How Bad Is Alcohol for Weight Loss?

Alcohol poisoning is responsible for six deaths a day in the U.S. alone. If that's not reason enough to quit drinking, think about your looks. Alcohol and weight loss don't fit together; in fact, drinking is a major risk factor for obesity and metabolic disorders. Cocktails, liquors, beer and other alcoholic beverages can take years off your life and contribute to chronic diseases.

Alcohol doesn't go well with dieting and weight loss. (Image: Henrik Sorensen/DigitalVision/GettyImages)

Tip

Alcoholic beverages are high in calories and provide little nutritional value. Some also contain added sugars, which further increase their calorie count. Beer, wine and spirits are the lowest in calories and carbs. If you're trying to lean out, stick to small servings of light beer or red wine.

The Skinny on Alcohol

With a few exceptions, alcoholic beverages contain nothing but empty calories. Each gram of pure alcohol provides 7 calories, but that's not all. Most beverages are chock-full of carbs, flavor enhancers and additives. Liquors and cocktails are the highest in calories and carbs.

Unlike protein, carbs and fats, alcohol isn't considered a nutrient. Your body doesn't need it in order to sustain itself and function properly. Most people drink alcohol to relax, celebrate or cope with negative emotions. What you may not know is that drinking can worsen anxiety, depression and stress.

An occasional beer or a glass of wine is unlikely to affect your health — or your waistline. According to a 2016 research paper published by the American Society for Microbiology, red wine may actually lower the risk of atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular diseases due to its high levels of resveratrol, a potent antioxidant.

Furthermore, a 2015 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that moderate wine intake may help reduce cholesterol levels and improve glycemic control in diabetics. Not all alcoholic beverages are created equal, though.

Calories in Alcoholic Drinks

Perhaps you're wondering_, Will stopping drinking help me lose weight?_ In general, yes. Ditching this habit will help reduce your calorie intake and improve metabolic health. Let's take a quick look at some of the most popular drinks and their nutritional value:

  • Beer — 153 calories and 12.6 grams of carbs per serving (12.5 ounces)
  • Vodka — 96 calories per serving (1.5 ounces)
  • Gin — 105 calories per serving (1.5 ounces)
  • Pina colada — 245 calories and 31.9 grams of carbs per serving (4.5 ounces)
  • Red wine — 125 calories and 3.8 grams of carbs per serving (5 ounces)
  • White wine — 121 calories and 3.8 grams of carbs per serving (5 ounces)

Beer, wine, vodka and other less processed beverages are lower in carbs and calories than cocktails, for example. However, this doesn't make them healthier or better for your waistline. One glass of white wine has 121 calories, but most people drink the whole bottle — or at least half of it, so the calories add up. Plus, binge drinking cancels out any potential benefits of wine or beer.

According to a 2016 review published in the journal Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases, moderate beer consumption supports cardiovascular health. This beverage appears to be just as beneficial as wine for your heart. However, researchers point out that all alcoholic beverages are harmful when consumed in excess. Even one drink a day may increase the risk of breast, mouth, liver and colorectal cancers in women, as the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health notes.

Alcohol and Weight Loss

Alcoholic beverages taste good, which increases their appeal. Going out for a couple of drinks can quickly add 800 to 1,000 calories to your diet. Let's say you drink a beer after work — that's 153 calories. Later, you go out with a friend and order a pina colada at your favorite cocktail bar — that's another 245 calories. The evening goes well, so you order a glass of red wine before heading home — that's an extra 125 calories.

Now let's do the math. You've had one beer, one pina colada and one glass of red wine — that's 523 calories from alcohol alone, not to mention pizza, crackers, peanuts and other snacks that are commonly served with booze.

Alcoholic drinks suppress brain appetite signals, leading to increased feelings of hunger, according to a 2017 study published in Nature Communications. The study was conducted on animals, but its findings may apply to humans too.

Booze flips your brain into hunger mode and promotes overeating. Light-to-moderate drinking, though, is unlikely to cause weight gain. Heavy drinking, on the other hand, may contribute to obesity. The research is conflicting, but most studies suggest that excess alcohol consumption affects body weight and adiposity levels.

Does Alcohol Cause Belly Fat?

You've probably heard about the so-called beer belly. While it's true that beer may contribute to weight gain, it won't necessarily cause belly fat. It all comes down to how much you drink and what your overall diet and exercise habits look like.

Alcoholic beverages are metabolized differently than other food and drink. Your liver can only process one drink per hour.

If you drink more than that, you'll overload your liver. As a result, it will focus on processing alcohol rather than breaking down protein, carbs and other dietary nutrients; these calories will be stored as fat instead of being used for fuel. Alcoholic beverages will also increase your appetite, so you'll end up eating more. In the long run, you may gain weight in your midsection.

Can You Still Drink Beer?

Beer and weight loss are not mutually exclusive. Compared to other alcoholic drinks, beer is lower in calories and carbs. In fact, it might be healthier than colas, milkshakes and other sweetened beverages. McDonald's Frappe Mocha, for example, boasts 420 calories, 60 grams of carbs and 17 grams of fat per serving. Regular beer is about three times lower in calories and has zero fat.

If your goal is to lose weight, you can always opt for light beers, low-carb beers or low-alcohol varieties. Light beer, for instance, has around 103 calories and 4.6 grams of carbs, depending on the brand. Some low-carb beers have even fewer calories and carbs, so they fit into any diet. Another option is non-alcoholic beer, which has just 88 calories per serving.

As a rule of thumb, avoid fruit-flavored beers. These beverages are much higher in sugar and carbs compared to their traditional counterparts. Plus, they contain artificial flavors and other chemicals that can take a toll on your health in the long run.

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