Road Bump: Alcohol

Speed BumpSpeed Bump

Alcohol may not be as bad for weight loss you may think it is. There is research that has shown that a single drink a couple of times a week may lower your risk of becoming obese, but those who consume more than four drinks daily are more likely to be obese.  More to come on this in the research section.  




Many people enjoy alcohol’s sedating and relaxing effects, and it is part of our social interactions.  Most of us remember the first time we enjoyed a drink at a party or while watching a beloved sporting event.  It is a part of our traditions and culture.  Most expect it at any social event they attend.  The peer pressure is strong for you to have a drink at any event you attend, and it helps us socialize.  The active ingredient in alcohol is ethyl alcohol, and it supplies seven calories per gram.  Unlike other macronutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, alcohol supplies what dietitians refer to as empty calories: calories without any useful nutrition. The bigger problem is that most do not drink pure alcohol or ethyl alcohol.  Many drinks that contain alcohol are loaded with carbohydrates, and we often munch on low quality foods such as pretzels or chips as we drink.  This often results in very high calorie intakes when we drink or attend parties.  The problem with combing alcohol and dieting:

  1. Alcohol Containing Drinks Contain Dense Calories: Ethyl Alcohol has almost twice the calorie content per gram as proteins or carbohydrates.  At seven calories per gram, alcohol can easily rack up calories quickly.  Alcoholic beverages contribute to moisture intake despite the diuretic effect of their ethanol content.  Calorie intake increases with increasing alcohol intake among men and women, but only men are associated with the increased likelihood of being overweight and obese[1].  Women drinkers associate with lower body mass index and are less likely to be overweight or obese.  It is very deceptive to track how many calories you are drinking once you start.  Like a cash register at the grocery story, you have blown your calorie budget and can unbalance your calorie spending in no time.
  2. Alcoholic Drinks Also Contain Calories From Other Sources: Alcoholic drinks contain other macronutrients.  For example, mixed drinks often include soft drinks, fruit juices, or dairy products.  They can be very high in sugar.  Sugar causes insulin and directly causes an increase in fat storage.  For example, a Budweiser beer has 146 calories per 12 oz. can, with 96.5 calories from alcohol and 44 calories from carbohydrates.  That is 30% of the calories from carbohydrates.  My favorite is Guiness Extra Stout which comes in with 176 calories and 14 grams of carbohydrates (56 calories).  
  3. Alcohol Lowers Inhibitions: Drinking alcohol usually results in people doing things they would not do without alcohol.  Drinkers will not stop to consider the impact of alcohol on their bodies.  The result is consuming more calories and extra body fat gain by eating the snack foods they should have avoided without alcohol.  
  4. Chronic (Long Term) Alcohol Consumption Lowers Testosterone:  Alcohol consumption suppresses testosterone consumption[2].  Research shows that not only does alcohol consumption lower testosterone, but it likely causes the destruction of the cells that produce it.  Testosterone is needed to maintain muscle mass.  A reduction in muscle mass results in a lower metabolism and thus results in more body fat if you continue to eat the same amount or more.   
  5. Alcohol Increases Appetite:  Touched on briefly in point two, alcohol can increase appetite[3], making the combination of alcohol and a fattening meal all the more worse. A Canadian study showed that alcohol consumed before a meal increased caloric intake to a far greater extent than did a carbohydrate drink[4],[5].  Just think of your days going out to the clubs: you came home and ordered a nice fat-filled food like pizza or wings.   
Glass of Wine

Glass of Wine

Around 98% of alcohol that is consumed is processed by our livers, with the other two to ten percent being expelled through urine, breathing, or sweat. This is the reason you can smell alcohol on someone’s breath or why a breathalyzer works at testing for alcohol.  The amount of alcohol in a standard drink will take around 10 hours for the average person to completely process, which means the more that is consumed at any one point, the greater the rise in blood alcohol content. You an slow alcohol absorption by adding food to your stomach prior to or during your drinking.  

Calorie And Nutrient Content Of Popular Alcohol Drinks

The alcohol content of our most popular beverages varies, so it is important to know exactly what percentage of alcohol is in any given drink if one wants to limit empty calories. The following percentages are usually contained in each standard drink -five ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer or 1.5 ounces of distilled liquor.

  • Beer: 5% alcohol
  • Wine: 12% alcohol
  • 100-proof liquor: 50% alcohol
  • 80-proof liquor: 40% alcohol

The key concept to understand is that the higher the percentage of alcohol, the less calories you will have from sugar, protein, or fat.  That being said, the higher the percentage, the faster the absorption.  It is a catch-22.  

What Are The Best Choices If You Decide to Imbibe?

If you really must have a drink, there are some lower-calorie brands to hit the market recently.   There are alternatives to full-calorie beers.   

Ultra Beer

Ultra Beer

Lower Calorie Options:

  1. Ultra Beers:  The “ultra” beers often have 100 calories or less.  They have less than even light beer.  
  2. Diet Coke:  Combine one glass of diet coke with your favorite bourbon or whiskey instead of regular coke.  This will save you about 100-200 calories per drink.  
  3. Fruit Mixer:  Use a flavored seltzer such as peach or blackberry instead of fruit juice.  This will save 80-200 calories per drink.  
  4. Whole Fruit:  Add a twist of lime or lemon to the seltzer with your favorite alcohol.  Flavor with lower calories is the way to do.
  5. Shots:  Shots or on the rocks with a water chaser can lower your intake.  

Just say no to all cream or milk-containing drinks.  Egg nog and White Russians are a no-go.  Avoid all fruit drinks because they are mostly sugar.  

Some More General Guidelines to Follow:

  1. Drink alcohol with a lower caloric value and a higher alcohol percentage (like wine for example). Less will be consumed, meaning lower overall calorie consumption.
  2. Avoid high-calorie liqueurs. These are extremely deceptive (they taste so good) and will add enormously to overall caloric content.
  3. Keep healthy food on hand when drinking. As mentioned, drinking will relax the inhibitions and cause one to compromise their nutritional habits.
  4. If drinking beer, try a lower calorie options such as the ultra beers. Also, drink diet sodas with various spirits to significantly lower the calorie content of these drinks.
  5. Drink water between alcoholic drinks. This will increase feelings of fullness and may help to prevent over consumption of alcohol.
  6. Alcohol can indeed act as an appetite stimulant, and it lowers inhibitions. Have a plan for your post-party meal because this is not a time to go grazing. 
Glass of Beer

Glass of Beer


Go ahead and have a drink, but choose wisely.  Review the calorie intake of drinks before you go out.  Remember that piña colada and other “white” drinks often contain cream or ice cream.  Instead, raise a glass of healthy red wine (not large, but good for you).  If you are having a party at home, research lower or 100-calorie cocktails.  I like bourbon mixed with sparkling golden peach drink from Walmart.  

Add food to slow absorption but choose wisely.  Foods such as raw veggies with low-fat dip or whole-wheat pita and hummus are healthy choices.  

Drink lots of water.  I usually drink 1-2 glasses of water between each drink to slow my intake.   

[1]Tayie and Beck, “Alcoholic Beverage Consumption Contributes to Caloric and Moisture Intakes and Body Weight Status.”
[2]Maneesh et al., “Alcohol Abuse-Duration Dependent Decrease in Plasma Testosterone and Antioxidants in Males.”
[3]Yeomans, “Short Term Effects of Alcohol on Appetite in Humans. Effects of Context and Restrained Eating.”
[4]Tremblay et al., “Body Fatness in Active Individuals Reporting Low Lipid and Alcohol Intake.”
[5]Tremblay and St-Pierre, “The Hyperphagic Effect of a High-Fat Diet and Alcohol Intake Persists after Control for Energy Density.”
Maneesh, M, S Dutta, A Chakrabarti, and DM Vasudevan. “Alcohol Abuse-Duration Dependent Decrease in Plasma Testosterone and Antioxidants in Males.” Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology 50, no. 3 (July 1, 2006): 291–96 [PubMed]
Tayie, FA, and GL Beck. “Alcoholic Beverage Consumption Contributes to Caloric and Moisture Intakes and Body Weight Status.” Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.) 32, no. 7–8 (July 1, 2016): 799–805 [PubMed]
Tremblay, A, B Buemann, G Thériault, and C Bouchard. “Body Fatness in Active Individuals Reporting Low Lipid and Alcohol Intake.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 49, no. 11 (November 1, 1995): 824–31 [PubMed]
Tremblay, A, and S St-Pierre. “The Hyperphagic Effect of a High-Fat Diet and Alcohol Intake Persists after Control for Energy Density.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 63, no. 4 (April 1, 1996): 479–82 [PubMed]
Yeomans, MR. “Short Term Effects of Alcohol on Appetite in Humans. Effects of Context and Restrained Eating.” Appetite 55, no. 3 (December 1, 2010): 565–73 [PubMed]
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About the Author

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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