA. Characterization of the content of antioxidant substances in the wines of Sardinia. J Commodity Sci Technol Quality 2008;47 (I-IV), 5-25.