If you enjoy sharing a glass of a nice red wine with friends and family, you may be working on reducing your cholesterol while you're relaxing. Scientists at the University of California, Davis, think that a group of chemicals in red wine, called saponins, are linked to the ability to lower cholesterol. If you have been following the discussions on the French paradox you are already familiar with the link between red wine and reduced risk of heart disease. ..Yet it seems that folks who grow up in France tend to have less clogged arteries and are less obese than Americans or Brits. For years this has been attributed to red wines' health benefits – specifically the compounds catechins and resveratrol, called polyphenols, found in red wine. These chemicals also have antioxidant or anticancer properties.
Andrew Waterhouse, Ph.D., Professor of Enology at UC Davis, an expert in wine chemistry, says that saponins are being found in an increasing number of foods and their presence in wine adds to the mounting evidence that red wine really may make a difference in lowering your cholesterol. "Saponins are a hot new food ingredient. People are just starting to pay attention to it," says Waterhouse. It seems that red wine contains about three to ten times as much saponin as white. This is probably because the saponins are found in the skins of the grapes and red wines have longer contact with their skins in the fermentation process.
The tests showed that the Red Zinfandel has the highest levels of saponins followed by Syrah. Both Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon had about the same amount. No other red wines were tested, but scientists believe that most red wines contain significant amounts of this chemical.