The Keto trend just welcomed a new option. Welcome to the world of Keto wine.
Low-sugar, keto, and paleo diets have recently increased in popularity, and with them, the demand for wines that can fit into these diets has also soared. Even if you aren’t following a specific diet, cutting back on high sugar beverages is a great way to positively impact your health. Low-sugar wines are a nice option for anyone looking to preserve their ritual of a glass of wine with dinner or on a night out, without sacrificing their desire to make healthy lifestyle changes.
For many people, wine has always been part of their idea of a healthy diet. The health benefits of moderate consumption of wine are often heralded by wine lovers, with everything from heart health to brain health to gut health. Though recent data is mixed on whether any alcohol is healthy, many still appreciate a frequent glass of wine. So – what should you do if you love wine, want the health benefits that some studies show, but also prefer to follow a low-carb or low-sugar diet? You can seek out the latest low-alcohol/low-sugar versions. If you don’t want to buy wine that is marketed in this manner, you may also find options that have no low-carb marketing at all. With a bit of wine-vocab learning and a very basic understanding of fermentation, you can be prepared to choose the perfect wine, no matter your health or flavor preferences.
How wine becomes low or high in sugar
In general, wines with less than 2g of residual sugar per 5 oz serving are considered to be low or no-sugar wines. Residual sugar refers to the amount of sugar left after the yeast has been allowed to convert sugar into alcohol during the fermentation process. The fermentation process is an important step during wine-making, with different yeasts producing different flavor profiles. Most yeast can tolerate alcohol contents up to 15% before being killed off, which is why wines usually come in around 12-14% alcohol. Unfortunately, residual sugar is not often listed alongside alcohol content on wine bottles. Luckily, more brands are popping up with transparent labeling to market to keto-friendly shoppers. Even if your bottle doesn’t have the information on the label, you can often do some quick research to uncover the residual sugar content information on your favorite brand. All wines will have a “tech sheet” that lists the alcohol content, grape types, aging style, acidity, residual sugar, and more!
Following the marketing of lower carbohydrate wine options
To meet the demand for low-sugar wines, new companies have formed to help customers find the best wines that meet both their nutritional preferences and their flavor preferences. Dry Farm Wines and Secco Wine Club are two companies that help customers find lower carbohydrate, dry wines from around the world. Both companies independently test their wines using third-party labs to ensure that the wines are low in sugar and carbohydrates, and even provide their customers with the exact amounts detected. Then, they make recommendations for your preferred taste and wine type and send the bottles directly to your home. Dry Farm Wines and Secco Wine Club primarily sell wines that happen to align with a low-sugar diet because of the vineyards’ grapes, fermentation process, and other variables. There are also companies developing wines that are specifically formulated and marketed as “keto-friendly.” These bottles often share the sugar content on their labels, making them appealing to wine lovers who want to find a keto wine. PALO 61 is the first wine to have a complete nutrition label on the bottle (and hopefully other wines will follow suit). FitVine and the Wonderful Wine Co are two other brands that are seeking to meet the needs of health-conscious wine connoisseurs with red, white, rosé, and orange wines, all of which are low in sugar and carbohydrates.
In order to pick the best wine for you, it helps to understand the process that leads to some wines being lower in sugar than others. Wine is made by adding yeast to crushed grapes and allowing the grape’s sugar to convert to alcohol during a period of fermentation. The longer the fermentation process, the greater the amount of sugar that is allowed to convert to alcohol, and the dryer the wine. Wines that are very dry have had most, if not all of their sugars converted to alcohol, so little remains when you drink a glass. However, it’s important to check the label, as even refined taste buds can be tricked. Some wines can taste fairly dry while still holding a fair amount of residual sugar; this sugar helps balance out different notes of the wine and may not always be apparent. Also, just because a wine is drier, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will have a higher alcohol content. Depending on the type of yeast, and its capacity for “wine yeast attenuation,” the yeast may gobble up the sugar without converting all of it to alcohol.
While the only surefire way to determine that amount of residual sugar in the wine is to look up the wine’s “tech sheet,” there are some other clues to look out for that can help you pick a lower-sugar wine. Some of the naturally lowest-sugar wines include Pinot Grigio (3g), Brut Champagne or other dry, sparkling wine (1-2g), Cabernet (3g), Chardonnay (1.4g), Chianti (3g), Sauvignon Blanc (3g), and Petite Sirah (2.5g). Words like “brut”, “extra brut,” “sec,” and “extra sec” indicate that a wine is dry, and therefore has lower levels of residual sugar. Sparkling wines that are not labeled “brut-zero” or “zero dosage” can also have a certain amount of extra sugar added to them. This is referred to as “dosage,” a sugar and wine mix which is added into the wine after the fermentation process. Dosage is used to balance the acidity which is created by the extended fermentation required to produce the bubbles. In a brut champagne, about 9g/L of sugar is added back in with the dosage. This may sound like a lot, but the average bottle of wine is just 750 mL, and contains about five 5oz servings. With champagne starting at such a low level of residual sugar, even with the dosage sugar levels remain in the range of 1-2g per serving range. The dosage also makes the wine drinking experience much more enjoyable.
Good news for keto-followers: the trend in European wines is pointing towards dryer bottles. Brut wine dosages have come down from about 15g/L of sugar to 9g/L, and many other varieties are following suit by choosing different processes of fermentation that result in dryer wine. Along with the fermentation process, the climate in which the grapes are grown will also impact the sugar content of a wine. Grapes grown in cooler climates don’t get as ripe as those from warmer climates, and fewer sugars develop. For example, a chardonnay from grapes grown in California will have a higher sugar content than one from Oregon.
Want to stay in Keto? Limit these wines
Now that you know which wines to look for, here are a few to avoid. Wines with the highest amounts of sugar are usually made from very ripe grapes, or have not been allowed to ferment for as long. These include Shiraz, Pinotage, Zinfandel, Grenache, Port, Moscato, and dessert wines.
If you are actively on a low-carb diet in ketosis, there are a couple of things to note about drinking wine, besides watching out for the sugar content. The liver can break alcohol down into ketones, but your body treats alcohol like a toxin, and works to get it out as soon as possible. Because of this, your liver will pause processing other nutrients, like fat, in order to get rid of your glass of wine. Alcohol consumption will decrease ketone production, as your body will prioritize filtering all of the alcohol out of your system before it returns to burning fat for energy. So, while a glass or two of wine won’t necessarily knock you out of ketosis, it will pause the breakdown of fatty acids and can slow your progress. When you drink alcohol, about 25% is absorbed via the stomach and goes directly into the bloodstream. The rest is absorbed through the small intestine. Alcohol is absorbed more quickly if it is a higher concentration, carbonated, and if you drink on an empty stomach. Once the alcohol is absorbed, it heads to the liver to be processed. An enzyme, known as alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), breaks the alcohol down at the rate of about 10g of alcohol per hour. This is why health professionals recommend sticking to one drink per hour in order to keep your blood alcohol content low. Men and women are also impacted by alcohol in different ways. Women tend to have lower levels of body water than men, so blood alcohol content rises faster and after a smaller concentration of alcohol. Additionally, men have a high level of ADH in their stomach, which can greatly reduce how much alcohol is eventually absorbed, as the ADH breaks it down before it can enter the bloodstream. Females, however, have almost no ADH in their stomachs. The ADH present in female livers is also less active than the ADH found in male livers. This combination results in higher blood alcohol contents in women versus men after drinking the same amount.
Another thing to beware of when drinking on the keto diet is worsened hangovers. Many people report lower alcohol tolerance and more intense hangovers when they drink while in ketosis. This is because a low-carb diet leads to lower glycogen stores. Glycogen normally slows down the absorption of alcohol in your system, but without it, tolerance can drop significantly and make one drink feel like five! Start small, see how your body does, then go from there.
Lastly, try to notice if a glass or two of wine makes it more challenging for you to resist your high-carb favorites. “Drunk snacking” is a real, scientific phenomenon. Alcohol reduces impulse control and causes your neurons to fire erratically, making you think you need more food no matter how much you’ve eaten. To avoid this diet-derailment, harness the willpower of your sober self and set out a big glass of water and prepare some healthy snacks. Making the healthy choice easier to reach is a great way to combat the mind-altering effects of alcohol and allow the whole experience to be more enjoyable.
It’s exciting to learn that wine can remain a part of your diet, but remember that even healthier wines still contain the same amount of alcohol, so it’s best to keep to one 5oz glass per day for women, or two for men. Also, even at 2-3g per glass, the low sugar allowances on the keto diet don’t leave much wiggle room. Even a couple grams of sugar here and there can add up quickly. If you are tracking your calories, a glass of wine is usually between 100-120 calories per serving. Practice enjoying that one glass thoroughly, and shifting away from the mindset that “more is better.”
Low-sugar and “keto-friendly” versions allow wine to remain in your diet, even if you’re avoiding sugar and carbohydrates. With a bit of knowledge of wine terminology and how the fermentation process occurs, you can make informed choices at restaurants or even prepare ahead by sleuthing a bit on the internet beforehand. That being said, these lower sugar wines may taste different than traditional, higher-sugar wines. Especially if you are used to drinking sweeter wines like Moscato and Riesling, the sacrifice of sweetness and palatability for a low-sugar option may be a bit more challenging. Try easing into the dry wine game with a wine that has ~3-4g of sugar per serving, rather than jumping into a brut-zero champagne right off the bat. The goal is to still enjoy the wine, after all! Over time, taste buds change. With less sugar in the diet overall, you will pick up on subtle flavors and a milder sweetness that you never noticed before. Hopefully the process of looking into your wines, becoming a bit of an amateur sommelier, and learning the types of grapes used, what climate the grapes were grown in, and the alcohol content versus the residual sugar will help you enjoy each glass to its fullest. Cheers!