Dinner parties, holidays, birthdays, anniversaries. All these special occasions and more give us reason to celebrate and indulge in something most of us enjoy:drinking alcohol.
Personally, I indulge in adult beverages on a weekly basis, but that doesn’t mean I want to sacrifice my health or calorie count. Just like every other twenty-something female, I am body conscious and try to stay in shape. Hence my dilemma, which led me to wonder: what is better to drink? Beer, wine or liquor? Furthermore, can you drink and still lose weight?
The fact is, research on alcohol and it’s effects on our bodies is still pretty muddled. You can find pro’s and cons for any type of alcoholic beverage. How confusing! The important thing is to find out what type of drink works best for you and your lifestyle. If you’re concerned about calories, liquor based drinks would be your best bet, heart health-drink a glass of red wine. Or, if you’re looking to bulk up-beer is your best option. The main thing to remember, no matter what you’re drinking: MODERATION IS THE KEY.
But before we get into all that, let’s start with the basics. Alcoholic beverages are divided into three basic categories: beer, wine and spirits. Beer and wine are made by fermentation of plant material that contains sugar or starch. Spirits (liquor such as vodka, gin, etc.) on the other hand, are made by fermentation followed by distillation. This means that after the fermentation process takes place, the mixture is then boiled and the condensation is used to create alcohol.
Beer is generally 4-6% alcohol by volume, wine is 9-16% and spirits are usually around 20% or higher. Keep in mind that 20%=40 proof. (To determine the proof of any alcoholic beverage, just simply double the percentage of alcohol by volume.)
Now that we’ve discussed what we’re drinking, lets get into how it effects our bodies. Many people think that liquor (like vodka) is best for losing weight because it has no carbohydrates and very little sugar. BUT–and this is a BIG but, the exact same thing can be said for light, low-carb beers. For example, a light beer such as Michelob Ultra has 95 calories and 2.6 grams of carbs, but the average unflavored shot of 80 proof vodka has 97 calories. And although vodka has no carbs, add mixers like cranberry juice or club soda or choose a flavored vodka and you’ve begun packing on even more empty calories. For those of you (like me) counting calories, here is a general overview:
Beer: 100-200 calories per 12 oz.
Red Wine: 25 calories per oz. (125/5oz. glass)
White wine: 150 calories for an 8 oz glass, but the sugar content is very high and therefore not as healthy as drinking red wine.
Average vodka drink: 70-100 calories depending on what you order, mixers, etc.
A recent Gallup poll showed what percentages of American men and women were drinking what type of alcohol.
Beer: 54% of men and 27% of women.
Wine: 17% of men and 48% of women.
Liquor: 22% of men and 21% of women.
It seems typical that more men drink beer and more women drink wine. What’s surprising is how close the percentages for liquor consumption are. Could it be that like me, many people think that drinking the occasional vodka soda doesn’t count as indulging in something “bad” since it has minimal calories and no carbs?
Well folks, I’m sorry to say we were all mistaken. Here’s the real truth about drinking. The problem with alcohol and weight gain has little to do with carbohydrate and sugar content to begin with. No matter what type of alcohol you drink, once you have it in your system, your body stops burning fat. That’s right. Read it again if you have to. Your body does not burn fat when you consume alcohol.
When fruits and grains are fermented to make wines, beers and liquors the majority of all sugars are converted to alcohol. And, with the exception of dark beers, there are very little carbs left in the final product. For example, a 5 oz. glass of red wine has 1-3 grams of carbs. The same is true for light beers and liquors. So, if it’s not the carbs, sugars or calories, why is drinking so bad for you?
To my surprise and major dismay, I found that along with fats, proteins and carbohydrates, our bodies can also use alcohol as a source of energy. From an energy standpoint, carbs and proteins have 4 calories per gram, fats have 9 and alcohol has 7. You’d think this was a good thing, have a few drinks and use up that energy burning fat. Not exactly.
Sadly enough, when I’m drinking my delicious low cal vodka club soda, my body uses that energy first and essentially stops the fat burning process all together. Why you ask? Well, lets break it down. The liver converts alcohol to a substance called “acetate.” This is used preferentially for fuel before carbohydrates, proteins or fats. That means when there is alcohol in your body available for energy, your body will burn the alcohol rather than fat for fuel. How aggravating! Can’t I catch a buzz with a healthy dinner, skip dessert and call it a day? Apparently not.
Now, I have even worse news, our bodies go into a fat storing state for up to several hours after consuming alcohol. How long this state lasts depends on how much or little you drink and eat and over what period of time. We all know about the drunk munchies and how easily a handful of chips can turn into a plate of nachos followed by a brownie sundae. When you drink, your appetite increases and your inhibitions and judgement levels are skewed, making it much easier to make poor food choices and rack up the calorie count. How many calories you consume while drinking can easily effect how long your body will be storing fat rather than burning it. You might be thinking of the term “beer-belly” right about now. Furthermore, alcohol throws off your bodies metabolism because you will always use the acetate from alcohol conversion for energy over other nutrients first. Guess what that means? Whatever energy you don’t use GETS STORED AS FAT! UGH!
Now we’re left with the burning question. Can you drink alcohol and REALLY still lose weight? The good news is the answer is yes, you can. However the not so good news is this: what it truly boils down to is exercise and nutrition. How active you are and what you eat to burn calories matters a whole lot more than what alcoholic beverage you choose to drink. Honestly, if you’re trying to lose a significant amount of weight, you should cut out alcohol all together. But, if you’re like me and you just love to have a drink at the end of a long day, here are some thoughts to keep in mind:
1. Eat dinner THEN have a drink- you will likely be full already and therefore less likely to snack or over indulge on empty calories from alcohol. This rules out my appetizer cocktail and day drinking in general. Bummer.
2. BUT–don’t drink TOO MUCH after dinner- otherwise you’ll be in a fat storing state while you’re asleep which is the worst possible scenario for weight loss. Easy enough, don’t get wasted and pass out. Check.
3. Be honest- don’t lie to yourself about what you’re putting into your body. Keep a food diary if you have to, but accept the fact that the calories you take in from drinking alcohol get added into your daily caloric intake. Simply put: eat healthy. I don’t need a drink every night with dinner, I should save my indulgences for the weekend or a special occasion.
Well, there you have it. The real facts on alcohol and weight loss. It doesn’t really matter what we drink so much as how much we are drinking and what else we’re eating throughout the day. So, there is hope for me yet. I can still drink my vodka…as long as I still go for my daily run.