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Can I drink alcohol on a low-carb diet?

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Alchohol low carbDecember is here, and this means party season will soon be upon us. This is probably the hardest month of the year to stick to your diet.

Among many other temptations coming our way, it is certain that there will be plenty of drinking going on. So can you indulge and still stay on your low-carb diet? The good news is, you can – as long as you exercise some basic caution.

Carb content of alcohol

Fermented drinks are derived from plants that are high in carbs – usually grapes or grains. However, during the fermentation process, most of the sugar is consumed by the yeasts in order to produce actual alcohol. Some sugar may be left over, depending on the type of beverage. Alcohol itself does not get processed as carb by your body, and will not cause a spike in your blood sugar.

Calories in alcohol

However, alcohol is quite high in calories (7 calories per gram), and these calories cannot be stored by your body in the way that excess calories from carbs or fat are. If you have a drink while eating or snacking (which is what usually tends to happen), your body will first process the calories from alcohol for energy, making it more likely that any excess calories from food will get stored as fat. This is why you would be unlikely to lose weight if you drink regularly.

Best drinks to have on a low-carb diet

Carb counts provided below are approximate, as there will be a lot of variance across the board depending on the brand.

  • Red wine is high in antioxidants and very low in sugars. It contains 3-5g of carbs per 5oz glass. Beware of fortified dessert wines such as port – these are quite high in carbs.
  • Dry white wines, including sparkling wines such as champagne are also a good choice, at 2-5g per 5oz glass. White wine contains fewer antioxidants than red wine.
  • Pure spirits such as vodka, brandy and whiskey contain zero carbs. The best way to have them is straight (if you are feeling hardcore), or mixed with water or soda water. Be very cautious about other types of mixers – coke and juices are laden with sugar, whereas diet versions usually contain aspartame, which is not recommended on some diets.

Worst drinks to have on a low-carb diet

  • Beer is basically liquid bread (this is very sad for me as I love beer). Carb content ranges from 12g to 30g per pint, depending on the brand.
  • Liqueurs such as amaretto, sambuca, campari and any other sweet-tasting liqueur are very high in carbs. They are often used in cocktails but it’s best to avoid them altogether.

Final word of caution

The main reason we drink alcohol is because it helps us to feel relaxed and happy. This also means weakened self-control and inhibitions. The biggest danger of drinking on any diet is not so much the consumption of alcohol in itself, but the possibility that once drunk, you will decide “To hell with the diet!” and go on a massive binge. Try not to let that happen – but if you do, just get back with the plan as soon as possible!

Conclusion

So to summarise – it is possible to enjoy a drink while on a low carb diet, but make sure you:

  • select beverages that are low in carbs such as dry wine or spirits
  • avoid cocktails and sugary mixers
  • do it on a one-off basis (otherwise you won’t lose any weight)
  • don’t get so drunk as to stop caring about your diet!
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Comments

  • kris #1

    One thing to mention is that although beer has calories and so its not the wisest choice, folks are more likely to consumer hard liquor with sugar, as drinking straight liquor is potent and burns, hence the reason cocktails often have liquor rather than beer.

    One thing to also mention is that drinking straight liquor with some sugar on a low carb diet is probably better, because it can prevent a sugar low, although that is probably unlikely to happen or be serious in most circumstances. I agree to avoid pre-mixed amarettos and such where you don’t know or can’t control sugar.

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