- Publish Date: Sep 20, 2010
Wine And Weight
Does alcohol percentage impact your waistline?
You've heard the expression that "alcohol is empty calories," right? Yet you've also heard how good wine can be for your health. So how do you strike the balance between drinking wine for health reasons and the fact that a single glass of red might contain 120 calories or more?
The trick is to look at the fine print on the label: The higher the alcohol percentage of the wine, the greater the number of calories in a single glass. A wine with 15% alcohol contains 120 calories per 5-oz. pour; a wine with 12% alcohol contains a mere 96.
But awareness of alcohol percentage is only a small part of incorporating wine into a healthy lifestyle. Susan Yager, author of The Hundred Year Diet: America's Voracious Appetite For Weight Loss and an adjunct instructor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University, says that drinking wine with a meal helps you slow down and enjoy your food. The slower you eat, the less you eat--and the fewer calories your body ultimately needs to burn.
In a recent article for The Huffington Post Yager pointed out that high-alcohol wines pack a caloric punch; but she tells The Daily Sip that keeping trim--as Europeans do when compared to Americans, even though Europeans drink much more wine--involves a respect of when to eat and how much. Awareness of a wine's alcohol percentage is simply a good place to start if you're trying to lose a little weight without changing how often you open a bottle.
Read on for our full interview with Yager, who gives her expert insight on a healthy lifestyle--and where wine fits into it.
Bottlenotes:What role does wine play in your own consumption habits--and how close attention do you pay, personally, to alcohol percentages?
Yager:Wine is a part of my life and has been for a long time; my husband and I have wine with dinner almost every night. We divide our time between New York City and the East End of Long Island, and like to focus on local wines from the terrific wineries in that region. I realized a few years ago that wine above 13% alcohol per volume often gave me a headache the next day, in spite of the fact that I never had more than two glasses. So now we only buy wine at 13% or lower, and try to stay below 12.5%. It's not that much of a challenge, really, especially in the summer when we tend to drink a lot of Rosé, and low-alcohol Rieslings. Both are very available from local vineyards. We also like Vinho Verdes from Portugal. In the fall and winter there are Pinot Noirs, and some excellent East End Merlots. I do miss the "big reds" in the winter sometimes, but not enough to risk a headache! And if I'm served a high-alcohol wine at a dinner party, I'll (usually) be careful to only sip a small amount.
Is there any healthy payoff to drinking more wine in a year and taking the extra calories? Or does the potential for weight gain offset any benefit wine might provide?
I am a big believer in eating and drinking what you like, with the possible exception of sugary soft drinks. The problem with most weight-loss diets is that they are restrictive and punishing, and set people up to fail. For example, no one who loves bread and pasta should have to live without it on a low-carb diet, and when they try they won't stay with it for very long. Then, they'll feel like a "failure," but it's the diet that failed them. No one who loves wine should stop drinking it because of the calories. I am speaking, of course, about moderate drinking. A 5-ounce glass of 12.5% wine only has 100 calories, about the same as a medium apple. And a lower-alcohol wine has even fewer calories, because the calories are in the alcohol. The daily recommended USDA allowance of one glass of wine for women and two for men is unlikely to cause weight gain. Is there a "healthy payoff?" That is uncertain, but some evidence from human trials suggests that there may be. I do think that there is a positive psychological "payoff" that comes from slowing down, relaxing, and having good conversation over dinner with friends and family. The Italians and French both consume more wine than we do, and their obesity rates are less than one third of ours. The key is being respectful of our food, and our mealtimes.
What would you say is the best strategy for incorporating wine into a healthy lifestyle? Focus intently on alcohol percentage/calories, or just general moderation?
For most people, moderation is certainly the most important thing. However, The World Cancer Research Fund recently stated that switching from a 14% per volume wine to one with 10% per volume could reduce the risk of bowel, breast, or liver cancer by seven percent. Checking the label and making an educated decision before you buy is a good habit to get into.
Some wines that are low in alcohol are high in residual sugar--something that's almost never listed on a wine label. Which is worse, a high-alcohol wine with no sugar or a low-alcohol, sweeter wine?
High-alcohol wines tend to be drier, since the sugar has converted to alcohol. However, neither is "good" or "bad." I would go with the low-alcohol, sweeter wine, but many people don't get headaches and aren't concerned with calories. So for them, it is just a question of personal taste, moderation, and what's for dinner. I'm sure your readers already know that a slightly sweet Riesling can be delicious with spicy food. I think a low-alcohol slightly sweet wine is a perfect choice for Thanksgiving, too--or any meal with a lot of sweet and savory dishes served together.
As someone who's studied America's obsession with diets and weight loss, do you think wine is part of the solution or part of the problem? Or is it just one factor among many?
I believe that many wine drinkers are more respectful of their food. Just puzzling over about what wine is "right" with a meal suggests thinking more about what you eat, which is the best place to begin any healthy diet. As I previously mentioned, a meal with wine tends to be slower and more conversational, and the slower we eat, the less we eat. So, in that sense, I think a glass or two of wine can be part of the solution, and in terms of our current obesity epidemic, I would blame calorically sweetened soda long before I would blame wine. But wines have calories, and if you take in more calories than you expend you'll gain weight--and your body doesn't care if the extra calories come from soda or wine. The problem is taking in more calories than you need, and the solution is to take in fewer of them. Where they come from is irrelevant.