Friday, January 25, 2013

Health Benefits of Sake

It has been brutally cold for the last couple days and people have been warned that drinking alcohol will not keep them warm. However, is that fully true? A Japanese doctor, Yukio Takizawa, disagrees when it comes to Sake. "Recent studies have shown that moderate consumption of saké can maintain our body temperature in the cold. During acute exposure to a cold environment saké may prove advantageous by increasing blood circulation and heat production."

Though Dr. Takizawa does not differentiate whether he is referring to cold or warm Sake, it is common for the Japanese to drink warm Sake during the winter. Kanzake is the general term for warmed Sake though there are several specific terms for Sake served at various heated temperatures. The first written references to warmed Sake are from the early 10th century and it was not until the early 17th century that drinking warmed Sake during the winter became commonplace. Interestingly, around the start of the 18th century, the Japanese started drinking warm Sake year round.

Why did the Japanese drink warmed Sake? It is thought that the primary reason may be for their health. The Chinese had drank warmed alcohol for a long time before the Japanese and they had health traditions that drinking warmed beverages were better for your health. During the early 18th century, Kaibara Ekiken, an influential samurai, physician, scientist and philosopher, wrote a book promoting the idea that warm Sake improves the circulation of one's life energy.

The health benefits of Sake extend well beyond protection from the cold. "Consuming saké in moderation has been hailed in Japan since ancient times as a healthy practice that delivers good health, longevity and excellent skin tone." Though you might want to dismiss that as primitive folklore with little basis in reality, recent scientific studies have provided a solid foundation for these beliefs. "In light of the best current medical knowledge, moderate saké consumption is good for liver health, effective in preventing most forms of cancer, enables good blood flow, and reduces stress." Dr. Takizawa also stated: "Saké too offers a number of particular health benefits, including increased HDL (or the good) cholesterol, thus preventing heart attacks, strokes and other health problems. Furthermore, saké contains many naturally occurring nutrients." Sake can even help you sleep better. "Moderate consumption of saké is known to reduce REM sleep and increase the non-REM or deep sleep, therefore helping to make for more restful sleep."

All of the above quotes can be found in Dr. Takizawa's compelling book: Sake, Health and Longevity (Veronica Lane Books, May 2011). This short, but fascinating, book details a myriad of health benefits, based on numerous studies, provided by Sake. You can read this book to learn more detail about the general health statements I quoted above. Besides the health benefits, it also provides basic information about Sake production, Sake types and pairing Sake with food. It is a great starting point for learning more about Sake and raises many intriguing points that deserve follow up and exploration. Sake is delicious but it also appears to be good for you, providing another important reason for everyone to check it out.

"In fact, an ancient Japanese saying reminds the gourmet ”to drink sake, not to get drunk by it.


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