So is wine fattening or is it possible to have a glass or two at night without gaining weight?
For many people having a glass of wine at night is their way to unwind after a long day. It’s one of the vices few want to give up but still want to lose weight.
It’s a tradition to have a glass of wine with dinner and while watching a show at night. But do you have to give up your nightly wine fix to finally lose some weight?
It’s a little surprising to know the truth about drinking wine and if it’ll make you fat or not. It’s common knowledge you shouldn’t drink too much but for many people only having a glass of wine once or twice a week isn’t realistic.
The good news is you don’t have to give up your nightly ritual of having a glass of wine. But there are some things you need to know about that you’ll have to factor in so you don’t end up gaining weight.
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How Your Body Processes Wine & Alcohol
The calories in an alcoholic drink are infamously known as “empty calories” since they contain zero carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. But they do contain a higher amount of calories per gram than all three of those macronutrients.
How many calories are in a glass of wine?
Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram which is high considering protein and fats only contain 4 calories per gram. You’ll usually find 125-175 calories in a 6oz. glass of wine. The funny thing is next time actually measure out the 6oz. for your glass of wine… it’s smaller than you’d think!
How many calories are in a bottle of wine?
It depends on the kind of wine but typically a bottle of wine contains at least 600 calories.
Your body doesn’t process calories from alcohol the same way it does calories from fats, carbs, or protein. Your body essentially shuts off fat burning from the rest of your body and prioritizes burning off the alcohol you just drank (1).
When drinking alcohol your body shuttles it to your liver to be processed. Then an enzyme known as alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) in your liver breaks it down into acetaldehyde. Finally, this is converted to acetate, which your body will focus on burning off for energy rather than fat stored in your body.
This is similar to when eating too many carbs. Your body will focus on using those carbs for energy instead of your fat stores (2).
Now less than 5% of the calories you take in from alcohol are ever converted into fat in your body (3). But then you won’t be burning off the rest of the fat and calories stored in your body. And if you ate additional calories with your glass of wine then that’s stored as fat too. So you can see how easy it can be to pack on the pounds if you’re not burning off the alcohol and eating poorly on top of that.
It’s well known and documented consuming too many calories will lead to weight and fat gain (4). So the fewer calories you’re burning off from your body the more likely you are to put on some pounds.
But there’s a silver lining that may not cause wine calories to make you fat…
Why Drinking Wine Might Not Make You Fat
One study had participants adding 2000 calories of ethanol (alcohol) to their daily diet to raise their total calories to 4500. At the end of this study, their amount of weight increased was only negligible. But when adding 2000 calories of chocolate it resulted in a huge spike in added weight (5).
There are many other animal studies finding similar results. Those drinking red wine in controlled environments didn’t lead to any significant gaining in weight (6,7). Crazy enough one animal study found those drinking white wine ended up gaining less weight than those only drinking water (but those who drank wine also consumed less overall calories) (8).
Many believe some of the anti-obesity benefits that can come with wine drinking is due to its polyphenol content (9). Wine polyphenols have been found to lower appetite, promote calorie burning, and maybe even prevent fat storage (10). The polyphenols in wine can help to convert stubborn white fat in the body to brown fat which is much easier to burn off (11).
And lastly, a study of 20,000 women by Harvard University found those who drank wine regularly had a 70% reduced risk of obesity (12).
Is It Better to drink White or Red wine?
Now, most of the studies on wine drinking and its effects on weight gain or loss have been with red wines. Red wine contains more vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols. It also contains resveratrol which is linked to many health benefits including anti-aging, protecting the brain from cognitive decline, and improving insulin sensitivity (13,14,15).
But that doesn’t mean all white wines are bad for you too. White wines on average contain a little fewer calories than red wines. But overall red wine is probably the better choice since it contains more nutrients.
If you are going to drink wine it’s best to pick a dryer one that contains less sugar. Dryer red wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Noir. Dryer white wines include Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc.
So Will Drinking Wine Make You Fat?
Moderate drinking of wine is not going to directly cause you to gain weight. Several big studies going up to well over 100,000 people have found zero correlation between weight gain and wine consumption. There’s only a small negative correlation between men and women who drank wine and BMI increases (16,17).
So with that said these studies looked at those only drinking 1-2 glasses per day. Light wine drinking alone isn’t what’s going to make you fat but several studies have found heavy drinking is consistently linked to obesity and weight gain (18).
There are a few theories about why drinking some wine hasn’t been found to directly cause weight gain. Researchers believe those wine drinkers might also live healthier and more active lifestyles (19). This will help them from gaining weight in the long run. But researchers also believe your genetics could also play a major role in how well your body can burn off the alcohol instead of causing you to have weight gain (20).
I wouldn’t recommend any kind of heavy drinking (more than 1-2 glasses a day) which has been found to lead to weight gain (21,22,23). Studies have found those who drink too much wine and binge drink have a much higher BMI. Only those drinking light to moderate amounts overall were the ones found not to have weight gain (24,25).
For men drinking more than 20 drinks a week was found to be linked to a higher BMI and more belly fat (26). If you’re drinking more than 5 alcoholic drinks per day then you can expect a higher BMI, body fat, and waist size. Binge drinkers have a 70% higher risk of obesity (27). One study found women drinking light to moderate amounts of alcohol didn’t affect their weight. But those heavier drinkers ended up gaining weight (28).
How to have your wine and still lose weight
So now that it’s been established that light wine drinking on its own won’t cause you to pack on the pounds it’s time to look how to shed some weight too while drinking.
First off you have to make sure you’re doing everything else right to make sure you don’t end up gaining weight. Since your body prioritizes burning off the excess calories from alcohol for energy it’s important to make sure you’re exercising.
If you’re not burning off the alcohol for energy then your body is not going to be burning off your fat stores. And if your body isn’t burning off your fat stores then that makes losing fat near impossible.
This is why it’s critical to make sure you’re living an active lifestyle and exercising to burn off those empty wine calories. Numerous studies have found those who burn off the calories from alcohol are better at keeping the weight off than those living sedentary lifestyles (29,30,31).
Ensuring you’re getting enough sleep is also of the utmost importance if you don’t want moderate consumption of wine to lead to weight increases. Studies have found those who consume large amounts of alcohol and are overweight also ended up not getting enough sleep (32).
This can create a deadly cycle. If you’re not getting enough sleep then this can lead to drinking too much wine and even increases in body weight. Consuming too much alcohol before bed can lead to sleeping problems. Your body will have trouble reaching deep REM levels of sleep with alcohol in your system (33).
Finally, your genetics are going to play a big role. If you’re genetically more likely to weight gain easily then you might have a harder time keeping the pounds off. Some researchers believe some might be predisposed to be more likely to weight gain from alcohol consumption than others (34). This is because their genetics cause their body to not be as efficient with burning alcohol for energy. Those with certain genotypes are much more likely to be overweight.
Which is more fattening wine or beer?
In the end, moderate drinking of wine is going to be a better choice in the long run than beer. Beer usually has more calories and is carb-rich both of which can lead to weight gain (35). Regular beer drinking has been linked to increases in belly fat which is why some men have the “beer belly.” (36) Plus those who drink beer or spirits regularly tend to have the worst diets and live less active lifestyles. Wine also has polyphenols that could help keep the weight off but there are non-phenol benefits to drinking it too. (37)
Can you drink wine and still lose weight?
Yes! You can still drink light to moderate amounts of wine and still have weight loss. As long as you’re eating a healthy diet, working out consistently, getting enough sleep hand living an active lifestyle then you might even see weight loss. Just keep in mind heavy alcohol consumption has been found to lead to significant weight increases. So keep it light by only drinking 1-2 glasses of wine a day and don’t drink too much wine. Be sure to pick dry wines varietals that contain fewer sugars.
The Last Word
It’s a little shocking to find out that moderate consumption of wine won’t make you fat and might even help with weight loss. This is good news for all of us wine lovers who enjoy having one glass or two at night with dinner or while watching a show. As long as you’re doing everything else right with your health and fitness then drinking low sugar dry wines shouldn’t cause you to gain weight.
In all honestly, in terms of losing weight, you’re better off drinking a glass of dry wine or two than eating a pint of ice cream.
But if you’re drinking too much wine (a whole bottle of wine a night) then that’s when problems can start to pop up. Heavy drinking can lead to a host of health problems and then gaining weight can become inevitable. Drink responsibly by making sure your overall alcohol intake is low and keep consuming fewer calories with your diet. The key to keeping the pounds off is to only light and moderate amounts.
Drinking alcohol has also been linked to poorer food choices. People start to crave more fatty foods when drinking alcohol which is why after a night of heavy drinking so many want to chow down on an entire pizza (37). Be smart, keep it light and you’ll be perfectly fine enjoying that glass or two of a low sugar wine at night.
Josh holds a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology and Nutrition Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) by the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He’s worked as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at the high school and college level. He has over 10 years experience as a personal trainer and nutrition coach. He is also the author of The Flat Belly Formula. He hopes to be able to bring inspiration & results to people all over the world to live a healthier life through diet & exercise.