When you take that nice Bordeaux off the rack and pour yourself a glass do you ever wonder how nutritious the wine is? You have your morning probiotics, you eat your kale salads, you gulp down antioxidant teas and when the evening rolls around you have a glass of red. Even the most health-conscious person might overlook wine nutrition but it is actually a very significant part of the health of any wine drinker.
There is such a thing as too much wine and the implications of that are far-reaching. Your evening glass might also be the culprit for stubborn weight gain problems. Wine can be a fickle mistress so an understanding of wine nutrition is necessary to know at what point she gives and at what point she takes away.
Isn’t wine nutrition an oxymoron?
Nutrition, by definition, has to do with the nutrients in foods, how the body uses nutrients, as well as the link between your diet and health. In the minds of some wine does not seem to fit. Wine does, however, contain nutrients and it can be a significant contributor to your overall health. Unfortunately, the wine industry does sort of miss the boat on conveying this information sometimes.
If you go into your local supermarket almost everything you pick up will have a nutrition label on the back telling you all about the Calories, total fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, protein and vitamins in it. Well, not for wine. This doesn’t apply to any alcohol actually so the nutrition facts of the beverage remain a bit of a mystery.
Part of the reason for this in the United States has to do with the prohibition era. As a result of the strict regulations at the time, alcoholic beverages were not regulated by the FDA, which requires nutrition labeling, but instead by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which does not. The TTB makes labeling an option but it’s not enforced and no one really does it.
This all becomes extremely important for wine nutrition for one big reason, Calories. The alcohol in the wine is a huge source of Calories for regular drinkers and since you can’t see the Calorie count for the bottle you’re pouring you can’t know how many Calories that third glass just added to your waist.
How many calories are in a glass of wine?
Depending on the wine you can consume anywhere from around 107 to 275 Calories per glass. This is keeping in mind that a ‘glass’ is defined as a 5 oz. serving which only comes to about half, or a little below half, in some wine glasses. If you’re taking your 22 oz. glass, filling it to the top and throwing back a couple, well, you can do the math. The Calories add up quick.
A small aside for science: One important note concerning Calories is that when we are talking about Calories with a capital ‘C’ we actually mean kilocalories. There is a big difference between little ‘c’ calories and big ‘C’ Calories. Little ‘c’ calorie is a unit of energy and it takes 1000 of them (denoted by the prefix kilo) to raise 1kg of water by 1°C. So, one Calorie is actually a kilocalorie which is actually 1000 calories. It is important to appreciate this to have an understanding of just how much energy (which can become fat in the body) is contained in your typical 153 Calorie glass of wine.
The energy in that glass of wine would be enough to make around 40 gallons of water increase by almost 2°F or, put another way, releasing all the energy in that glass of wine would be like raising the temperature in a quarter gallon of water by around 275°F. Needless to say, it’s a lot. Alright, science corner over.
Almost all the Calories in wine come from the alcohol while the second-highest contributor is sugar. As a general rule, a higher ABV sweeter wine will have many more calories than a low ABV wine which is less sweet. So, moving up the scale, at the lower end you might have a 9-12% ABV Dry White like Pinot Grigio with anywhere from 107-143 Calories per glass.
A little higher you would have a 13.5-16% ABV Red like Pinot Noir with 165-195 Calories in each glass and then a 9-12% ABV Sweet White like Moscato at 177-213 Calories. At the highest end of the spectrum would be dessert wines with ABV’s around 14-21%, those will have around 189-275 Calories in each glass.
Your typical 750 ml bottle of wine contains around five 5 oz servings. A whole bottle of Port could easily exceed 1000 Calories! The point of all this Calorie crunching is not to make you swear off wine forever and switch instantly to the water and crackers diet though. The point is to generate awareness which is lacking due to the absence of nutrition labels.
For all this Caloric doom and gloom you should also keep in mind that your body uses a lot of Calories. A nice stroll in the park for about an hour (burns about 255 Calories) or an hour bowling (burns about 273 Calories) can easily counteract the Calories in most glasses of wine. There are plenty of fun and easy activities which burn even more calories!
Can red wine make you gain weight?
Red wine is especially pernicious when it comes to weight gain. As opposed to white wines and rosé red wine is typically higher in Calories. This isn’t always the case though so, as mentioned before, you can follow a general rule. The sweeter the wine and the higher the ABV the more Calories it will probably have. Concerning weight gain what is arguably more important overall is your Caloric balance.
Are you consuming more calories than you use or are you using more Calories than you consume? If you consume more calories than you use you will typically gain weight, often in the form of fat. The solution to that is to either eat and drink healthier low-Calorie substances, exercise and be more active, or, best of all, do more of both.
What would a typical wine nutrition label look like if there was one?
For your average 5 oz glass of wine you would have something like this:
- Calories 153
- Calories from Fat 0 (0%)
- Total Fat 0g
- Sodium 7 mg
- Carbohydrates 4g
- Net carbs 4g
- Protein 0.1g
As you can see, from the perspective of traditional nutrition labeling the most important information would be the Calories and carbs. From a more comprehensive nutritional perspective though it is also important to understand wine consumption affects your overall health.
What are the health benefits of wine?
Although the Calories in wine can be a sneaky and insidious part of the wine drinking experience there are health benefits to drinking wine in moderation. A glass a day really might just keep the doctor away. The typical recommendation is that a glass a day for women (a glass being one 5oz serving) and two glasses a day for men can have certain health benefits.
Less alcohol is suggested for women because apparently women absorb alcohol quicker than men due to a difference in body water content. This limit is important because all the research on the health benefits of wine has found that alcohol consumption in excess of moderation can actually counteract and even reverse any prior health benefits. The recommendation is also just that, a recommendation. Healthy amounts of wine consumption can be higher and lower depending on the person, some people shouldn’t drink at all.
Among the wines available red wine is considered to be the one with the most health benefits. Whites and rosés also confer some benefits but reds are stronger. This is because red wines are kept in contact with the grape skins longer and this is where some of the best health-giving compounds reside.
The most significant of these is an antioxidant polyphenol called resveratrol. This compound is produced in some plants to help protect them from bacteria, fungi, and UV radiation and it exists in grape skins in high quantities. You can benefit from this compound by just eating grapes or even cranberries and blueberries.
Onto the “French paradox”
No matter how you consume it resveratrol has been proven to help improve cardiovascular health by reducing low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) while also reducing inflammation and blood clotting. This works in concert with alcohol, namely ethanol in wine, which has been found in other drinks besides wine as well, to increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the “good cholesterol) while also reducing blood clots.
Although more research is needed to explore the extent and accuracy of these effects moderate wine and alcohol consumption can result in a healthier heart and healthier arteries. This can translate to a reduced risk of stroke and heart attack. These effects are often offered as an explanation for what is called the “French Paradox”.
The “French Paradox” is the observation that the French don’t suffer from much heart disease yet eat a diet high in saturated fat and cholesterol. The health benefits of red wine so often consumed by the French are proffered as the reason. In reality, their healthy hearts are probably a result of more active lifestyles and more well-rounded diets.
Reducing risks of heart disease and stroke
Still, wine has been connected to reduced heart disease and stroke. If someone were to suffer a stroke though, higher consumption of resveratrol might also be beneficial after the fact too. The compound can increase levels of heme oxygenase which is known to prevent neuron damage in the brain. Actually, resveratrol is slowly being revealed as a powerful contributor to health in many things ranging from colon cancer prevention to slowing, or even stopping, vision loss in cases of diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration.
The antioxidant polyphenols in wine are especially powerful in reducing the risk of many types of cancer. Breast cancer and prostate cancer cell growth are both slowed by compounds in wine. Resveratrol has been seen to actually stop the growth of liver cancer cells and slow the growth of oral cancer cells. It can even completely stop amyloid protein accumulation, which is a major cause of dementia.
Among the compounds in wine resveratrol is arguably the most wide-reaching and powerful in terms of improving health. In addition to the occasional glass of wine, you should eat grapes, cranberries, and blueberries whenever possible. The more resveratrol the better.
Beyond cardiovascular health and cancer prevention, alcohol consumption through moderate wine drinking has also been linked to bone health. Studies found that occasional alcohol intake in men and women, as compared to those who don’t drink, led to increased bone mineral density. This, in turn, indicates a much lower risk for osteoporosis which is a disease of age that results in bones thinning out as they lose calcium.
Moderate wine consumption can really benefit the mind and body too. Studies have also found that moderate drinkers are less likely to suffer from depression. The key study took place over seven years with 5500 light and moderate drinkers and finally came to that conclusion. What compound in wine is responsible for this benefit to mental health? You guessed it. Resveratrol.
In addition to such wonder compounds, wine does also have some nutrients in it. The exact amounts and types vary from wine to wine but you can typically expect a mix of the following in whatever bottle you have. For the average person, a bottle could contain 40% of your daily recommended Fluoride intake which helps prevent tooth decay. It might have about 10% of your Manganese which is an antioxidant that helps your nervous system and liver. In lesser amounts, you will consume Potassium, Iron, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B2, Phosphorous, and Choline.
What are the health risks of wine?
Moderate consumption of wine, mostly red wine, can improve your cardiovascular health, reduce your risk of cancer, aid in recovery from some diseases, improve bone health and even stave off depression. Pretty impressive, and new benefits are being discovered all the time.
Wine is clearly not an infallible wonder brew though. In spite of all its amazing health benefits wine can also kill you. The overconsumption of wine and other alcohols for that matter will wreak havoc on your body and can eventually make you very sick or even result in your death.
On a much less extreme note wine can also just make you really uncomfortable. Some people have a strong sensitivity to sulfur dioxide preservatives in wines otherwise known as sulfites. If you are of the rare sort with a sulfite sensitivity then you probably already know to avoid any bottle with “Contains Sulfites” on the label.
One myth surrounding sulfite sensitivity is that sulfites give these individuals headaches. The reality is that the histamines, tannins, and especially alcohol in wine give headaches. Wine can give you a headache sulfite sensitivity or not!
When wine is not consumed in moderation but instead is consumed heavily or very regularly it pretty much has the opposite effect of the health benefits. The frequency of bone fractures goes up with prolonged alcohol consumption, The lifetime risk of cancer is increased by about 1% if you’re drinking a bottle of wine a week and the risk doubles if you’re drinking two bottles per week.
Drinking too much wine also drives up your blood pressure and cholesterol. It even correlates to an increased risk of heart disease and fatal arrhythmias. Depression is another condition that is helped with moderate drinking but gets much worse with heavier drinking.
The real bummer for wine aficionados is that it only takes a daily intake of around 2-3 glasses of wine to increase the risk of liver disease. End-stage liver disease, cirrhosis, can result in death. This happens because the liver works as the body’s filter and when anything with alcohol is consumed the alcohol is recognized by the liver as a top priority toxin. The liver immediately gets to work filtering the alcohol from the blood so that it can be removed from the body.
The liver can only do this at a rate of about one drink per hour and that rate slows as you drink more. More and more alcohol puts more and more strain on the liver. When this strain persists for days, weeks, months and years the liver experiences a sort of toxic shock and the various forms of liver disease begin to develop because of that. Also, when the liver is under that strain, say on a wild party night out with friends, it becomes much less efficient at filtering pretty much anything else. This means that other outside toxins or chemicals can reach your bloodstream and circulate more readily. Too much drinking makes you more susceptible to illness!
Wine can be a sneaky contributor to weight gain and poor health if you aren’t careful. The effect is slow, incremental, and can catch you off guard. Wine is meant to be enjoyed but it is important to do so in moderation with an appreciation for the Calories and other nutritional components of the bottle you’re drinking.
Savor it, let the remarkable health benefits take effect, let wine work for you and not against you and you can have a healthy and fruitful lifelong relationship with it.
Bonus tip: Since the antioxidant properties of wine are so beneficial, you can also learn about other foods to pair with wine that are excellent sources of antioxidants!
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