wine glasses

Q

Over the last several years, I have gained about 30 pounds. I do not feel well at my current weight and would like to work towards improving my health. I was talking to a friend who said I should really cut out wine from my intake because it will prevent me from losing weight. Due to a stressful job, I find myself drinking 2-3 glasses of wine per night to unwind.  What are your thoughts?

Sincerely,

Stressed-Out

Dear Stressed,

Strictly speaking in terms of nutritional value, you aren’t going to find much of anything in alcohol except ‘empty calories.’ This is a term used to describe a food or beverage that does not contribute a significant amount of vitamins & minerals to one’s body. Gram for gram, alcohol has nearly twice the amount of calories as protein & carbohydrates (7 calories versus 4 calories, respectfully), and almost as much as pure fat (9 calories per gram). So, you can see my hesitation as a dietitian in saying alcohol should be something you are consuming regularly, especially if you are looking to lose weight.

That being said, the research that exists does not show matter-of-fact that alcohol causes weight gain. What causes weight gain is excessive intake of overall calories. Given alcohol’s caloric density, it is easy to see that it can add excessive calories. An average glass of wine can run around 150 calories. For some people, alcohol consumption opens the door to poorer food choices. I know a few people who will overindulge in ‘junk food’ if they have a few drinks down the hatch. Or you may find yourself doing the opposite – not eating much throughout the day to ‘save’ your calories for the margaritas you are planning to have after work. Both scenarios open up the possibility to find yourself undernourished in the essential nutrients your body needs if done regularly.

Alcohol manufacturers are not required to label their product with nutrition information like food manufacturers are; however, our government has given alcohol companies the green light to start voluntarily labeling their products with information, like serving size & calories. Whether this will have an effect on consumption remains to be seen. And don’t forget to note that not all alcohol is vegan.

Sure, one can argue that there are studies which show possible benefits of consuming alcohol (1 drink for a female; 2 drinks for a male) related to a decrease in risk of acquiring certain chronic conditions, like cardiovascular disease and diabetes. And yes, I am aware that wine contains certain antioxidants, which can be beneficial in disease prevention. That being said, a diet rich in good ole plants does the same thing and provides far more nutrients than alcohol.

Another aspect of your question I would like to address is that it seems you use alcohol as your main stress relief. I would really encourage you to channel that stress into a more positive outlet, especially one which will assist in reaching your weight loss goals. Exercise is a wonderful way to deal with the tensions of life, whether it is walking, swimming, biking, or boxing. Just get out there and move!

As someone who does not consume alcohol (vegan straight edge, yo!), I admit I may have a bit of bias when it comes to this topic. I have seen the devastation that alcohol can bring onto individuals. Yet, I also know plenty of people who can consume a drink on occasion and not allow it to affect his/her life or well-being. If you partake in alcohol, please know your limit, and never, ever, EVER drink and drive.

Ask Anya is a weekly column written by dietitian Anya Todd on vegan health to help educate others on how to live healthier and more fulfilling lives.  Anya covers hot topics and commonly asked questions about vegan nutrition.  Do you have questions or concerns you would like to see addressed?  Simply send Anya an email to [email protected].

Disclaimer: Anya cannot answer any specific questions related to medical conditions, please stick to general questions about diseases, nutrition, or healthy vegan diets.

Photo credit: Arvind Grover via Flickr