Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Wine Q&A: Can My Diet Include Wine?

Q: Going on a diet may be clichéd when it comes to New Year’s resolutions, but I am committed to losing 20-30 pounds in 2009. I plan to do it by eating sensibly and exercising, instead of following an expensive program or some fad diet. The trouble is I LOVE wine and would hate to give it up. But everything I have read indicates that clear liquors are ok but wine is a no-no when it comes to dieting. Why is that? Is there such a thing as a low-calorie wine? Do you have any suggestions on how I can include wine in my weight-loss program?
- Jennifer

A: Most dieticians would say that anything in moderation is acceptable, but if you’re like me you probably find that advice hollow and unsatisfactory.

Actually I can totally relate to your dilemma. A broken foot brought my otherwise active lifestyle to an abrupt halt a number of years ago. While it healed I became lazy so even after I was fully on my feet again it took months to shake the lethargy. That resulted in a shocking weight gain. For the record, I managed to shed my extra pounds without giving up wine – more on that later. Let’s address some of your questions first.

Booze in any way, shape or form is a weight watcher's nemesis. They don’t call it “bellying up to the bar” for nothing. While “clear liquors” like vodka or gin may have relatively fewer calories than wine, the minute you add a mixer like cranberry juice or tonic water, all bets are off – unless you choose diet pop or soda water, in which case, why bother at all?

A lot of people who monitor their waistline don't factor alcohol into the equation. Unfortunately, all booze (clear liquors included) contains extra calories that our bodies don't typically use for energy. The calories from alcohol are easily stored as body fat, which then cause weight gain.

When it comes to wine, there are a couple things to consider when dieting: alcohol content and sugar. You might be surprised to know that robust Australian Shiraz may contain as many calories as a luscious Icewine. That’s because all the sugar that was in the grapes grown for the Shiraz was fermented into alcohol which will drive up the calorie count. The Icewine may be far sweeter, but it is typically much lower in alcohol.

Therein lies the real rub.

Another caveat when it comes to wine consumption is using a generic calorie-counting formula. Most basic dietary information pegs an average glass of wine at about 80 calories.

That doesn't sound so bad, right? But it’s time for a rude awakening. “Average” according to this formula is three to five ounces of wine at 10-12 per cent alcohol.

I don't know about you, but I don't know anyone who considers three to five ounces a “glass.” Most people will pour about eight ounces. Heck, I own stemware that can hold half a bottle.

And 10 per cent alcohol may have been common when bell bottoms were first in fashion, but today the demand for fuller, richer wines has driven up the average to 14-15 per cent.

The proper formula in the real world for calculating the calories in a glass of dry wine is this: 1.6 multiplied by percentage of alcohol multiplied by number of ounces. So if you drink eight ounces at 14 per cent alcohol, the calorie count is 180.

If you've got a penchant for big reds, which can tip the scales at 16 per cent alcohol, you're sipping 204 calories. Drink a whole bottle -- which a lot of people have been known to do -- and you're in the 610 to 665 calorie range. That, my friends, is more than in a Big Mac.

There's something else to consider -- booze gives us the munchies. Alcohol increases your appetite and the more you drink, the more your resolve will dissolve. That's OK if you reach for the carrot sticks, but most people tend to snack on foods higher in fat. The truth is, it's not just a beer gut you're packing, it's a nacho chips and cheese gut.

If you're a wine weenie like me, the danger zone is with those wine receptions, themed dinners and festivals where platters of triple cream brie, crustinis and fois gras are the norm.

So how did I do it? Since sampling wine is part of my work, avoiding it altogether simply wasn’t practical. So anything I tried for review purposes I spit out. I restricted actual consumption to two days a week and factored it into my diet plan as an actual food. On days I indulged in a glass or two of wine, I gave up a high-calorie carb to compensate such as potatoes, rice or pasta. And I assumed each glass was the equivalent to 250 calories to err on the side of caution. Another thing that worked for me was matching each sip of wine with a healthy gulp of water. It helped me drink my wine slower and filled me up so I craved less. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to pull it off with monumental self-control.

One final tip: read the label and stick to dry wines with moderate levels of alcohol such as Riesling, Chasselas, Chenin Blanc in the case of whites, and Pinot Noir and Gamay Noir in the case of reds.

Good luck!

In Focus: Midpalate

I am often asked to explain this tasting term used by critics. The “entry” is that initial impression you get when you first sip the wine, while the “finish” is the aftertaste and length when you swallow or spit. The “midpalate” is in between those two elements and simply refers a sense of the wine “unfolding” in your mouth. Typically, this is when you notice secondary, more complex or understated flavours that should form the most lasting impression on you as the drinker. Unfortunately, a high percentage of wine consumers skip this important step by drinking their wine too quickly. It’s crucial to savour the wine at the midpalate in order to fully appreciate it.

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