The skinny on wines and dieting

Most are feeling the urge to shed those winter mantles and get ready for summertime. As the prospect of heading "downeyoshen" looms large, we all worry about down-sizing. If you intend to diet, here's the skinny on wine and calories.

The good news is that wine contains no fat (saturated or trans) and no cholesterol. The caloric content of wine is due to its sweetness level and alcohol content.

As wine varies tremendously on both fronts (zero to 10 percent residual sugar and 10 to 16 percent alcohol), it is difficult to give precise calorie and carbohydrate counts for any given wine category.

That said, there is a rule of thumb:

According to the USDA, if we assign wine an average alcohol content of 13 percent, the math equates to approximately 20 calories per fluid ounce. As a bottle contains 25.42 ounces (750ml), there are approximately five 5-ounce glasses or four 6-ounce glasses per bottle, at 100 calories and 120 calories per glass respectively.

Naturally, the higher the alcohol content of the wine, the higher the number of calories in each glass. A 6-ounce glass of 15 percent alcohol wine has 175 calories (vs. 120).

Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram. Carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram. This means that off-dry wines with some residual sugar can actually have fewer calories per glass than dry wines.

How is this possible?

In the fermentation process, grape sugars are converted into alcohol. If a wine ferments to dryness leaving no residual sugar, it has a higher alcohol content than a wine whose fermentation is arrested in order to leave behind a little sweetness. In other words, most off-dry wines have inherently lower alcohol levels because of how they are made.

As alcohol delivers more calories than sugar, the dry wine, despite being "sugar-free," can actually have a higher calorie count.

So when watching calories, watch the alcohol content of your wines.

Warm growing regions typically produce wines of higher alcohol content. And some grape varieties such as zinfandel and grenache are known for achieving very high alcohol levels. In fact, (red) zinfandel is often referred to as "whiskey in a wine package."

How does hard liquor, beer and soda stack up to wine in the calorie count?

The general 12-ounce serving of beer packs approximately 146 calories/13.2 grams carbs (vs. 99 calories/4.6 grams carbs for light versions). The average 1.5-ounceserving of spirits (at 80 proof) packs 97 calories/ 0 carbs (not counting the mixer) and the average 12-ounce serving of soda contributes 136 calories/35 grams carbs (as opposed to diet versions at 8 calories/1 gram carb). Obviously, figures will vary by brand.

If your beverage of choice is wine while dieting, avoid high-alcohol bottlings such as port and dessert wine. Port contains approximately 19 percent alcohol and 10 percent residual sugar (you are packing on the calories in both departments). The better choice would be to drink sparkling wines. Most clock in at a modest 12.5 percent alcohol, and Brut Nature or Brut Zero versions have no added sugar.

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