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Alcohol and Mental Health

Beer vs. Wine: Which Is Healthier?

January 17, 2024
13 min read
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A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
January 17, 2024
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
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Reframe Content Team
January 17, 2024
13 min read

Beer vs. Wine: Which Is Healthier?

  • Wine and beer differ in calories and alcohol content, but they don’t offer significant nutritional differences.
  • The key to maintaining health while drinking is practicing mindful moderation.
  • The Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking and develop a more mindful relationship with alcohol.

What Is Wine?

Wine is possibly the world’s oldest fermented beverage. Our earliest ancestors likely purposely fermented fruits for recreational purposes, and by 8,000 BCE, winemaking had become a standardized process and had spread across Europe. Wine has long held an important place in many cultural and religious traditions, often symbolizing life, celebration, and community.

The production of wine usually involves the fermentation of grapes. Each style of wine has a different process, and tastes vary depending on the variety of grape, the soil, the growing temperature, and many other factors. There are many varieties of wine, but they generally fall into a few categories.

  • White wines, such as chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and pinot grigio.
  • Red wines like cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and pinot noir.
  • Sparkling wines, like Champagne and prosecco.
  • Dessert wines, which are syrupy sweet.
  • Fortified wines like port, sherry, or Madeira, are wines with liquor added.

While the following styles are technically wines, some people do not count them in the “wine” category because they are not made from grapes.

  • Fruit wines, which can be made from just about any fruit, but most commonly cherries, strawberries, plums, or pears.
  • Ciders, which are made from fermented apples.
  • Mead is also called “honey wine” because it’s made from, well, honey.

What Is Beer?

Beer is another one of the world's oldest fermented drinks. Evidence suggests that the beverage we would recognize today as beer emerged around 3,500-3,100 BCE in Iran, though early forms of it likely existed well before this period. Throughout history, beer has played significant roles in various cultural and religious ceremonies.

Ranked as one of the most popular beverages globally (third, behind only water and tea), beer is crafted through the brewing and fermentation of grains, such as wheat and barley. Other ingredients may be added to flavor the beer, like fruit juice, hops, coffee, or spices. Through the ages, many styles of beer have emerged, often as local specialties that get re-interpreted as they spread. Let’s look at a few.

  • Light beers like lagers, pale ales, pilsners, or hefeweizens.
  • Dark beers like porters, stouts, and Belgian quads.
  • Fruity beers like sours, fruit beers, and lambics.
  • Specialty beers made with rice, corn, or oats. 

Nutrition, Calories, and Alcohol Content

Now that we know a little about the wide worlds of beer and wine, we may be wondering how these two compare. Are there more calories in wine vs. beer? Is one more nutritious than the other? How much alcohol is in wine vs. beer? Let’s take a look!

Alcohol Content Clash

The alcohol content of a beverage is measured in a unit called alcohol by volume (ABV). In any alcoholic beverage, ABV represents the percentage of alcohol in the liquid — the rest is water or juice. So how do wine and beer compare?

Wine ABV tends to stay pretty consistent within each style. Winemaking is very dependent on tradition, and different grape varieties have been developed to complement different alcohol levels. For instance, red wines typically range from 12-15% ABV while white wines and dessert wines come in around 9-14% ABV. Fortified wines are usually around 20-25%.

Beers, on the other hand, are more experimental — especially with the rise of the craft beer industry. Light beers can have an ABV as low as 3-4%, while stronger ales and dark beers may range from 6-12% ABV or higher.

Calorie Clash

You usually don’t see calories listed on your alcoholic beverage. Ever wonder why? Part of the reason is that most governments don’t consider alcohol to be food, so it isn’t subject to the same laws requiring labels for ingredients, calorie content, and nutritional values. (Most countries require manufacturers to disclose alcohol content, but that’s not always the case.)

Higher alcohol content generally means higher calories. Because of this, wine usually has more calories than beer, ounce per ounce. Wine also tends to have more residual sugar than beer. Ever heard of “sweet wine” vs “dry wine”? One 5 oz. serving of wine can range from 120 calories in dry varieties to 140 calories in sweet ones. If you’re calorie conscious, opt for dry wines like cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, pinot grigio, or sauvignon blanc.

Calorie content in beer varies by alcohol content and also by style, but most of the calories in beer come directly from its alcohol content. Low-ABV beers like light beers tend to have 100-120 calories, while high-ABV beers can have as many as 200-300 calories per 12 oz. serving. Fruit beers can be made with artificial flavoring, but if they’re made with real fruit juice they’ll likely be higher in sugar (and calories).

Weighing the Nutrition

Both beer and wine contain marginal amounts of fats and proteins, but they vary in carbohydrate content based on style. Beer, especially beer with higher malt content, typically has more carbohydrates than wine, except sweet wines.

Beer contains trace amounts of a variety of nutrients. It's made from grains like barley and wheat, which contribute small amounts of B vitamins, particularly B12, and minerals like selenium, potassium, and magnesium. But these don’t make beer healthy! These nutrients values typically clock in at less than 2% of their recommended daily intake.

Surely you’ve heard of the supposed health benefits of red wine. That’s because it contains polyphenols, an antioxidant found in grape skins. Polyphenols are associated with heart health benefits and may help in reducing inflammation. So, is wine healthier than beer? Not so fast! You can find these same healthy compounds in grape skins, and experts agree the risks of alcohol outweigh the benefits of polyphenols found in red wine. Red wine also contains small amounts of minerals like potassium and iron. However, the quantities aren’t substantial enough to contribute to our daily nutritional needs.

Comparing Health Effects

While beer and wine are occasionally touted for various health benefits, it's crucial to approach these claims with caution, as the purported benefits have generally been disproven. The benefits tend to be circumstantial or related to byproducts of the fermentation process studied in isolation — the alcohol counteracts any benefit.

Alcohol is known to have negative impacts on every area of our health, including our stomach, kidneys, bones, teeth, gut, liver, skin, and more. Drinking alcohol increases our risk of cancer and can worsen our mental health.

Bottom Line: Which Is Better?

As a 2018 study said, “The safest level of drinking is none.” If we include alcohol in our life, the most important factor in maximizing our health is to exercise mindfulness and moderation. It’s also important to pay attention to other areas of our health that may compound with alcohol’s negative effects. Maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, sleeping enough, and caring for our mental health help us nourish our whole selves so that we can live a long, healthy life.

Quitting or cutting back on alcohol has tons of benefits, and it can be a practice in self-care. The Reframe app offers a variety of resources that can help you change your relationship with alcohol based on your health goals.

Summary FAQs

1. Is wine better for you than beer? 

Not necessarily. While wine contains some antioxidants and beer is higher in calories, the truth is that no form of alcohol is “healthy.”

2. What is the healthiest beer to drink?

If you decide to drink beer, the healthiest option is a light beer with lower alcohol content. These tend to be lower in calories and alcohol. Some studies show that sour beers can help counteract some of the negative effects that alcohol has on gut microbiome.

3. How many calories are in beer vs. wine?

Beer can contain anywhere from 100-300 calories per 12 oz. serving, and wine usually contains 120-140 calories per 5 oz. serving (dessert wines and fortified wines are higher in calories due to their sugar and alcohol content, respectively). The difference has to do with the disparity in carbohydrates.

4. How many beers equal a bottle of wine?

A bottle of wine contains 5 standard 5 oz. servings. By pure volume, a normal 750 mL bottle of wine can hold a little over two 12 oz. beer bottles. However, the alcohol content of wine is much higher. 5 oz. of average ABV wine contains roughly the same amount of alcohol as 12 oz. of light beer. By this measure, 5 beers is roughly equal to the alcohol content in a bottle of wine. However, since the alcohol in wine is more concentrated, the alcohol can be consumed more quickly, and thus a bottle of wine will produce stronger intoxication effects.

5. Is beer more nutritious than wine?

There is no major nutritional difference between wine and beer in terms of the nutrient they provide. Red wine contains polyphenols, a types of antioxidants, but the benefits are negated by the negative effects of alcohol.

6. How much alcohol is safe to drink?

There is no “safe” amount of alcohol. The key to maintaining our health while drinking is to practice mindful moderation.

Optimize Your Health With Reframe

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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