Colorado State University Researchers Find No Link Between Moderate Red Wine Consumption and Weight Gain

Calories from red wine do not appear to contribute to increased body weight, according to a recent study by two Colorado State University researchers.

The short-term study–led by professors Loren Cordain and Christopher Melby–supports the bulk of epidemiological and clinical research that indicates moderate consumption of red wine does not influence body weight. A possible reason may be that calories from alcohol may be metabolized differently than other food calories.

The findings, scheduled to appear March 31 in the "Journal of the American College of Nutrition," also show that moderate red wine consumption does not affect levels of glucose and insulin in the blood, which often increase with weight gain. Moderate levels of alcohol consumption in the study refers to less than 5 percent of an individual’s total daily calories.

"Because alcohol has a high-energy density similar to fat, it is commonly assumed that alcohol consumption increases the risk for weight gain," said Cordain, a professor in the university’s department of exercise and sport science and the study’s lead author. "Based on our study and other studies, it seems no support can be given to recommending that alcohol consumption be reduced in order to maintain or reduce body weight." Over a 12-week period, 14 healthy males drank two glasses of red wine with dinner daily for six weeks and abstained from drinking alcohol for six weeks, or vice versa. Halfway into the study and at the conclusion, the researchers measured participants’ body weight, percentage of body fat, skin fold thickness, and resting metabolic rate as well as glucose and insulin levels in the blood. No changes were found in any of the participants whether they drank red wine or abstained.

Although performed over a short time period with limited control over participants’ diet, Cordain said the Colorado State study is consistent with a number of other similar studies performed by noted scientists, as well as a review of the topic by leading scientists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Despite mounting scientific evidence that suggests no link between weight gain and alcohol, a recent study performed by a team of Canadian scientists reached the opposite conclusion. The Canadian team argued that regular, moderate consumption of alcohol promotes fat storage and therefore triggers the development of obesity. But Cordain points out the study did not measure the effect of alcohol on body weight over time.

"The differing conclusions in the scientific community is an important reason why research needs to continue in this area," Cordain said. "Additional studies are needed to more precisely measure alcohol’s influence on converting calories to energy." Although the findings support the consensus that moderate amounts of alcohol can be part of a healthy diet, the researchers offer words of caution: "This study in no way should encourage non-drinkers to begin consuming alcohol," said Melby, a professor in Colorado State’s department of food science and human nutrition. "Our research followed subjects over a short period of time, but we don’t know what would happen in a long-term study."