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Wine, Carbohydrates and the Atkins Diet



I have run a low carb website for many years now. When I started the Atkins / low carb diet, and one of the biggest hurdles I had to face is the initial 2-week induction period which says NO ALCOHOL and only 20g of carbohydrates a day. I could deal with the low carbs ... but no wine? This was a pretty large sacrifice for me, but I figured I could get through it for the sake of a healthier body shape.

Note that the initial 2-week ban on wine really has nothing to do with the carbs in wine. Wine is actually very low-carb. The ban is because drinking alcohol tends to make your blood-sugar levels jump around, which can make you feel hungry and crave sweets. Since a lot of the initial 2-week struggle is to stay on the diet and get yourself motivated, the last thing you need is *additional* things causing you to want to eat and crave sugar. Be sure to read more about Wine, Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar.

Once you are past induction, the Atkins system has you move up to higher carbohydrate levels - between 25g and 50g per day based on your own individual body type and needs. During this period (and indeed for the rest of your life, if you want to maintain a healthy weight by following their lifestyle plan), you need to count wine carbohydrates in with all other carbohydrates you ingest in a given day. So what are the carbohydrates in wine?

In my page on Calories in Wine, I say how the average glass of wine has 80 calories and 3 grams of carbohydrates. The USDA lists values of 0.8g to 1.8g. Less than 2g per serving is not very much!! Just where are these calories and carbs coming from?

Well, in general it is not from sugar. The whole idea behind wine is that you start with a grape, which has sugar in it. You then put yeasts on the grapes, and the yeasts convert that sugar to alcohol. That's what the process of fermentation is all about. So the calories primarily come from the alcohol. If you remember your basic chemistry, you use this simple formula of 1.6 x % alcohol x oz of liquid to determine the calories. So a 5% alcohol wine, in a 5 oz serving, means 1.6 x 5 x 5 = 40 calories. I have more about this formula on my Determining Calories in Wine page.

There are very few carbohydrates in wine - it is primarily water and alcohol. To see why diet companies give you a "carb count" for wine, read about Wine and Calories - How Wine is Metabolized.

Some people say erroneously that red wines are better for dieters because they are "less sweet". This usually has nothing to do with sugar content! It has to do with the fact that red wines are red because they are made with *contact of the skin* during the winemaking process - which gives them their rich, red color and their thicker, more tannic flavor. It's the grape skin that does most of these things. The "sweetness" in white wines is the lack of those tannins, and the fruity flavors. It's not actual sugar! For example, take Red Zinfandel and White Zinfandel. They are made from the EXACT same grape - the red zinfandel grape. In one case (the white), they don't let the wine sit on the skins while it is made, so it turns out pink and light. In the other case (the red), they DO let the wine sit on the skins while it is made, turning it dark red and giving it a rich flavor. Pretty amazing difference!

Pretty much no reliable winemaker around the world adds sugar to their winemaking process, so there is no need to worry about where you get your wine from. Winemaking is about taking a grape, adding yeast, and converting the sugars in the grape into alcohol. That's how it's done everywhere. Enjoy your favorite wines from where ever they are, and always expand your horizons by trying new and interesting wines.

Some people write me trying to figure out what wines have more or less sugars in them. Again, this is like asking which apples have more or less fructose in them. Every wine is different, every apple is different. It can depend on the year - how much sun the fruit got, how much rain it got, when exactly it was picked. And in the end - is it really worth agonizing over? Let's say one glass of wine has 3.1g of carbs and the other one next to it has 3.3g of carbs. Are you going to really drink wine you hate the taste of to save .2g of carbs in a glass? I would hope not! The stress you add into your life will more than destroy any health benefits you gain.

Drink what you love. Wine provides relaxation, serenity, and antioxidants, and all of these things help your body as a whole metabolize much better. So even if you DID get an extra two-tenths-of-a-gram in a given glass of wine, the fact that you drink it with pleasure and enjoyment would quite easily make your body more healthy overall.

To summarize: if you are having a glass or two of wine with dinner, as long as it's not a rich dessert wine like port or ice wine, the many health benefits you get from the wine far outweigh the few "carb equivalents" that they add to your count. And since you often are having to be picky about the menu you create, the added pleasure from a good wine can make all the difference in the world! Drink what you LOVE. Don't worry at all about the tiny fractional differences of carbs or calories in a given glass.

Note: A great deal of research and work went into my wine / health pages. If you use this information, please credit me properly. Thanks!

Wine and Health


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