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Keto-friendly wine is real: How to tell which kinds pass the test

Until recently, it was unclear whether wine could ever be included on the keto diet.

The keto diet is hotter than ever. It’s the diet that my patients ask about most, the one they say works when others have failed. It’s also one of the diets that allows indulgence in some long-held diet taboos (hello bacon).

Like most diets, however, there are some fatal flaws. Until recently, it was unclear whether wine could ever be included in the keto diet. Now, there’s a whole category of companies and websites devoted to selling what they say are keto-friendly vintages. Here’s some tips to know whether it’s okay to include a wine.

What makes a wine keto-friendly

First, it’s good to know a little bit about how wine is made. The first step is choosing the grapes, which vary by type and region. Once the grapes are picked, they’re crushed and pressed, ultimately turning them into a juice. At this point, they will either turn into white wines (skins are extracted) or red wines (skins are left on). The juice is left to ferment, which is a process where the sugars turn into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Red wines and white wines are fermented in different ways, using different additives, chemicals and yeast strains, but regardless of the type, they all end up in a barrel where they age and eventually are bottled.

Like all things with Keto, the overall carb and sugar content are the factors to consider in wine. This is determined by a few things. How the wine is made, the alcohol content and how dry is (or fully fermented) the wine.

Glass of White Wine on a Barrel in Wine Cellar
Glass of white wine on a barrelGetty Images

Residual sugar

Another critical factor is the residual sugar left in the wine. Sugar is always going to be in grapes, after all, it’s a naturally sweet plant. However, they can ferment long enough so that all the sugar turns into alcohol. Residual sugar (referred to in the wine world as RS) is the natural sugar left over by grapes after the fermentation process. Residual sugars can be left behind by stopping the fermentation process early, which would produce a sweeter end product (some sweeter wines actually have sugar added after fermentation as well). However, if a winemaker allows the wine to fully ferment, the result is a drier wine with lower RS and, therefore, fewer carbs.

The problem is, residual sugar content doesn’t appear on wine labels, so it may take a few more steps to check whether a wine is keto-friendly.

One of the best things to do is just ask: talk with wine makers and learn how their wines are made. A local sommelier or a company specializing in keto wine may also have this information. To source keto-friendly wines in a regular store, look for wines identified as “dry,” which means that the wine has been fermented fully -- and thus, all the sugar is gone. These will be the least sweet options in the wine aisle. Keep in mind, however, that even dry wines can range in their RS content depending on price point and brand.

Keeping on track with ketosis

The alcohol content matters as well. More alcohol obviously means more calories, but alcohol is metabolized differently than carbohydrates, fats and proteins. The body sees it as a poison and therefore will work to get it broken down and out as soon as possible. The body makes this high priority, so it will occur before anything else can be metabolized. That means, the glass of wine could hit the pause button on fat burning goals. The lower the alcohol content on a wine, the better.

The most important factor in enjoying keto wines is perhaps the portion. RS and overall carbohydrate content are determined by a 5-ounce glass. Anyone who drinks the bottle will probably get knocked out of ketosis. The second factor is the type of wine. The kinds with the least RS are champagne, pinot grigio, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc. Higher carb wines tend to be sweeter and include Riesling, zinfandel, port wine and dessert wines.

But in order to be sure a wine is really keto, the process has to be monitored to ensure full fermentation, low sugar and ideally, lower alcohol and no additives. Third-party labs can also test for carb content.

Even though certain wines may be acceptable on a keto diet, it’s better not to indulge in them daily. Stick with the general guidelines for wine consumption, which includes no more than one 5-ounce glass a day for women and no more than two glasses for men. If necessary, use ketone testing strips to stay on track.

Then sit back, relax and enjoy that glass of wine.