Alcohol and Your Metabolism

Where does alcohol fit in your nutrition plan? This is a very common question from my clients, and I won’t lie, it’s a tricky one! Alcohol is in a category all its own, and while it’s often touted as low carb or carb free, it’s about much more then the calories!

Alcohol begins its life as a carbohydrate but turns into alcohol when microorganisms digest these carbs in the absence of oxygen in a process called fermentation. One gram of alcohol contains 7 calories—that’s more than a gram of protein or carbohydrate which have 4 calories per gram, and almost as many as a gram of fat, which contain 9 calories per gram. And for all those calories you get zero (zip, nada, nil) vitamins, minerals, or nutrients at all.

Like everything, alcohol in excess can be fattening: It contains tons of calories, and, even worse, it slows your metabolism! When you have a cocktail, a shot, or a glass of wine, the alcohol in your drink is absorbed directly into the blood from the stomach and small intestines.

Here is the kicker, though: The liver is responsible for metabolizing this alcohol, but it’s also responsible for metabolizing fats. When you drink, the liver puts the order to digest fats on hold to deal with the alcohol, which it sees as a poison. Therefore, whatever you’ve been eating is more likely to be stored as fat. Not good when you’re trying to lose weight!

For best results don’t drink alcohol, but let’s get real, for most of us that’s not realistic!  Everything in moderation, and if drink every now and again, here are some tips that will keep you from sabotaging your weight loss efforts.

  • Be a wine-o. Not only is wine lower in calories per serving than beer or mixed drinks; research indicates that red wine has antioxidant properties.
  • Sub the soda. Use diet soda, diet tonic water, or seltzer instead of sugary mixers such as juice, regular soda, and syrup in mixed drinks, and save up to 100 calories per cocktail!

-Hydrate well. For every alcoholic drink you have, drink at least one full glass
of water. This will help the body metabolize the alcohol and will counteract some of the dehydrating effects of the alcohol on the body (such as next-day hangovers!).

-Space it out. It takes your liver 1 hour to process and metabolize 1 ounce of alcohol, so space your drinks out accordingly. The less you overload the liver, the better it will be able to process the alcohol and address any fats waiting to be broken down.

-Go light. Choose light beer instead of regular and save up to 50 calories per serving!

-Consider alcohol a carb. If you’re going to have a drink (or two!) with a meal, cut back on or eliminate the carbs you have with your entrée.

-Pass on post-meal drinks. Dessert wine, port, and liqueurs have tons of alcohol and tons of sugar, so skip these or sip them sparingly