All types of alcohol have calories, but some provide more calories than others. Compared to beer, cider and wine, there aren't that many calories in a shot of vodka — which makes it appealing to those who are dieting.
However, this doesn't mean vodka is healthy. Several health issues can arise from drinking alcohol.
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According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), there are 97 calories in a shot (1.5 fluid ounces) of 80-proof vodka.
Vodka Nutrition Facts
A shot of vodka is different from beer and wine because of its alcohol content. Hard liquors like vodka are produced through the distillation of grains, fruits or vegetables that have already been fermented. The fermentation and distillation processes yield a higher alcohol content. Beer, wine and cider go through the fermentation process but are not distilled, so they have relatively low alcohol levels by volume content.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans define a glass of alcohol as 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, and 1.5 ounces of liquor. Alcoholic beverages contain calories from the alcohol itself and other ingredients, such as sugar.
Typically, a shot of vodka has fewer calories than beer or wine. According to the USDA, one can of beer has around 153 calories and one glass of red wine has around 125 calories, while the calories in a shot of vodka are fewer, around 97.
Read more: Are There Any Health Benefits of Vodka?
Role of Alcohol in Obesity
Alcohol and obesity are more related than you may think, according to the Boston University School of Medicine. Both alcoholism and obesity are characterized by periods of loss of control. Furthermore, drinking promotes weight gain.
Both conditions affect the brain in a similar manner. Ethanol, the main ingredient found in alcohol, activates the reward centers in the brain, just like sugar does. Because of this, people who are prone to alcoholism may also have a predisposition to overeating.
If you check vodka nutrition facts, you'll see that the number of calories is significantly lower compared to that in other beverages. However, when you mix vodka into cocktails with added sugars, the caloric number becomes quite high. According to the USDA, there are 103 calories in one fluid ounce of a mixed drink. Additionally, drinking alcohol often increases your appetite, which can lead to overeating and weight gain.
A January 2015 study published in Current Obesity Reports points out that alcohol consumption may result in weight gain if the calories in the beverages consumed are not offset by physical activity. While the study states that drinking in moderation when paired with a healthy lifestyle likely will not contribute to weight gain, excessive drinking or drinking without also having an active lifestyle most likely will cause you to pack on pounds.
Read more: Effects of Obesity on Health
Risks of Alcohol Consumption
Although vodka is relatively low in calories and has zero sugar, no amount of alcohol is safe. Vodka, like all alcohol, is a depressant — meaning that it slows down the activity in the brain. After consumption, it triggers the release of dopamine. This neurotransmitter is responsible for sending signals of pleasure. Therefore, you might feel good immediately after drinking, but as the effects of alcohol wear off, you may begin to experience mood swings, irritability, depression and other psychological symptoms.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, excessive alcohol consumption has immediate negative effects. These include but are not limited to alcohol poisoning, injuries, risky sexual behaviors and miscarriage and/or birth defects during pregnancy. Over time, excessive drinking habits can turn into long-term health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, liver cancer, memory problems, alcoholism and even death.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, excessive drinking includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, any drinking by pregnant women and drinking by people younger than 21 years of age. Binge drinking is defined as 4 or more drinks during a single occasion for women and 5 or more drinks for men. Heavy drinking is defined as 8 or more drinks per week for women and 15 or more drinks per week for men.
An April 2018 study published in the Lancet studied nearly 600,000 people who drank alcohol over several years. Researchers concluded that higher alcohol consumption was associated with increased rates of stroke, fatal aneurysms, heart failure and death, regardless of gender.
University of Washington professor Emmanuela Gakidou states what perhaps many health officials think in regards to alcohol: "Saying to yourself, having a glass of wine presents a small risk, but I enjoy it — OK, that's fine. But I would like people to move away from thinking drinking is good for you." With the health risks as described, it is clear that drinking — no matter how much — is not good for your health.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Agriculture: "Appendix 9. Alcohol"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Fact Sheets - Alcohol Use and Your Health"
- The Lancet: "Risk Thresholds for Alcohol Consumption: Combined Analysis of Individual-Participant Data for 599 912 Current Drinkers in 83 Prospective Studies"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Sorting Out the Health Effects of Alcohol"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: "Alcohol Consumption and Obesity: An Update"
- Obesity Action: "Alcoholism & Obesity"
- Science News: "Drinking Studies Muddied the Waters Around the Safety of Alcohol Use"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Beverages, Cocktail Mix, Non-Alcoholic, Concentrated, Frozen"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Alcoholic Beverage, Beer, Regular, All"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Alcoholic Beverage, Wine, Table, Red"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Alcoholic beverage, distilled, vodka, 80 proof"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture
- National Consumers League: "Alcohol: How it All Adds Up"
- Boston University School of Medicine: "The Effects of Alcohol Consumption on Obesity"
- NCBI: "The Dopamine System and Alcohol Dependence"
- Frontiers in Psychiatry: "Sugar Addiction: From Evolution to Revolution"