Wine vs. Cocktails: Which to Choose Based on Their Nutritional Breakdown

I’m bringing back the age-old debate about wine and spirits—which is better? My husband and I own Fantesca Estate & Winery in Napa Valley, so I’m a bit biased as to which I prefer. My preferences aside, though, I wanted to take the question one step further and compare wine and spirits based on noted health benefits and nutritional value. Let’s break it down:

The nutrition behind wine

Red or white, the average glass of wine has about 125 calories per 5-ounce serving with about 4g of carbohydrates and 1-2g of sugar. Red wine is regarded the most beneficial of the choices for one’s health because of the additional antioxidants in red grapes. Wine can promote longevity and reduce the risk of some life-threatening diseases, like heart disease and diabetes, and contains a good amount of fiber and potassium. Resveratrol and flavonoids are also found in wine, both of which are thought to protect the heart and reduce the effects of aging. Good news: Wine, in moderation, can be incorporated into a healthy, well-balanced diet, plus you can enjoy a glass and still practice a Paleo diet.

The health benefits come from moderate wine consumption, which would be one to two 5-ounce glasses per day. Traditionally, white wine pairs well with lighter dishes like salads, seafood, and poultry; red wines pair well with hearty, rich, roasted dishes, including red or game meats (ie. pheasant, rabbit, bison, venison, etc.) and stews. However, I’m a big advocate of drinking what you like with whatever you are eating. Just remember - It needs to be worth the carbs! Cook up a farm-fresh meal, pour yourself a glass and reap the benefits.

The nutritional breakdown of spirits

Like wine, spirits, when consumed in moderation, may have some health benefits. More than 100 prospectives studies show that consuming alcohol (any kind—beer, wine or spirits) can reduce the risk of heart disease by 25 to 40 percent. The alcohol in spirits can increase your high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which is considered the “good” cholesterol and helps protect against heart disease.

What does a serving of liquor look like?

But what is moderation when it comes to liquor—not as much as you think! Only 1½ ounces of spirits is considered a “drink” of liquor either consumed on its own as a shot or mixed into a cocktail. Mixing cocktails is when you start to negate some of the health benefits a bit of alcohol may provide. For instance, a shot of vodka is around 85 calories with zero carbs or sugars. However, when you mix that shot of vodka with 8 oz. of 100% cranberry juice you’re adding about 110 calories, 28g of carbohydrates, and 28g of sugar (if measuring in addition to your carbs). While I’m not suggesting you do shots on your next girls night (one vodka cranberry won’t hurt you that badly), it is worth considering the nutritional content of “mixers” when selecting any cocktail. Be smart about your choices. Also, watch out for premade mixers and juice concentrates. They usually have artificial flavoring along with corn syrup, coloring, preservatives, and stabilizers. They also tend to be overly sweet with no health benefits whatsoever.

Ways to enjoy a cocktail sans the sugar

One way to enjoy a cocktail and not overload on calories is to use fresh ingredients for your mixers. Using fresh squeezed fruit juices (lime, lemon, grapefruit, etc.) not only enhance the quality of your beverage, but make for a more flavor-balanced cocktail. Another great tip is to swap out Agave syrup for sugar when needed in a cocktail. It provides the same sweetness for a well balanced drink, however it has a much lower glycemic index making it a much healthier option for you. So keep in mind to not  be afraid to ask your bartender to use fresh ingredients, like most restaurants in Napa, if you are paying $15 dollars for a cocktail I think you have the right to make sure you’re getting a quality drink that not only tastes well, but is healthier for you!

Quality over Quantity

For me, taste and enjoyment are key. If a drink is too sweet, or I order a glass of wine off a restaurant list that I’m not into—I won’t drink it. It simply isn’t worth the calories. I consider having a drink a real treat. My dessert during dinner! Despite owning a winery, I truly don’t drink much.

Having a drink with the girls is fun and having a glass of red wine with dinner is relaxing and rewarding after a busy day. Just remember to drink in moderation—one drink won’t set you back from your overall fitness goals. Unless of course you are training for a competition or a race… but that’s another blog for a different day.