June Tip: Wine vs. Other Alcohol


Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of my clients tell me they avoid wine due to the high sugar content. Wine is made from fruit, so it must high in sugar – right? So instead they choose hard liquor (i.e. vodka, scotch), instead of wine thinking it contains less sugar and carbs. So what are the real facts….

A little process called fermentation………

I understand why people would think wine contains a high amount of sugar. After all, it takes a lot of grapes to make a glass of wine … and grapes do contain natural sugar. But here is what happens: the grapes are picked, crushed and then allowed to ferment (the wine makers add their own special yeast). The process of fermentation actually converts the sugar in grapes to alcohol. So for the most part, most wines have little or no sugar in them. An exception would be a sweet or dessert wine.

As per the Wine Spectator, “there are no regulations in the United States regarding labeling the sugar content of wines, so for exact information about the nutritional content of your wine, you should check with the winery. In general, most red wines have little or no sugar; most sweet wines are white. Key terms on the wine label can tip you off as to whether a wine will be sweet or not. Terms like “dry” indicate a wine with less sugar, while “semi-dry” or “off-dry” wines should be sweeter than table wines. But in general, unless a wine is a sweet wine, the sugar (and carb content) will be low.”

It’s not all about the carbs………

But if you are watching your weight, your concern should be more about the total calories, not just sugar (note that I am using the terms sugar and carbs interchangeably as sugar is a carbohydrate). Of course, if you are a diabetic who needs to take insulin, you will need to know exactly how many carbs are in foods. But for the majority of us, the 5 grams of carbs or so in a glass of wine isn’t going to be detrimental to our health. In reality, 5 grams is actually a very small amount. A piece of fruit has 15 grams , a glass of skim milk has 12 grams and a NYC bagel can have 75 grams! Now if you are drinking sweet dessert wine or pina colada’s, that is a different story as those drinks tend to be loaded with carbs (and sugar). In general, regular beer tends to contain more carbs than wine or hard liquor.

Alcohol has more calories than carbs………

I have friends and clients who drink vodka or other hard liquors somewhat freely thinking that it will have less of an effect on their weight as compared to wine. Wrong! A 5 oz glass of wine has the same amount of calories as a vodka on the rocks (1 1/2 oz) In addition, wine – especially red wine, has added health benefits for a healthy heart as it contains resveratrol. Alcohol (this includes wine) has more calories than carbs. This is because alcohol contains 7 calories per gram whereas carbs contain 4 calories per gram. FYI – protein contains 4 calories per gram and fat contains 9 calories per gram. Here is an example: 5 oz of wine contains ~ 120 calories (mainly all alcohol and minimal carbs)  whereas 5 oz of orange juice has 75 calories (all carbs)  (pic is of a jumbo vodka on the rocks – 3 1/2 oz vodka for 225 calories)



Dry white wine 115 – 120 2.8 – 5
Sweet wine (i.e. white zinfandel) 137 8.7
Sweet dessert wine 237 20
Cabernet 115 3.6
Merlot 119 4.1
Champagne 118 2- 4
Hard liquor (including vodka, gin, rye, bourbon)
80 proof, 1 1/2 oz 105 0
94 proof, 1 1/2 oz 117 0
Beer, regular, 12 oz 150 12
Beer, light, 12 oz 95 – 110 3.5 – 8
Beer, dark, 12 oz 170 15
Apple, medium 75 20
Whole wheat bread, one slice 80 15

Bottom line, I recommend drinking in moderation to control your weight as well as for health reasons. That being said, choose the drink that you enjoy the most (and drink the slowest!) The general recommendation for women is one drink a day and for men, two drinks. Keep in mind “one drink” is: – 5 oz wine -1 1/2 oz hard liquor – 12 oz beer


SOURCE: Martha McKittrick, RD, CDN, CDE