The Skinny on Wine

Fitting wine into a healthy diet

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I'm a food-obsessed individual, so, for me, the latest no- and low-carb diet crazes are just this side of torture. Life's too short to deprive your body and mind of what they crave. Especially wine. On the Atkins diet, you not only have to avoid alcohol in the beginning "Induction Phase" to allow your body to adjust to the new regimen, post-induction you still have to "watch yourself." What's up with that? The world has been drinking wine much longer than we've been snarfing fat-laden McBurgers and sitting on our asses — the true blubber-inducing culprits, in my opinion. And nonfortified, premium table wine is pretty low in carbohydrates, ranging from 1.8 to 3.0 carbohydrates per 3.5-ounce glass, according to the USDA.

Bitterness aside, fitting wine into a healthy diet is the main goal. No one really wants to get fatter and almost everyone I know thinks they should lose at least 10 pounds. Myself included. So if you drink in moderation and haven't heard friends whisper "AA" behind your back, wine, according to all the studies, can be your friend.

Maybe you've heard of "empty calories"? Wine is one of those empty-calorie foods, meaning it has no real traditional nutritional value, kind of like potato chips. A 3.5-ounce glass — an average by-the-glass serving in most restaurants but you might want to ask — averages 80 calories. But, unlike chips, hidden inside those calories are geeky-sounding, good-for-you substances like polyphenols and resveratrol, which help keep cancer, strokes and heart attacks at bay. The popular one-glass-a-day advice could certainly help most of us, and who can't make room for 80 calories into their daily routine? Just walk up another few flights of stairs and you're golden.

But how about 160 or 240 calories? Incorporating those amounts might be a little more harrowing, and there's plenty you need to know if you're watching your intake. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, most of the alcohol you drink gets converted into a substance called acetate by your liver. To fuel your body, your system seeks out carbohydrates first, then burns acetate before seeking out fat. A 1999 study found that drinking the equivalent of two shots of vodka reduces the amount of fat your body burns by 73-percent for several hours afterward. So, if you're facing a plate mounded with fatty meat drowning in cheesy cream sauce, and washing it down with a few glasses of nice Chianti (and some fava beans), you're probably not doing your waistline any favors. Following this logic, eating low-fat while drinking might be your best bet.

But with gluttonous temptations surrounding us, it's easy to wallow in overindulgence. Moderation really is king when it comes to wine, weight loss and responsibility. Wine, or any alcohol, should be consumed with food, to balance blood sugar and to maintain our sober wits. It might be more difficult to moderate, but, in the end, your butt will thank you.

Recommended Wines

Chateau Reynella 2001 Chardonnay McClaren Vale Damn, this is good wine. Full-bodied, with delicious butterscotch, vanilla-tinged oak and honey enveloping the mouth. Not your oaky/buttery stereotype, just a beautiful chardonnay. $16

Santa Ema 2001 Merlot Reserve Maipo Valley Velvety soft blueberry flavors, finishing with a plush touch of roses. Smooth tannins with a bit of a kick in the end. Truly special stuff from Chile. $15

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