Low Calorie Wines

Wine SunsetThe theory that states “if you don’t see me eating food, then it has no calories” is one that I have followed for years. It was usually a piece of cake, a cookie, a quart of ice cream, or something else that was sweet and high in calorie. But if you didn’t see me eat it, I wasn’t going to tell, so there were no calories counted. And half the fun was sneaking around to get it and not getting caught! And I could always blame my thyroid or a slow metabolism as the reason why I was not losing weight. But you can only trick yourself for so long and your waistline does not lie when you get on the scale the next morning. So when you are trying to lose weight, you have to cut your calories somewhere but where do you cut without wanting to cut your wrists?

Wine is a category that I never would have considered cutting calories in before. Wine is my relaxation, my treat, my celebrator, my sixth food group. Give me a real wine the way it is and I will just do ten more sit ups tomorrow! If I am going to enjoy a glass of wine, I am not going to compromise flavor over a few meager calories. Well, would you like the good news first or the great news? Sacrificing calories doesn’t mean you have to choose water over wine or drink a wine that is about as flavorful as water. And I have only heard of one person who was ever able to turn water into wine and I doubt he will be making us a zero calorie wine anytime soon. It is all about knowing which wines have the lowest calories and making those decisions to drink them more often to reach our summer weight goals!

So how does a wine become “low calorie”? The 2 main ingredients that raise the calorie content are the alcohol percentage and the sugar level. Alcohol has 7 calories per gram whereas sugar (carbohydrate) has only 4 calories per gram. This really does mean that some sweeter wines can have less calories than some dry wines! All grapes contain sugar and it is the added yeast during fermentation that changes the sugar to alcohol. Stopping the fermentation early keeps the sugar content higher and the alcohol level lower in sweet wines. Letting the fermentation process go to completion gives you a drier wine with more alcohol since the sugar has been used up by the yeast. So most dry wines have more alcohol than sweet wines and more alcohol can mean more calories.

And the way your body metabolizes alcohol does not help much either, especially if you are trying to lose weight. Your body normally uses carbohydrates first as a source of energy before moving on to stored fat. But this all changes when you are drinking alcohol. Now your body’s primary source of fuel is the acetate in the alcohol which is utilizing the alcohol for energy, not calories. You may be thinking “Wow, that’s a good thing because I can drink and not gain weight since the alcohol calories are all being burned first!”  Well, think again kemosabe. Most people are eating or snacking when they drink alcohol and it usually isn’t salads and veggie dip. All those greasy burgers, chips, chili cheese fries, and doughnuts are going right from your lips to your hips being stored as fat until all the alcohol has burned off. Many times your snacking calories are higher than the calories from a few glasses of wine or beer so you are packing on more fat whenever you’re eating along with drinking alcohol. And you should eat while drinking to limit the effects of alcohol and intoxication.

Knowing the calorie count of your favorite wines is very important to getting fit and staying that way whether they are low calorie wines or not. Knowledge is power and making accommodations to balance high or low calorie wines and foods will make a measureable difference in your summer wardrobe. So how will you figure out the total calorie content of your wine? Here are 3 equations from the International Wine Guild (internationalwineguild.com) that make it easy to figure out the calorie content of your wine. Knowing the secret Calorie Formula Equations will set you free and you will sip wine in confidence knowing the total calorie content of your wine. This equation is so easy to remember, you can figure out the wine calories in your head. The only thing you need to have is the alcohol and sugar scale of the wine you are drinking. Dry wines are considered to be 1% residual sugar (RS) or less. If you are drinking a dry wine, you multiply the number of ounces you are drinking times the alcohol percentage by volume and then multiply by 1.6. So let’s say you are drinking 5 ounces of Chianti at 14% alcohol by volume. The calories would be:

Ounces of wine x alcohol % x 1.6 = calories

5 ounces x 14% x 1.6 = 112 calories (approximately).

Semi-dry wines (off-dry) typically have between 1% and 4% residual sugar. Many off-dry wines are lower in alcohol but because the sugar level is higher, the multiplier in the formula becomes 4. So if you were drinking an off-dry Gewurtztraminer from Germany, your calorie count would be:

Ounces of wine x alcohol % x 4 = calories

5 ounces x 8% x 4 = 160 calories (approximately).

Dessert and fortified wines both have high amounts of sugar but the alcohol levels can vary by quite a bit. Late Harvest Rieslings tend to be about 10% alcohol on the average while a sweet, fortified ruby port can be 17% to 19% alcohol. Either way, the multiplier here is now 10. Serving sizes tend to be about 2 ounces for these dessert wines. So if you are drinking 2 ounces of a big tawny port at 18% alcohol, your calories would be:

Ounces of wine x alcohol % x 10 = calories

2 ounces x 18 % x 10 = 360 calories (approximately).

You will find that if you drink mainly dry wines, that your calorie count is very close each time you do the math. You will see that a big Red Zinfandel may be 128 calories, your Merlot around 112 calories, and your Chardonnay about 104 calories per 5 ounce glass. Brut Champagnes and Blanc de Blanc are both dry styles and truly sparkle at around 100 calories per 5 ounce glass. Sauvignon Blanc is even lighter in style and body than Chardonnay and will normally be even lower in calorie at about 95 calories per 5 ounce glass. Semi-dry wines will vary a bit more but you will find that most Rieslings are about 200 calories, semi dry white blends are 180 calories, and White Zinfandel around 160 calories or less.

Wine makers have been experimenting with many different concepts to keep the calorie and sugar count low. Harvesting the grapes earlier before they mature keeps sugar low as well as the alcohol.  These wine makers have also discovered that using grapes from cooler climates like Oregon and Washington state results in lower alcohol content and lower calorie wines. Some wonderful, flavorful low calorie wines are being produced and you can’t help noticing them at your favorite wine shop. Some low calorie wines are being connected to TV celebrities, authors, and chefs and have taken the market by storm! TV celebrity and author Bethenny Frankel created the Skinnygirl brand of low calorie wines and cocktails and sold over 200,000 cases her first year in business. Christine Avanti, a celebrity nutritionist and author supports a low calorie wine brand called The Skinny Vine which has already sold over 100,000 cases in its first year. Both wine brands boast of having a great low calorie wine but The Skinny Vine promises slightly fewer calories per serving. Skinnygirl wines promote 100 calories for a 5 ounce serving of their wines and The Skinny Vine contains only 95 calories for the same amount. Only your adventurous taste buds can tell if those 5 calories make a difference between one brand and the other.

Even those brands that promote their low calorie wines are not much lower than the calorie count of the wines naturally. 100 calories for a low calorie wine or 116 calories for a Cabernet Sauvignon that does not promote itself as low calorie. The choice is up to you and what you need to reach your weight goals.

Wine is to be enjoyed and to promote fun and relaxation. If you can’t find a low calorie wine that you like, there are other strategies you can follow to be low calorie and not sacrifice the flavors you love. Try these tips when all else seems lost:

  1. Drink one big glass of water with each glass of wine you drink. The water will dilute some of the calories and will be easier for your body to metabolize.
  2. If you usually have a 5 ounce glass of wine each night, pour a 4 ounce glass instead. You can enjoy your favorite wine and cut back on a few calories.
  3. Do not drink wine coolers or fortified wines like port. Both contain more sugar and can be double the calories of a normal glass of wine.
  4. Make a wine spritzer by adding some club soda to your glass of wine. Yes, I know this is probably a sin in your book (as it is mine) but sometimes you just have to bite the bullet to reach your summer 6 pack abs goal.
  5. Make a diary of any wine or alcohol drinks you tip back while you are watching your calories. We tend to forget easily so going back to see your recent history can be a real awakening to find out what does and doesn’t work for you.
  6. Try to avoid late night drinking so as not to go to bed when your body is still metabolizing the alcohol. Then any extra food calories will not be stored as fat.

My favorite line when trying to lose weight and watch my calories is “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”  It has been awhile since I have been considered “skinny” but I definitely don’t want to add on any more weight either! So knowing my calories from wine intake is important to me. Plus, Dr. Oz (doctoroz.com/videos/cheers-red-wine) embraces drinking a glass of red wine because of its anti-aging benefits, its antioxidants, benefits to your skin, and lowering of stress. There are more good reasons to enjoy a glass of wine than to not have wine. If you drink wine in moderation, there are many health benefits to it. The main thing is to know your wine calorie intake and to balance those extra calories with exercise and nutrient rich foods. You want to enjoy good wine and a healthy tomorrow as well. I have a few wines aging in my cellar that I want to be around for to experience in a few years! So my theory that “there are no calories if you don’t see me eat (or drink) it” just doesn’t hold water. But my glass does hold some flavorful low calorie wines so to that I say “Cheers”!

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