Keto and Alcohol: Should You Drink on This Low-Carb Diet?

Couple holding champagne flutes
Will drinking alcohol while on keto totally derail your goals? (Image: Luis Alvarez/DigitalVision/GettyImages)

The ketogenic diet is a weight-loss “hack” that’s becoming increasingly popular by the day, mostly for it's ability to help you shed unwanted pounds. But here’s the thing — people love alcohol as much (if not more) than they love losing weight. And for some folks, life without it is almost unimaginable.

But is it possible to sip a night cap every now and then without undoing all of your hard-fought progress. Technically… yes. But proceed with caution. Want to learn more? Here's you guide to drinking alcohol while on keto.

First, a Bit on How Keto Works

The keto diet is a high-fat, low-carb diet that requires you to drastically reduce carbohydrate intake to just 5 to 10 percent of your daily calories from carbohydrates, substituting them with healthy fats (and to a lesser extent, proteins).

And while consuming fats may sound counter-intuitive for someone trying to shed body fat, it's important to remember that dietary fat doesn't automatically translate to stored fat in the body.

In fact, the drastic reduction in carb intake forces your body to go into a metabolic state called ketosis — a process that tells your body to burn stored (and consumed) fat for energy, since glucose (from carbohydrates) is unavailable. During this process, fat is converted into ketones to serve as an energy source to the body.

But to get the most out of your keto diet program, you need proper planning to ensure you don’t exceed your daily carb allotment — something very important for keeping your body in ketosis. This, of course, means you may need to ditch some snacks, soft-drinks and yes, sometimes alcohol.

Whisky with ice in two glasses on a wooden background. Copy space. Food background
Hard alcohol is your best bet while drinking alcohol on the keto diet. (Image: matucha/iStock/GettyImages)

How Drinking Alcohol Affects Ketosis

First off, alcohol has a very high calorie content — containing 7 calories per gram — second only to fats with 9 calories/gram, while carbohydrates and proteins are roughly 4 calories/grams.

But here’s the kicker — unlike carbohydrates, proteins and fats, the body has no way of storing these calories from alcohol for energy. That means it remains in the body until it's totally burnt off. And since alcohol absorption and breakdown isn’t regulated by hormones, the burden of burning consumed alcohol is exclusively on the liver.

Plus, the body breaks down and utilizes alcohol before any other nutrient. And that actually makes a lot of sense. Since the body can’t store alcohol for fuel, it needs to get rid of it as soon as possible.

So in other words, if you drink alcohol while on your keto diet program, your body will preferentially utilize the alcohol for energy before turning to fats, proteins or carbs. But as mentioned above, the goal of this diet is to burn stored fats for energy, so any alcohol you consume is in direct opposition to this.

So, Can I Drink Alcohol on a Keto Diet?

Can you? Sure. Should you? Hmm… maybe not. Here’s why: Every time you consume alcohol (even low- or no-carb varieties), your body spends time metabolizing it at the expense of other macronutrients (like fat). Simply put, you’re losing fat-burning time!

Now, that may not be so much of a deal under low-moderate alcohol consumption, but for heavy drinkers, not only will it slow down your weight-loss progress, it can also lead to weight gain.

In one 2004 study published in Obesity Research, the drinking habits of almost 50,000 women were studied over an eight-year period, and the researchers found that women who had two or more drinks per day had a significantly higher risk of weight gain, compared to moderate or light drinkers. Excessive drinking has also been linked to various health problems such as heart disease, liver disorders, diabetes and cancer.

So, if you can, it’s probably best to steer clear of alcohol while on the keto diet. That said, you can drink on keto and still achieve weight loss — provided you do it the right way.

The Most Keto-Friendly Alcoholic Drinks

First off, not all alcoholic drinks rank the same on the keto scale. While some purer forms of alcohol may contain little or no carbohydrates, others are laden with a very high carb count. So the first "rule" of drinking on keto (if you find you just can't do without) is to limit your boozy beverages to low- or no-carb drinks to ensure that you don’t exceed your daily carbohydrate allotment.

The best no-carb drink options are generally straight shots of liquor — rum, gin, whiskey, tequila and vodka. While low-carb alternatives — containing three to four grams of carbohydrate per 5 to 10 ounces — include light beer, red wine and white wine.

On the other hand, high-carb and high-sugar drinks such as margaritas, regular beer, bloody Marys, sangria, whiskey sours, cosmopolitans and piña coladas are basically off-limits if you’re serious about your progress. These drinks typically contain 12 to 30 grams of carbs per serving, and that’s counterproductive to staying in ketosis.

Now, although there are plenty “keto-friendly” drinks available, that’s doesn’t necessarily mean they have to become a regular part of your daily routine. Remember every time you drink alcohol, it takes you out of ketosis, even if it’s a zero-carb drink. So try to keep things moderate.

Moderation is also important, as your alcohol tolerance typically reduces when on keto diet, which means you'll feel tipsier faster. And this is due to your low carbohydrate intake. And as a rule of thumb, women shouldn’t have more than one drink per day while men shouldn’t exceed two.

The Bottom Line

Drinking alcohol on keto isn’t completely forbidden, and it shouldn’t slow down your weight-loss progress too much if you stick to low- or no-carb varieties and drink in moderation. However, for best results, it might be a good idea ditch alcohol altogether to ensure that your body remains continually in ketosis.

And regardless of what diet you're on, it’s best to avoid excessive alcohol consumption in order to save yourself of serious health complications down the line. Your body will thank you for it.

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