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Wine, Calories and Carbohydrates
Copyright 2001 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed June 25, 2001. For more information go to

One of the surest signs of summer - at least around an online wine publication - is the sudden increase in E-mail from fretful wine lovers who just tried on swimming attire, checked the mirror, and now want to know whether it's necessary to give up wine during a crash diet.

Total abstinence may not be necessary, but as in so many things, moderation is the key. The good news is that wine contains zero fat and zero cholesterol. But there's no way around the reality that you can't drink much of it without showing the results on your waistline.

Based on nutritional data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a 5- ounce glass of dry red or white table wine (the standard serving) carries about 125 calories. For comparison, a full 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola has 140 calories; a 12-ounce bottle of beer has 150 calories; and an 8-ounce glass of whole milk has 160 calories.

The exact calorie content of wine varies with its alcohol and sugar content, so sweet wines pack more impact than most dry table wines. If a taste of Port or other rich and fortified dessert wine takes your fancy, be warned that a 5-ounce serving can go up to 225 calories or even more ... in the same caloric territory as a 2-inch wedge of cheesecake.

How about carbohydrates? Most nutritionists don't think much of low carbohydrate diets, but if you're following one of these faddish plans, you'll find it hard to fit in much wine. Amounts vary, but a 5-ounce serving of dry white table wine may have 1.25 grams of carbohydrates, while a glass of red may go up to 2.5 grams; sweet wines will have substantially more.

My wine-loving scientist pal Paul Winalski adds these thoughts on carbohydrates in wine: "All carbohydrates do not have the same number of calories per gram. Case in point: cellulose is a carbohydrate compound and it has zero available calories, since the human body is incapable of metabolizing it. However, metabolizable carbohydrates are close enough in caloric value that the differences aren't significant when setting up a dietary regimen. Ethanol (beverage alcohol) is not a carbohydrate. It belongs to a different class of chemical compounds called aliphatic alcohols. Ethanol is metabolized to produce energy, but the yield is less per gram than with sugars. Nonetheless it's a significant contribution to the overall caloric value of a glass of wine."

In other words, if you're concerned about carbohydrates, be warned that the alcohol in wine may act much like a carbohydrate even if it doesn't show up fully in the numbers.

"One of the first things that a dietician or physician specializing in weight loss is going to tell you," Winalski adds, "is to cut back on the booze."

For most of us, though, wine certainly may be included in a moderate lifestyle of sensible eating and exercise. Cut back on sweet drinks and fatty snacks, and you'll have plenty of room in your diet for a little wine; and if you think you need to diet seriously, consult your physician for advice.


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