I would like to think I don’t need to remind our readers that nearly everything we consume is okay, as long as it’s in moderation. But then again, we are living in crazy times. So, I must insert the obligatory disclaimer that this article is for information and entertainment purposes. It’s not intended to advocate for alcohol consumption nor is it a substitute for sound medical advice from a healthcare professional. If you have been diagnosed with an illness or disease, please obtain prior approval before consuming alcoholic beverages.
The debate on which is the better option when it comes to adult beverages, especially when it comes to calories, carbohydrates, sugars, and weight loss, is nothing new. Today I want to discuss wine—including which is better in terms of sugars and slowing the metabolism. You may think it’s as simple as choosing red over white. Unfortunately, it isn’t quite black (or is that red?) and white, so let’s start at the beginning…
Health Benefits of Wine?
There’s a fair amount of scientific evidence to suggest a daily glass of wine has health benefits. Whether it’s the resveratrol, the polyphenols, or the antioxidants, red wine has long been thought of as heart healthy, and it has the science to back that up. In addition, there is scientific evidence to suggest the alcohol in and of itself has cardiovascular benefits.
You see, the evidence suggests wine may reduce inflammation and blood clotting, which may contribute to increased heart health. In addition, those previously mentioned polyphenols found in wine may help protect the lining of blood vessels in your heart. Studies show alcohol, again, in moderation, possesses the following heart-healthy benefits:
- Raises “good” cholesterol (HDL)
- Reduces formation of blood clots
- Helps prevent artery damage caused by high levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL)
In addition, studies have also shown that moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes. This association could be mediated by an improvement of insulin sensitivity with moderate alcohol consumption. And other research suggests it may have positive effects on brain functioning.
It’s important to delineate alcohol (ethanol) from the carbohydrates found in the healthiest wines and other alcoholic drinks. Ethanol is not an essential nutrient and is rich in energy, providing 7 calories per gram (compared to 4 as found in carbohydrates). Alcohol is readily absorbed throughout the entire gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and the rate at which it’s absorbed is likely affected the most by the presence or absence of food in the stomach. After ethanol is absorbed through the GI tract, it heads to the liver, which metabolizes more than 90% of it. The ethanol that isn’t metabolized can enter the bloodstream unaltered.
Indeed, the liver prefers ethanol as a fuel so much it will displace other substrates when it’s available. In other words, it’ll use alcohol first. Liver alcohol dehydrogenase (LADH) is a rate-limiting enzyme that oxidizes ethanol at ~15 grams per hour (equal to one regular beer). A 70-kg (154-lb) adult male will be legally drunk after four drinks in one hour.
Chronic alcohol ingestion impairs pancreatic enzyme secretion, which can result in nutrient malabsorption, particularly of fat and protein. Along with pancreatic digestive function, pancreatic endocrine function can be affected: Insulin resistance is a common side effect of alcoholism, which results in a lack of glycogen formation and energy store depletion. Anaerobic energy production can predominate within the cell, resulting in excessive lactic acid production.
All that being said, drinking in moderation should provide only the benefits stated above, not the negative health consequences. Moderate drinking is defined as an average of two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women, and those are 5-ounce glasses of wine, preferably with a meal. Four to seven glasses per week is the most recommended. Anything more quickly deletes all of the benefits and can lead to significant negative effects.
Wine and Carbs
Moving on to the topic at hand—the actual carbohydrate content of wine.
Fermented beverages, by definition, start as high-carb plants, usually grapes (in wine) or grain. During the fermentation process, the yeasts eat up the carbohydrates, producing alcohol/ethanol (as discussed above). Whatever sugars are left contribute to the carbohydrate content of the beverage, which will vary from one to another. A dry wine has very little residual sugar (i.e., 2.5 – 3 grams per 5-oz glass), whereas a sweet wine can have quite a bit (i.e., upwards of 14 grams per 5-oz glass). Most red wines, however, have about 4 grams of carbohydrate per 5-oz glass. These carbohydrates are generally a combination of glucose and fructose.
The following is a fairly basic explanation of how much sugar is contained in types of wine:
- Dry: 4 grams per liter
- Medium dry: 4 – 12 grams of sugar per liter or about 0.5 to 2 grams per glass
- Sweet: More than 45 grams of sugar per liter or about 6 grams per glass or more
All that being said, drinking in moderation appears to provide a significant health boost without much concern in terms of harmful metabolic consequences or body transformation-deterring carbohydrates.
I do think it’s important to again remind us all that while a glass of wine on occasion can confer health benefits, excessive drinking can not only halt fat loss—and even encourage fat gain—it can have significant health repercussions.
Fun fact: Consuming a glass of wine in a “fasted” state, post-workout, allows the fructose sugars in the wine to replenish the liver glycogen stores. Additionally, the glucose and sucrose sugars are far less likely to hang out for too long in your bloodstream, as they would if you were to consume a glass of wine during or after a large meal.
So, Which is the Healthiest Wines?
As with most things, options usually exist along a continuum of good, better, and best. When it comes to drinking, one may be better off opting for calorie-free sparkling water/soda and freshly-squeezed (unsweetened) fruit juices over regular sodas and highly processed fruit juices, which are rife with sugar and calories. For example, the lovely margarita, which is typically found in restaurants with an abundant amount of calories and sugar, could be dramatically improved by simply combining tequila (añejo is better), the juice of a lime, and a splash of (club) soda.
But since we are discussing healthiest wines today, can we deduce that options like dry red wine may be an even better choice because of its higher antioxidant content? Would red wine be more desirable in terms of its possibility to promote an improvement in the gut microbiota? Not so fast.
Both red and white wines are made with grapes. That is something we can all agree on. Where they start to take different paths is while white wines are primarily made with white grapes, they have the skins and seeds removed prior to fermentation. Red wines, on the other hand, are made with both red and black grapes, and the skins are left on, which is where red blends get their richer, full-bodied taste, and where resveratrols are born. More on those in a minute.
Aside from the types of grapes used, and whether or not the skins and seeds are removed, there are many other things to take into consideration when determining whether you reach for a white or red. Some may take into consideration the pH levels of the blend, the filtration process, as well as the amount of sulfites included in the final product.
Health Benefits of Red Wine
- Resveratrols may help protect blood vessels, reduce blood clots, inhibit certain the activities of enzymes that can stimulate the growth of unhealthy cells or slow down immune response
- Polyphenols (antioxidants) may help reduce blood pressure, reduce cholesterol levels, improve the immune system, and combat harmful bacteria
- Flavonoids (antioxidants) may help prevent free radicals from damaging cells.
Nutrition Facts of Red Wine:
- Calories 102
- Total Fat 0 g
- Total Carbohydrate 2.41 g
- Protein 0.28 g
Health Benefits of White Wine
- May improve heart health and prevent heart diseases
- May help support lung health
- Provides potential anti-aging properties
- May help support weight loss
- Won’t stain your teeth.
- Calories 96
- Total Fat 0 g
- Total Carbohydrate 1.13 g
- Protein 0.14 g
Additionally, it may be important to provide the nutrition information on sweet dessert wines, as these contain more calories and sugars than your traditional red or white wines. Even slightly sweet wines, like White Zinfandel or many Rieslings, for example, will carry more calories from sugar and more carbohydrates than dry red and white wines.
Dessert Wine Nutrition Facts:
- Calories 130
- Total Fat 0 g
- Total Carbohydrate 10.04 g
- Protein 0.17 g
Studies conducted on the health benefits of white wine are still in their infancy; however, there is promising research being done to further document the health benefits of consuming white wine.
Another thing worth mentioning is one’s lifestyle also plays a role in how your body metabolizes the wine you drink. Research shows that all of these health benefits of red and white wine I mentioned above are moot if you are not physically active.
In one study labeled In Vino Veritas, it has been concluded that “moderate wine drinking is only protective in people who exercised. Red and white wine produced the same results.”
Furthermore, the study was able to determine, “By itself, drinking wine did not appreciably affect cholesterol, blood glucose, triglycerides, or levels of inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein. It also did not appreciably damage people’s livers during the year, at least, based on liver-function tests.”
So, it would appear that to reap any of the purported benefits of the healthiest wines, one must also practice good nutrition and include physical activity in their daily life.
In closing about healthiest wines, I would argue that the source of your wine is equally important. As is your personal preference. For me personally, I have learned the hard way that even uncorking a bottle of Merlot will trigger a migraine powerful enough to debilitate me for 2 – 3 days. This is why I stick with organic white blends, typically dryer in nature. I eat right, and I exercise; therefore, I earned my 5-oz glass of wine—red or white, guilt-free.
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