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The Low Downunder On The Aussies
by Phillip Silverstone

American and Australia have many things in common when it comes to cultures, lifestyles, and WINE. In both countries the wine industry really began in the 1800s as European immigrants tended to their first vines. Several wine regions in Australia were actually founded when the gold rush of the 1800s "went bust" and Aussies, just like those in the Napa Valley during the gold-rush in America, abandoned their gold-sifting pans for grape vines.

With fewer people and less rain in Australia than in America to help with the wine making process, the Australians developed machinery and irrigation systems to compensate. In addition to these new innovations, the Aussies developed a sense of pride in their winemaking. Even Australian politicians have a strong enthusiasm for the trade: the first Wine Australia extravaganza held in Sydney last June was opened by Prime Minister John Howard who praised the wine industry and commented on how " it brought people together for the good of all of Australia."

O.K., so the Aussie politicians may be a bit more relaxed than those in America about alcohol, (indeed, there was no Prohibition in Australia), but Australian and American wine industries are more parallel than not. Today, both countries produce some delicious wines, but the Australians don't consider their wines as a threat to the prosperity of home-grown American varietals….rather an enhancement. America welcomes Australian wine - we imported over two million cases in 1996 alone, and we're having fun discovering and comparing the different varietals.

The Australian Wine Bureau quotes, "Water separates the people of the world, and wine unites them." With respect to the wine industry, Australia and America aren't far from each other at all, and of course, it helps that America doesn't play cricket, because I can tell you from experience that after a 5-day cricket match against the Aussies, you sometimes need to be a continent apart.

A Weighty Problem for Women to Wine About

And now girls and boys, yet another report on some results which pertain to "Wine, women and weight" so hold on to your exercise bike, and here goes. According to a recent issue of the Harvard Women's Health Watch, a monthly publication by the Harvard Medical School Health Publications Group in Boston, women may be able to enjoy drinking moderate amounts of wine without gaining weight. In fact, preliminary investigations suggest that moderate consumption in some cases may even be linked to weight reduction.

The article cites the results of the Nurses' Health Study which examined data from almost 90,000 women and found that although "drinkers consumed more calories than abstainers, they tended to weigh less." The body mass index, or BMI, of participants was compared for abstainers and moderate drinkers. This index is found by multiplying your weight in pounds by 700, and then dividing the result of the square of your height in inches (I'd run out of fingers doing those sums!) A BMI of 21-25 is average, between 25-27 indicates moderate over-weight, and over 27 signals obesity. Interestingly, of those participating, the average BMI for abstainers was 27 while that of moderate drinkers (one to two glasses per day) was around 23.

While the moderate drinkers tended to consume around 500 more calories per day than the abstainers (due to the calories in their alcohol), the nutritional content of the women's diets was otherwise similar. The consumption of sugar per day by the abstainers, however, was almost double that of the moderate drinkers, suggesting that "as alcohol intake rises, sugar use falls."

Similar results have been found in two other larger studies: The National Examination Survey and the Behavioral Risk Factor Survey. And yet, though the research sounds promising, you might not want to rely on a few glasses of wine in lieu of the stairmaster and treadmill. As the Women's Health Watch indicates, "while moderate alcohol consumption rarely makes a thin woman fat, it can add pounds to the already overweight. Thus, its effects are thought to vary from woman to woman, according to her BMI, diet, alcohol consumption, and metabolic rate." Now then, who'd like a little slurp with me?


Phillip Silverstone Phillip Silverstone is a syndicated broadcaster and columnist. His book, "Cheers! The World of a Wine-osaur" (Camino Books, $12) is available in bookstores everywhere.

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