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EVERYDAY LIVING

WINE IS MY SPIRIT ANIMAL…

I don’t think anyone who knows me would say “she is ALWAYS SO disciplined….” I was in South America last year for a speaking engagement and stopped in Mendoza for several days (I think it was several days…..so. much. wine…). I consumed several herds of cattle (normally NOT a huge meat eater…what do they do to the meat there??!!!) and yes, two or three vineyards of wine! Did I take one quick minute to think about how much sugar was lurking in those glasses? Heck no!

Ideas about what we should and shouldn’t eat come and go, but one of the most prominently and consistently warned-against nutritional hazards of the past few decades is sugar consumption. Sugar has been linked to lots of health problems… diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and tooth decay, to name a few. But, sugar has also become a bit of an obsession, with tons of opinions on how harmful it is and what kinds of sugars do the most harm. Is wine’s sugar content something those of us who enjoy great wine should be nervous about?

We asked Wine Spectator and other experts for the facts on sugar, wine and potential health concerns.

SO, HOW MUCH SUGAR IS IN MY WINE?

Let’s get right to it. Without sugar, there is no wine. Ripe grapes naturally contain sugars, and in the process of turning grape juice into wine, most of the sugars are converted into alcohol via fermentation. Any sugar that remains after the fermentation process is called residual sugar. This is THE source of a wine’s sugar content.

Although there aren’t any hard and fast rules determining exactly how many sugars a specific type of wine will contain, and only a few wineries opt to feature nutritional information on their labels, there are still ways to get a good sense of how much sugar is in your glass of wine—the obvious one, of course, being how sweet the wine tastes.

You can also pick up some clues without opening the bottle: Generally, if a wine is described as “dry,” that means there are less than 10 grams per liter of residual sugar; a “sweet” or dessert wine has more than 30 grams per liter.

For Champagne and other sparkling wines, keywords to look out for are, in order from driest to sweetest: extra brut, brut, extra dry or extra sec, sec, demi-sec and doux.

The USDA also offers some guidance: According to its website, an average dry table wine has 1 to 2 grams of sugar in a standard 5-ounce serving, and sweet wines, such as Sauternes, Port and ice wine, which are usually served in smaller amounts, contain around 8 grams of sugar per 3.5-ounce pour (though this can vary). 

The good news is that wine, a product of fruit, almost always contains only natural sugars, which health experts do not put a limit on. But that does not mean you can go bananas with the sweet stuff! Although there is no universal limit on how much natural sugar you should consume, the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that carbohydrates (including sugar, as well as starch and fiber) make up only 45 to 65 percent of your total daily calories. It is especially important to be mindful of your total sugar intake if you also consume a lot of soda, desserts or processed foods. 

Furthermore, a handful of producers do add sugar or grape concentrate to sweeten a (usually lower-quality) wine—these are the added sugars that you need to watch out for. The American Heart Association recommends limiting daily added sugar intake to about 25 grams (or 6 teaspoons) of sugar for women, and about 36 grams (or 9 teaspoons) for men. 

Overall, researchers and medical experts seem to agree that while we may not know exactly how alcohol affects diabetes risk and insulin functions, it’s probably safe to enjoy a glass of wine.

“In general, it is considered beneficial to have one glass of red wine [a day], and there are studies that show that,” said Joy Cornthwaite, a registered dietitian and diabetes educator at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. “But … there are some drugs that promote low blood sugar, and if you take those in the presence of alcohol, it’s very dangerous, because if a person has liver-function issues, then their liver doesn’t kick in and provide them with extra glucose,” which is protective against low blood sugar.

If you’re concerned about your sugar intake, but don’t want to give up wine, you’re ok. Wine, namely dry table wine and brut bubbly, are widely considered all-clear for low-sugar diets. In fact, the majority of wines, beers and spirits contain little to no sugar. (However, when it comes to liquor, watch out for those mixers!)

Rosanna’s Tip: “If you want the wine (this is obvious, right? we ALL want wine), you can make a cut somewhere else, like instead of dessert, have wine.” Just don’t give up the healthy natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables—those are the good ones! And don’t replace a whole meal with a glass of wine (this would have been good to remember while in Mendoza!!!)

Eat Real Foods and Keep Your Sugar Intake LOW!

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