With the holidays upon us and the good cheer flowing, I thought it would be a nice opportunity to talk about one of our favorite food groups this winter season, alcohol!
I often get asked if alcohol can be incorporated into a healthy diet. The answer is – it depends. If your goal is weight loss, then it’s best to steer clear and here’s why:
Alcohol is processed through the liver, and for four to eight hours after downing a single shot, the liver will stop fat burn in order to process the alcohol. While the liver is preoccupied, the carbs from carb-heavy beverages like beer, sweetened drinks such as cosmos, margaritas, mojitos or hard liquor with mixers (including tonic water) are building up with nowhere to go but into your fat stores. Keep in mind that alcohol is calorie dense, and, unfortunately for us, has no nutritional value. It is the first fuel source to burn when ingested, which means that fat will not be used as long as alcohol is in the system. Depending on your body size, one shot typically takes about four to eight hours to process through the liver, but every subsequent shot adds on exponentially. Be aware that one night of heavy drinking, even if you’re drinking low-carbohydrate beverages, could lead to one to two days of no fat burn.
Here in Colorado we like our beer. Sad to say that one beer is equivalent to about two to three slices of bread. Consider beer liquid bread, and if your goal is to drop weight, then it’s best to not have beer (including the “low-carb” ones) more than once a week. Unfortunately, more than that will encourage weight gain, especially if you are struggling with excess body fat (specifically in the belly) already.
The best choices of alcohol to drink while attempting to maintain a healthy weight, if you’re not open to giving it up, are hard liquors (but be aware that no matter the type you choose, they will all cause the same reduction in fat burn). Tequila is really the cleanest alcohol, but vodka, gin, whiskey and scotch are also lower carbohydrate options. Wine can be a good choice with about 4 to 5 grams of carbs per 5 oz. glass. Be aware, though, if you are really sensitive to carbs, even this can knock you out of fat burn.
Remember, sweet drinks like lemon drops, margaritas, fruit wine and other sugary adult beverages are loaded with carbs that will make you store fat. Even though it doesn’t taste like it, tonic water has just as much sugar as a Coke, so best to opt for something else. As an alternative to these fat-storing drinks, mix your vodka with club soda and a squeeze of lemon (skip the cranberry juice), or make your own sugar-free margarita with a shot or two of tequila, some lime juice, club soda and sweeten with stevia, monk fruit or allulose if a sweet taste is desired.
It might take some time to determine what alcoholic beverage is right for you, and that’s OK! I can tell you straight up, it probably isn’t the spiked eggnog. No matter what you choose, be sure to enjoy responsibly!
Ashley Lucas has a doctorate in sports nutrition and chronic disease. She is also a registered dietitian nutritionist. She is the founder and owner of PHD Weight Loss and Nutrition, offering weight management and wellness services in the Four Corners. She can be reached at 764-4133.