Atkins Diet & Alcohol

Beer glasses and bottles in enironment
If you steer clear of alcohol in the first two weeks of Atkins, you will probably make significant progress toward weight loss. (Image: Jack Andersen/DigitalVision/Getty Images)

On the Atkins diet, you take in a limited amount of carbohydrates a day so you have to count them scrupulously to make sure you don’t exceed your daily quota. Although you’re allowed to drink some alcohol on both variations of this low-carb plan, doing so may hinder your weight-loss efforts. In addition, you need to count the carbs in your wine and cocktails as you would any other carbohydrate-containing food or beverage and figure them into your daily total. Ask your doctor about how alcohol fits into your diet, because it may interact with medications you are taking.

Alcohol in the Atkins Diet Induction Phase

The Atkins diet consists of two separate diet plans. Atkins 20, the classic Atkins diet, consists of four different phases. The first phase is known as "induction," and it’s the most stringent; on it you consume only 20 to 25 “net” carbs a day. That’s the number you get when you subtract the grams of fiber from the total grams of carbs in a food or beverage.

During the induction phase of Atkins 20, which lasts for two weeks, your body goes into ketosis – a metabolic process in which you burn fat for fuel in the absence of carbs. The Atkins diet recommends that you not drink alcohol in these first two weeks, or you’ll risk interfering with your weight loss. Your body burns alcohol before fat; when you drink, you switch out of ketosis temporarily and postpone your progress. The goal in the induction phase is to try to reduce your cravings for foods like sugar, alcohol, wheat and grains and to stabilize your blood sugar for the best weight-loss results.

Alcohol in Later Phases of Atkins

If you steer clear of alcohol in the first two weeks of Atkins, you will probably make significant progress toward weight loss. In the later phases, then, you can partake of an occasional glass – as long as you count the carbs in each serving. The Atkins website recommends you stick with a small glass of wine or spirits such as rye, Scotch, vodka or gin. Don’t mix spirits with juice, regular tonic water or soda, which all contain additional carbs. Drink it neat or on the rocks; have a twist of lemon or a mixer like seltzer. If you find that imbibing stalls your weight loss, stop drinking alcohol.

Alcohol and Atkins 40

Atkins 40 is an alternate low-carb plan in which there are no distinct phases. You still count carbs, but you start with a more generous 40 net grams a day. When you’re 10 pounds from your target weight, you begin to add 10 net grams of carbs a week.

In this version of Atkins, you can drink alcohol from the start. But as with Atkins 20, doing so will delay your progress toward losing weight. Again, limit yourself to one drink -- either wine, spirits or a light beer.

Amount of Carbs in Popular Alcoholic Drinks

Consider your choices carefully if you do imbibe, and stick with the lower-carb options. A 1 ounce shot of bourbon, gin, rum, Scotch or vodka – without any mixers – has no carbs at all. A 3.5-ounce glass of wine contains between 2 and 3 net grams of carbs, but note that this is smaller than the standard serving of 5 ounces you might get in a bar or restaurant. Twelve ounces of lite beer – a regular bottle or can – has about 6 grams of carbs, while regular beer has twice that amount; the pints offered by many establishments are 16 ounces. Cocktail mixes vary in the number of carb grams they contain, with a Bloody Mary mix having about 3 grams, while a pina colada mix offers a whopping 22 grams. You can find some mixes on the market labeled “low-carb” that will offer few or no carbs.

Alcohol and Health

On Atkins, as on other diets, remember to drink in moderation – one small serving at dinner, if you wish. Drinking more adds to your overall carb count, squeezing out healthier, nutrient-dense carbs like non-starchy vegetables. While eating green vegetables will help your metabolism purr, alcohol will just set you back. In addition, carbs like non-starchy veggies contribute vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that help you avoid chronic illness, while the health risks of excessive alcohol consumption over time include high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, some cancers, dementia, depression and alcohol dependence.

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