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Alcohol and its Affect on Weight Loss

Apr 16, 2012

Alcoholic beverages labeled for carbohydrate and calorie and those that are boasting low carb beers, low carb wine and "no carbs" liquor are only meant to deceive. The labeling of beer, wine and the hard stuff for calorie content is not a bad idea and it is useful to know the caloric content of anything you’re about to consume but what about carbs?

Wine producers have lobbied for permission to use a “heart-healthy” label however, though the wine industry can’t simply label wine as having heart benefits. The low-carb and no-carb claims on alcoholic beverages are legal—so long as the labels don’t actually say that they help you lose weight. But, in fact, the terms are now linked in most people’s minds, especially young people, to “weight loss,” People are focusing on cutting carbs to lose weight. Many people think “Low-Carb means “healthy.” Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to alcohol—and no subject could be more confused and confusing than the effect of alcoholic beverages on weight.

Calories from Alcohol

Pure alcohol contains about 7 calories per gram, which makes it nearly twice as fattening as carbohydrates or protein (both contain about 4 calories per gram) and only just under the caloric value for fat (9 calories per gram). This means that if you want to lose weight and reduce excess body fat, alcohol is not a good choice.

Knowables and variables

Scientists have not been able to tie alcohol consumption consistently to weight gain. Some studies have found that drinking beer or spirits, for instance, increases waist-to-hip ratio. One study showed that among female twins, body fat actually decreases with increasing alcohol consumption. Other researchers have also found that heavy drinking reduces body fat, but still others point to evidence that it raises the risk of becoming overweight or obese. There may never be a simple answer, since there are so many variables. For example:

  • Genes affect how the body processes alcohol.

  • What you eat is important—if you consume high-calorie snacks while drinking, you’ll most likely gain weight.

  • People who drink a lot may gain weight whether they drink beer, wine, or spirits.

  • People in studies are prone to under-report how much they drink, rendering many findings unreliable.

The mysteries of alcohol and carbs

Sensibly enough, the first thing nearly all weight-loss plans require is that you stop drinking. This is because alcoholic beverages give you calories with no other nutrition, and they also may loosen your resolve to lose weight and make you eat without thinking. Also, alcohol itself is high in calories—7 calories per gram, almost as much as fat (9 calories per gram) and more than carbs or protein (about 4 per gram). Here are some things you should know about alcohol and nutrition—facts that run counter to what many people believe:

Alcoholic beverages all contain calories, and most of the calories come from the alcohol. (We are speaking about straight spirits, wine, or beer—not mixed drinks made with added ingredients, which can bring calories to greater amounts then you would think.

  • Alcohol is not a carbohydrate.

  • Your body processes alcohol first, before fat, protein, or carbs. Thus drinking slows down the burning of fat. This could account for the weight gain seen in some studies.

  • Hard liquor is distilled and thus contains no carbohydrates. The current “Zero Carb” campaign for vodka and whiskey is baloney and may encourage mindless consumption.

  • When grapes are made into wine, most of the fruit sugars (carbs) convert to alcohol, but a few carbs remain. A 5-ounce glass of wine typically contains 110 calories, 5 grams of carbohydrates, and about 13 grams of alcohol (which accounts for 91 of the calories). A 5-ounce glass of wine supplies roughly the same amount of alcohol and number of calories as a 12-ounce light beer or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits.

  • Beer, too, contains carbohydrates. The new low-carb beers are not new at all, though this type of beer does indeed have fewer carbs. Low-carb beers are simply the old light beers with a new label and ad campaign. The old Miller Lite has 96 calories and 3.2 grams of carbs in 12 ounces. The “low-carb” Michelob Ultra has 96 calories and 2.6 grams of carbs. Coors Lite has 102 calories and 5 grams of carbs. The differences are tiny—hardly worth mentioning. In contrast, a regular beer has 13 grams of carbs and 150 calories.

In spite of the strong implication that “low-carb” somehow means low-calorie, and that low-carb foods in general can help you lose weight—or, indeed, that they are “health foods”—there’s no evidence this is so, and particularly not when it comes to beer, wine, and liquor. Alcoholic beverages have calories because alcohol has a lot of calories—not because of carbs. The implication that low-carb beers and wine or carb-free spirits are a benefit on a weight-loss program is simply deceptive advertising.

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