May 5, 2016

Alcohol and Nutrition

What is alcohol's effect on weight?

Are you guaranteed to gain weight by consuming alcohol? No. Does this mean that it has no impact on your weight? No. Weight gain comes down to taking in more calories than your body needs. When you consume alcohol, you are consuming calories. When those calories take you above the level that your body needs, you gain weight. Along with the calories, there may be even more ways that alcohol can lead to weight gain.

Research has shown both a positive and negative association between alcohol consumption and weight or BMI. Heavy drinking and binge drinking appear to be most likely to contribute to weight gain while light to moderate intake does not appear to be related. The studies vary in how they define each of these categories, and people are not always accurate about what they report. When it comes to your weight, it will come down to total calories consumed. In food, one gram of protein has 4 kcal; one gram of carbohydrates has 4 kcal; and one gram of fat has 9 kcal. With alcohol, one gram has 7 kcal. This can add up very quickly, especially with mixed drinks.

It's easy to forget that you can drink as many calories as you eat. In fact, some drinks can have as many calories as a meal! Check out how many calories you can get from your favorite cocktail below. Remember to check the serving size and to add the calories from any juice or soda that is combined with the liquor:

Alcoholic drink Calories
Beer, lite, 12 oz. 100
Beer, regular, 12 oz. 150
Frozen daiquiri, 4 oz. 216
Gin, 1.5 oz. 110
Mai tai, 4 oz. 310
Margarita, 4 oz. 270
Rum, 1.5 oz. 96
Vodka, 1.5 oz. 96
Whiskey, 1.5 oz. 105
Wine spritzer, 4 oz. 49
Wine, dessert, sweet, 4 oz. 180

The next time you reach for a cocktail before your meal, consider if it's worth the weight that you could be gaining from it. Research has shown a 20% increase in calories consumed at a meal when alcohol was consumed before the meal. There was a total caloric increase of 33% when the calories from the alcohol were added. Along with the increase in weight, you can have an increased risk to your health because of where you gain the weight. A study of over 3,000 people showed that consuming elevated amounts of alcohol is associated with abdominal obesity in men. Many people joke about this being a "beer belly." Unfortunately, a "beer belly" puts you at an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, elevated blood lipids, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.

The late-night munchies are often associated with a night of drinking. Have you ever realized that any time that you drink alcohol you are hungrier or you end up eating more than usual? Studies have shown that in the short term, alcohol consumption stimulates food intake and can also increase feelings of hunger. Having your judgment impaired and stimulating your appetite is a recipe for failure if you are trying to follow a weight-control plan.

The form that alcohol comes in can also be part of the reason why you can gain weight from drinking. This applies to all liquids that contain calories. Research has shown that liquid calories are different than calories consumed from food when it comes to our weight. Imagine eating three to four oranges versus drinking an 8 oz glass of orange juice. The oranges take longer to consume because you need the time to chew, and you may also enjoy the taste and feel more than with drinking the juice, all of which can lead to feeling more satisfied with the food and more aware of the calories being consumed. Being aware of the calories can then lead you to cut back later on in the day, a practice known as leading to what is called dietary compensation. One study compared the effects of ~450 kcal from jelly beans versus juice on total caloric intake. They found that people tended to cut back on calories during the day when they had jelly beans, but not when they drank the juice.

Here are some tips for calorie reduction when consuming alcohol:

  • Have one nonalcoholic drink in between each alcoholic drink.
  • Select light versions whenever possible. "Light" means fewer calories, but these products are not calorie- or alcohol-free, so you will still need to limit your intake.
  • Always have food in your stomach before you have a drink.
  • Keep water available to quench your thirst while you drink alcoholic beverages.
  • Learn to sip your drink to make it last longer. Continue Reading
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Reviewed on 2/17/2016