Atkins and Wine Changes Over Years

One older Atkins book doesn't mention alcohol at all as being something to count when you are counting carbs. Another recent Atkins book says that red wines are better because they have fewer carbs. Today, the Atkins website says to drink whites! What is going on here?

First, the USDA scientific evaluation of wine. You can read the full details of the USDA Carb and Content if you wish, but basically a 3.5oz glass of wine, red or white, has around 91g of water, 9.6g of alcohol, 73 calories and 1.2g of "carbohydrates by difference". There aren't actually ANY carbohydrates in wine, but that 'leftover' amount is the glyerine in the wine that sort of acts like a carbohydrate. It just doesn't raise the blood sugar. In fact, wine in general *lowers* your blood sugar level.

In the Beginning

Now, how Atkins has treated wine over the years. In the beginning, it appears Atkins didn't think about wine much at all. The first edition of "Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution" came out in 1972, and at the time few people drank wine. Atkins might not have even considered wine as a normal part of the way people eat. Wine was ignored or mentioned as an afterthought with no recommendations in this stage.

Red Wine Good, White Wine Bad

Next, as wine drinking became more popular, and more people asked about wine, Atkins began including it. However, Atkins assumed that white wines were "sweet" because they had sugar in them! Actually, all the sugars in the grapes were *turned into alcohol* by the yeast. That's what fermentation is all about. In fact, white wines are made from the insides of the grape, without the skin. This gives white wines a light, fruity flavor. Red wines are made from the WHOLE grape, including the skin. The skin gives the wine its dark flavor and the rich, thick flavor. A great example of this is the Zinfandel grape. Keep the skin on, and you get rich, dark, heavy Red Zinfandel. Take the skin off, and you get light, pink, fruity White Zinfandel. The grape is the same, the fermentation is the same, the result is the same. You get 80% water, 20% alcohol, and "flavorings". It's really the flavorings that are different.

So in any case, during this stage of the Atkins diet, they recommended you drink red wines, because they were "dry". In wine drinking, dry is the opposite of sweet. The aim was to look for "dry red wines" and avoid the "sweet white wines".

White Wine Good, Red Wine Bad

If you look at the current Atkins website, you will see that someone wised up and realized that "sweet" was a flavor thing and not a sugar thing. That in fact wines have FEW carbs in them at all, and the calories in wine come from the alcohol. I go into the whole alcohol - calorie - carb issues of wine in many of the related articles below if you wish to get more background. But the end result is that the wine which is higher in *alcohol* is the one that will be higher in "carb equivalents".

Since red wines tend to be higher in alcohol than white wines, this has the current Atkins listing to read:

4oz white wine: .9 carbs, 80 calories
4oz red wine: 2 carbs, 85 calories

Which is much more realistic and reasonable. But really, it has nothing to do with the COLOR of the wine. It has to do with the PERCENTAGE ALCOHOL of the wine. You can easily find high-alcohol whites, and just as easily find low-alcohol reds. Just look at the bottom - every bottle of wine has that alcohol percentage printed right on it. Here are some sample alcohol percentages of common wines:

blush Beringer White Zinfandel 9%
white Gallo Sauvignon Blanc 11.5%
white Kendall Jackson Chardonnay 13%
red Bridgeview Merlot 12.5%
red BV Zinfandel 14.2%

So you could perhaps say that a wine of 14% gives you 2 carbs and a wine of maybe 10% gives you 1 carb. Again, since this isn't even counting carbs - and is just counting "carb-like behavior", you're pretty much fudging things anyway. But really, the net result is that a glass of wine gives you "under 2g of carbs-like substances". That's certainly a reasonable trade-off for the health benefits, food-enhancing and blood-sugar-lowering qualities that wine brings to your meal!

Plus with this Animal Farm-like reversal of recommendation that Atkins has done so far, it might not be long before they fully endorse wine drinking as a non-carb-counting activity, because of how it raises your HDL and lowers your blood sugar levels. Both of these would be quite important to a diet that's high in fat, and wants to keep even blood sugar levels!


A great deal of research and work went into my wine / health pages. If you use this information, please credit me properly. Thanks!

Wine and Health

All content on the WineIntro website is personally written by author and wine enthusiast Lisa Shea. WineIntro explores the delicious variety and beautiful history which makes up our world of wine! Lisa loves supporting local wineries and encouraging people to drink whatever they like. We all have different taste buds, and that makes our world wonderful. Always drink responsibly.