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Have you ever wondered about the calories in white wine? Do you fret over going out, knowing you may pay a price for caloric over-indulgence?

A new study recently published in the Archives of Internal Medicine indicates that women who drink wine moderately, and on a regular basis, experienced less weight gain, and were more apt to not be obese, than their non-drinking counterparts.

In another study done in 2008, it would seem that 70% of women showed a marked preference for white wines. With regard to calories, this could be a good thing. On average, there are 5 less calories in white wine than red wines of similar types if they have the same alcohol content.

Are there that many calories in white wine? To answer this, we need to know a little about basic physics, nutrition and about the wine itself.

Most people associate calories with weight gain, and this can be partially true. A calorie, by itself, is not a nutritional item. A calorie is simply a measure of energy. 1 calorie is the energy required to heat 1 gram of water to 1 degree c., or 1.6 degrees F. A basic rule of physics is that energy can not be destroyed; only changed from one form to another, such as from electrical to mechanical, or heat. So, if a grape has x calories, and we add sugar and yeast to ferment it, then our finished product has the x calories from the grape, plus the calories from the sugar and the yeast. The caloric value of any food is an estimate of its energy potential.

The majority of calories in white wine come from sugar. Wine is made by allowing yeast to feed on the sugar contained in the grape juice, in the form of fructose. The metabolism of the sugar by the yeast turns the sugar into ethanol, or ethyl alcohol (CH3CH2OH). The alcohol content is commonly boosted by adding more sugar to the juice for the yeast to work on, making a ‘dry’ wine. Dry wines have more of the sugar converted to alcohol than ‘Sweet’ wines, which leave a certain amount of sugar unfermented to provide sweetness. With respect to calories, there is little difference between sweet and dry wines, because the body treats alcohol just like all sugars, and converts them into simple carbohydrates. These are used to fuel the body’s various functions. What is not used immediately gets stored for future use in fat cells. When the fat cells become saturated, the body makes more, hence the weight-gain. All this is just a fancy way of saying that all weight gain is just a function of Calories-In vs. Calories-Out. That is all there is to it.

The alcoholic content of beverages that contain alcohol is commonly expressed as a ‘proof’, which is the percentage of alcohol by volume x 2. So, a 28-Proof wine would contain 14% alcohol by volume. This allows you to calculate the calories in any glass of wine (or any other alcoholic beverage). The formula is 1.6 x a x b, where a = the percentage of alcohol in the wine, and b = the amount of wine you are drinking. 1.6 is a constant, representing the amount of calories in a given volume of solution. So if we have a 4 oz. glass of medium dry Chardonnay at 14% alcohol, we have 1.6 x 14 x 4 = 89.6 calories.

So how bad are the calories in white wine compared to other common beverages, by volume? Here is a comparison:

– Coffee (4 oz.)     1 calorie   add 1 Tbsp sugar  49 calories
– Tea (4 oz.)        1 calorie   add 1 Tbsp sugar  49 calories
– Coca Cola (4 oz.)  46.6 calories
– Diet Sodas (4 oz.)  .25 calories
– Water (any amount)   0 calories
– Fruit or Vegetable Juices (4 oz.)    20-50 calories
– 1% Milk (4 oz.)       55 calories
– Egg Nog (4 0z.)     175 calories
– Beer (4 oz.)         50 calories
– Bourbon, Scotch, Vodka, etc.. (4 oz.)   350 calories
– Amaretto, Coffee Liqueur, etc…(4 oz.) 500+ calories

As you can see, wine is on the upper end of the scale, but not at the highest. And, you need to have a little perspective. Sodas are rarely drunk in 4 oz. increments. An average serving of soda is between 12 and 16 oz., and people very seldom drink just one, so were talking triple digit calories here. The same is true with respect to milk, beer and juices. On the other hand, while the values for liqueurs and whiskies seem high, few people drink 4 oz. of them at a time (and be able to walk away unassisted). A normal serving for them is 1 ounce.

Absent any other health-related issues such as alcoholism, diabetes, or hypoglycemia, an occasional glass of wine is not going to hurt you. As in most things, the key is moderation. Too much of anything, even water, can be detrimental.

Now, you no longer need fear the calories in white wine, so go out and enjoy yourself.