How to fit red wine calories into your diet - Red wine calories per glass

Red wine may have health benefits

One of the things I love about the official Mediterranean diet pyramid is the little glass of red wine pictured on the side next to the glass of water. Wine in moderation, red wine in particular, is considered an inherent part of the Mediterranean diet. Plenty of research links moderate wine consumption to general health benefits. Whether the wine itself is responsible, or is just a marker for a healthy lifestyle -- such as the Mediterranean one -- is open to debate.

Red wine is known to contain a variety of antioxidants, which may have health benefits. Along with antioxidants, red wine has calories, from alcohol and carbohydrates. If you're tracking calories for weight control you need to account for those in wine. It's all about tuning into the red wine calories per glass.

Red wine calories per glass

According to the USDA nutrient database, different varieties of red wine tend to have very similar calorie counts, although not all the calories come from alcohol. A 5 fluid oz glass of red wine has an average of 122 calories and just over 100 of those calories are from alcohol (about 14 grams). The rest of the calories are from carbohydrates. Aside from antioxidants, red wine doesn't have significant amounts of any other nutrients, such as protein, vitamins or minerals.

Red wine (5 fluid oz glass) Kcal Carb grams
Burgundy 127 5.5
Cabernet Sauvignon 122 3.8
Merlot 122 3.7
Pinot Noir 121 3.4
Syrah 122 3.8
Zinfandel 129 4.2

Alcohol is metabolized to acetate which is used as an energy source. The metabolism of fatty acids (from your food or your fat cells) can be reduced if you drink a lot of alcohol. It's a good argument for drinking red wine in moderation.

The metabolism of ethanol diminishes as we age, so tolerance is impaired. Ethanol lingers longer in the blood, affecting cognitive and neuromuscular function. Alcohol is also dehydrating. Again, two more good arguments for moderation.

What exactly does "moderation" mean? As I noted in my book "Food Wisdom for Women", the definition of "moderation" is all over the map. Organizations like the Centers for Disease Control stick to the One Drink Per Day definition, which is included in the US Dietary Guidelines. A study of the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet concluded that 7 glasses of red wine a week was reasonable. This means one glass/day.

How do we define "drink." For wine, it's typically 5 fluid ounces (just over 1/2 cup), which is about what you would be served in a wine glass at a restaurant. For a standard wine glass, you might expect to get a glass that's just over half-full. But if the glass is the size of a soup bowl, you'll be getting a lot more than 5 fluid ounces, even if it's only half full. And if you're pouring wine at home and you top off the glass, you're pouring more than 5 fluid oz, which means more than the average 122 calories.

Get a handle on serving sizes

  • Get out your different sized wine glasses

  • Measure 5 fluid ounces of water

  • Pour it in the different glasses and note how full the glasses are.

  • If you have a food scale, measure out 147 grams of wine - that is the average weight of 5 fluid ounces of wine.

  • This will also help you judge how much you're getting at a restaurant or a friend's home.

How to drink red wine for beginners

  1. If you already drink a glass of wine as part of your typical daily fare, and your diet is going well, then your calories are under control.

  2. If you're pouring your own glass at home, measure your wine (as above) to be sure you're not pouring more than you think.

  3. Once you've got a handle on portion size, look for ways to trade off calories in other less healthful foods or beverages. For example, red wine calories can be swapped for foods you may be using as treats: a cookie, a doughnut, a scoop of ice cream, a small candy or energy bar, or sweetener and whipped topping on your latte.

  4. Cut back slightly on portions of other foods across the board, especially at dinner: rice, noodles, salad dressing, casseroles, soup and bread are good candidates. Leave butter off of bread, vegetables and potatoes, or use less oil for frying.

  5. If you're trying to follow a more Mediterranean diet, one basic principle is smaller portions of meat/poultry/dairy and less processed meats. If you tend to eat large portions of meat, then cutting back can leave enough calories for a glass of red wine.

Originally published on 13 September 2018,
Updated: 15 November 2019

Donna P Feldman MS RDN

is author of "Feed Your Vegetarian Teen", writes about food and nutrition at Radio Nutrition and is co-host of the Walk Talk Nutrition podcast series.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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Meal Planning & Diets/Mediterranean Style Alcohol & Other Beverages/Wine

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