Let’s talk about alcohol. In the world of nutrition, alcohol is sometimes considered the fourth essential macronutrient. But this one is a bit tricky. I’m going to highlight it as a macronutrient spotlight, simply because I think it important for everyone to understand how it is processed in our bodies so we can make the best and most educated choices for ourselves.
Can you drink alcohol on a “Diet” or should it be avoided?
Short answer is – yes, you can have some alcohol occasionally, if it’s something that you enjoy.
If you have a specific health goal that you would like to achieve in the next 6 or so weeks, it should likely be drastically restricted if not avoided. Once again, this comes down to “Your Why”.
Alcohol will not help you lose weight, heal your digestion, increase your performance, help brain fog, or increase your energy.
However, if you want to have an alcoholic beverage to soothe the nerves and help you relax at the end of the day or to socialize with your friends, we need to examine your best choices.
Alcohol as a Sugar: Some Basic Guidelines
I’m going to talk about sugars here, but we need to be aware that where fat yields 9 calories per gram on average, alcohol has 7 – almost double that of proteins and carbs. One alcoholic beverage can pack a lot of calories and put your poor liver under a lot of stress.
- Absolutely avoid sweet cocktails. A typical Long Island Iced Tea has 32 grams of carbs per 12 oz. and Margaritas can be anywhere from 10 grams to 20 grams of carbs usually in the form of simple syrups and juice concentrates. If you have to have a cocktail you’ll want to make you own and forget the ones you would order at a bar.
- Beer too! Beers are usually higher in sugar – a 12 oz. serving of “regular” brew is going to have over 12 grams of carbs. The light beers you can get down anywhere between 2-7g of carbs. Check out this handy beer calorie chart.
- Wine is questionable: If you enjoy your nightly glass, then dry wines are your best choice. A typical 5 oz glass of dry wine usually has between 2-4g of carbs. The sweeter the wine, the more sugar they contain. Click here for calculating your calories from wine
- Hard liquors and spirits: This is your best bet, as pure booze like Vodka, Tequila, Gin, Whiskey, Scotch etc. contain 0 carbs. Just please don’t mix them with sodas.
Effects of Alcohol on the Body
As I said these beverages are not just about the carbs they are also very much about the alcohol!
Alcohol stresses your metabolism, so even if you’re drinking hard liquors that have no carbs in them, your body still has to metabolize/detoxify the alcohol.
Detoxification will preempt the liver from burning fat or carbohydrates for energy. In fact alcohol (Ethyl Alcohol, or ethanol(C2H5OH)) is prioritized over all other liver functions because it is considered a harmful toxin that should be cleared promptly.
The body immediately focuses on working through the alcohol you introduce, rather than focusing on the body functions that can be helping you optimize your health.
In short, alcohol is not going to be beneficial for your health, even if it has no carbs.
I don’t mean to be a party pooper! This doesn’t mean that you can’t include some alcohol every once in a while if you believe it improves the quality of your life. But I do encourage you to ask yourself does this help you reach your primary goal.
Additional Things to Consider
Alcohol inhibits a hormone called Anti-diuretic Hormone (ADH) which will further compromise your electrolyte balance as you’ll be urinating more than usual and flush the minerals from your body. Minerals which can help your body function as it is supposed to.
As a disclaimer, much of this carbohydrate information in alcoholic beverages comes from the site http://getdrunknotfat.com. I have not done research beyond that when it comes to the “nutritional content” of alcohol.
Alcohol is one of those things that we must consider when we are working to adopt a healthy lifestyle and a wellness plan that is sustainable for each of us. If it brings joy to your life, moderation is key. If it doesn’t add any value, avoiding is the best option.
Be sure to check out my previous macronutrient spotlight articles which feature details on proteins, fats, and carbs and how to utilize them to create a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.