The ultimate guide to carbs in alcohol - the good, the bad and the ugly. You can still enjoy alcohol when living low carb, but by making better choices and in moderation.
Alcohol can be a tonic or toxic - it depends on how much and how often.
Can I drink alcohol on a low-carb or keto diet?
One of the most frequent questions I am asked by newcomers who are contemplating starting a low-carb or keto diet is "can I still drink alcohol?" "How many carbs in alcohol?"
For many readers, it is a deal-breaker whether they will even consider beginning. And readers who have been living low carb for some time want to know why their weight has stalled, could it be their Friday night cocktails?
The quick and easy answer is always this - you may drink alcohol but just be aware that the body will always metabolise alcohol before metabolising fat and alcohol may lead to alcoholic fatty liver disease (1) and increased appetite (2, 3). So if weight loss has stopped for you, it may be time to cut back on alcohol for a while.
It's not no forever, it's just no for now.
How much alcohol can I drink?
Firstly let me say, I love my red wine and I love my bubbles. I love a drink with friends as much as the next person, but I know not to drink to excess, and not to drink too often.
Occasional drinks with friends and family is a wonderful way to celebrate, relax, unwind and socialise. As long as alcohol is consumed in moderation and you choose low carb options, you can still enjoy alcohol.
Do you know how many drinks you have each week? You need to be completely honest with yourself, and if even the thought of cutting back on alcohol is frightening, you need to get serious about how much and how often you drink.
I know plenty of people that could not entertain the idea of having a night with friends without excessive alcohol yet they complain they can't lose weight or have medical problems that are associated with alcohol use.
They would never associate the two but make no mistake, excessive alcohol is damaging. It is linked to cancer (especially breast, liver and colon), weight gain, alcoholic liver disease, anaemia and heart disease.
How alcohol affects our body
The health concerns (don't underestimate these)
- Alcohol will always be metabolised before anything else in the liver because it is a toxin.
- Alcohol is not your friend if you are trying to lose belly fat.
- You may be able to drink in moderation but make no mistake, it will stop weight loss and even cause weight gain.
- If you want to break through a weight-loss plateau, stop alcohol completely until you see the results you want.
- Alcohol lowers your self-control when it comes to eating healthy foods.
- Drinking alcohol will increase your cravings and appetite (you get the 'munchies').
- Alcohol can cause fatty liver disease.
The health benefits (don't overestimate these)
- Alcohol may be good for heart health, but only if consumed in moderation (otherwise it may adversely affect heart health).
- Red wine can be a great source of resveratrol, an antioxidant. But not in excess.
- Alcohol is a relaxant.
"Beer is just liquid bread"
Image credit: Diet Doctor, carbs in alcohol. Used with permission
Beer is made from grains (oats, barley, wheat, rye), malt (sugar) and yeast. They don't call a big gut a "beer belly" for nothing.
Beer was originally brewed to provide nourishment for adults and children alike, especially during periods of fasting. So next time you order a beer, ponder for a moment on whether you are actually ordering a liquid meal.
Don't confuse low carb beer with low alcohol beer. Many perceive them as healthier so consume more of them.
Cider (sugar, sugar, sugar)
Cider is fermented apple juice, many are incredibly sweet. Cider varies considerably from brand to brand. Let's take a look at a few examples. Each is per 12 fl oz serving Amber 28g, Bittersweet barrels aged, 21g, Granny Smith 11g, Harpoon 10g, Woodchuck summer cider 25g
Spirits, liqueurs and mixers
Sweet liqueurs, stop buying them - amaretto 17g, Baileys 7.4g, Blue curaçao 7g, Cointreau 7g, Creme de menthe 22g, Jaegermeister 27g, Kailua 15g, Peach Schnapps 8g, Samba 18g. carbs per 1 oz/29.5ml serving.
Spirits can be a great low carb alcohol choice, most are zero carb. What you mix them with can be the problem. Whisky on the rocks is a good low carb option but rum and coke (or even worse, Red Bull) is probably the worst choice you can make.
Cocktails can be a total disaster. They are mixed with sugar syrups, high sugar juice or soda, and high sugar liqueurs. Make your own so you know what went into the cocktail or limit yourself to just one then swap onto a lower carb option.
Why not mix your usual spirit with water, diet drinks or soda water? Instead of a single shot in a small tumbler, ask for a single shot in a tall glass so it will last longer through the night. And why not try alternating an alcoholic drink with just the mixer?
Wines to avoid
Avoid the sweet wines and the sticky dessert wines, instead, choose the dry wines and the less sweet varieties.
Red wines - Cabernet sauvignon 3.8g, Merlot 3.7g, Pinot noir 3.4g, Shiraz Syrah 3.8g Zinfandel 4.2g per 5 fl oz/147ml glass
White wines - Chardonnay 3.2g, Dessert wines 20.2g, Muscat 7.8g, Riesling 5.5g, Sauvignon blanc 3g per 5 fl oz/147ml glass
Nutritional values from cronometer.com
All Ultimate Guides
- Ultimate Guide To Carbs In Food 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 lists
- Carbs In Vegetables
- Carbs In Fruit
- What Are Healthy Fats
- Low Carb Sweeteners
- Low Carb Flours
- Guide To Carbs In Beige Food
- Coconut Flour vs Almond Flour
- Carbs In Nuts And Seeds
- Carbs In Sauces
[Update] Why Did I Go Alcohol-Free For 1 Year?
I challenged myself to live alcohol-free for 2019, apart from two special days in the calendar where I savoured every single sip from a single glass.
The more I read about the toxicity of alcohol and the role it plays in many disease states lead me to cut back dramatically on my alcohol consumption, to the point where I wanted to be alcohol-free for an entire year.
It was a purely personal and individual choice, but the more I read, there is no getting away from it, alcohol is a toxin and I want to live the healthiest life I can. Yes, there is much debate to whether 1-2 glasses a night or a week is beneficial, but for me, I wanted to see if I could do it.
It was a personal challenge that started with my members inside Ditch The Carbs PRO.
I felt fabulous, no more foggy mornings, no more lethargy after a few too many the previous night. I thought I was energetic when I started living low-carb but the energy and clarity when living alcohol-free is unbelievable.
It hasn't hindered me in any way in social situations, but what was surprised by has been the reaction from others fell into either 1) well done, I couldn't do it but awesome you are trying it for a year OR 2) oh for goodness sake, what on earth is there left?
It has been interesting to understand these reactions. I am very private and only tell those around me that I am alcohol-free if I'm asked. I did not declare it publicly. I am not judging anyone and I am not asking anyone to join me. In fact, I often feel I am being judged then often scorned.