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A good bottle of wine can sub in for a lot of things in life—a therapist, plans on a Friday night, cravings for a decadent dessert. And some studies suggest you might be able to add cardio to that list: Healthy women who drank one glass of wine regularly were 70 percent less likely to gain weight over 13 years than gals who abstain, according to an often-cited 2011 study out of Harvard on nearly 20,000 women.
Now, you've probably heard of red wine's celebrity compound, resveratrol, a polyphenol found in the skin of grapes. We know that the antioxidant powerhouse can help mobilize fat and reduce the accumulation of triglycerides in both mice and humans. Studies on animals have even found resveratrol can help transform white fat into "beige fat," which is easier for our bodies to burn off, and that the polyphenol may help suppress appetite. (FYI, resveratrol can also help protect your skin from free radical damage.)
There's just one problem with all these fabulous findings: Not only are most of these studies on animals, but it's also not possible to absorb the recommended therapeutic doses of the antioxidant just by drinking wine, according to research out of Germany. (You'd need to take a supplement to hit the same mg's used for the promising results.)
But don't give up on the grape just yet—red wine does help boost the body's fat-burning abilities in a few ways, says Chris Lockwood, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., president of performance nutrition consulting and R&D firm Lockwood, LLC. Here, we break down the science. (Related: The Definitive *Truth* About Wine and Its Health Benefits)
How Red Wine Might Help You Lose Weight
For starters, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol improves blood flow, which means not only are more nutrients being transported into cells but so is more oxygen—a necessary component of fat burning, Lockwood says.
A glass of red also increases your levels of two hormones—adiponectin and free testosterone, which help you burn fat and build muscle, respectively—while decreasing estrogen, which makes you retain fat, and serum hormone binding globulin (SHBG), a hormone that prevents free T from acting on receptors. Together, this formula creates a more anabolic environment, releasing stored fat and increasing your metabolism, explains Lockwood.
Sounds great, right? The catch is there's a threshold of when alcohol goes from harmless (even helpful), into troublesome territory. All the positives already mentioned are limited to light to moderate drinking—that's just one glass of wine, occasionally. So what happens when you pour yourself a second or third glass? (Related: How Bad Are the Effects of Alcohol and Binge Drinking When You're Young?)
The Effects of Red Wine On Your Body
"Generally speaking, acute inflammatory stress actually produces hormones critical to burning fat," says Lockwood. Things that fall in this category: Exercise and the occasional glass or two of wine. "But left unchecked and chronically elevated—as is the case with, among other things, high alcohol use—the body eventually responds by trying to store extra calories because your cells are having to work overtime to accommodate the added stress it's gotten used to expecting," he adds.
What's more, drinking above moderate amounts of alcohol regularly not only negates all those positive hormone changes but actually disrupts communication between your systems, putting your hormones out of balance and straining all your systems, according to research out of Rutgers University.
Even more bad news: If you already eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, even a single, healthy glass of wine probably won't boost your fat burn—you're already getting those healthy antioxidants, so your hormones are already optimized, Lockwood points out. Meaning, that benefit only applies to people with potentially unhealthy diets.
And alcohol can tank one of the most helpful tools for weight loss: sleep. Even though alcohol helps you fall asleep faster, it causes you to wake up more often throughout the night, he says. (Learn more about why you always wake up early after a night of drinking.)
The Final Word
Okay, we know. We really wanted to believe the red wine equals weight loss rumor too, but the reality is a little more complicated. Bottom line: Drinking a glass of wine before bed probably won't help you lose weight—but unless you're training for a bikini competition where every calorie and ounce of fat counts, it certainly won't undo all the hard work you put in at the gym and in the kitchen.
"For most people who try to balance an abundant, healthy lifestyle with a life...forgo the guilt and enjoy a small glass of wine from time to time," says Lockwood. Whew.
Plus, consider the most important aspects of allowing yourself a nice glass of pinot: It'll feel as indulgent as dessert, and it typically comes with a dinner table full of friends or relaxing with your S.O. "The psychological benefit of having a reasonable social indulgence can do wonders to make all of the hard work and sacrifice [of a healthy lifestyle] more meaningful and easier on your psyche," he adds.
Try to stick to one glass of wine a night. If you go overboard, try again tomorrow.