Over the last few years, the claim that “red before bed” may be the shortcut to weight loss that so many of us had been hoping for. The buzz originated from the stories of a few women who said drinking one to two glasses of wine just before hitting the hay helped them shed a few pounds with no effort. As a general rule in the world of health, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. It became a fad and eventually researchers took to the labs.
The initial data concluded that no, wine before bed did not in any way shape or form lead to weight loss. In fact, given alcohol’s tendency to lower inhibition, many people trying to lose weight found themselves giving in to cravings more easily. This phenomenon is affectionately referred to as “the drunchies.” But still, the claims kept coming.
Wine has frequently been included in the infamous “Mediterranean diet”—that mythical combination of coastal delights that supposedly lead to life-spans and energy levels unheard of in most parts of the world. While certainly some of those eating habits—eating more fish and less red meat—are absolutely linked to improved health, wine doesn’t quite seem to fit the bill.
First of all, wine—and all alcohol for that matter—is empty calories. You get little to no nutrition for the amount of calories you intake. Not what you’d expect from a supposed fat-burning elixir. However, recent studies have shown that wine may lead to a transformation of fat that could be linked to weight loss.
Red wine contains an antioxidant called “resveratrol” which turns white fat into beige fat. (Yes—fat is color-coded.) While white fat leads to bulgy love-handles, beige fat can be more easily used for energy. Having more beige fat than white could, then, lead to weight loss and prevent obesity. And while resveratrol is also found in some fruits, like blueberries, the fermentation process of wine makes the antioxidant compounds easy for your body to absorb, accelerating the process of fat-burning. However, this is only the case when you’re consuming wine by itself. When you pair your favorite red with a meal or late-night snack, the antioxidants interact with the protein in a way that blocks the body from effectively absorbing them for weight loss.
Another theory of how wine may indirectly be jumpstarting the weight loss process is that it induces sleep and could lead to a better night’s rest. However, doctors point out that passing out and sleeping are far from the same thing. Drinking to the point of losing consciousness does almost nothing in terms of letting your body rest and recover. Alcohol can make you so sleepy, in fact, that your body skips over the REM cycle, which is when the regenerative process of sleep actually occurs. But probably you weren’t planning on getting black out drunk every night and hoping to lose weight (at least I hope not). Wouldn’t the sleepiness from one or two glasses of red wine before bed be enough to help me rest up to have more energy for the real fat-burning? Perhaps.
The problem with drinking alcohol right before bed is, well, you’re going to have to go pee. It’s very difficult, sometimes impossible, to interrupt your sleep and still reach the number of REM cycles you need to recover for the next day. Waking up to run to the bathroom will definitely not leave you feeling refreshed in the morning. And even if it doesn’t wake you, your body may be surprising the urge to go to the bathroom but still be preoccupied with it, which may prevent you reaching a deep sleep.
So here’s what we know: there are properties of wine that, when consumed on its own, can turn white fat into beige fat, and that’s a good thing. We also know that wine can make you feel sleepy and may help you go to bed faster. But we also know that each glass of wine is about 110 – 130 calories—not ideal for something that won’t lead you to feel satiated and might actually keep you up at night just as easily as it helps you fall asleep.
The conclusion: there are many health benefits to small quantities of wine. It’s a fun, delicious drink that can be healthily and responsibly enjoyed by many. But as the heralded short-cut to weight-loss, you’re better off sticking with water.