Healthy living — and low-carb dieting — is all about balance, and sticking to your diet doesn't mean you can't have a little fun. Most hard alcohols contain no carbohydrates or sugar, so you can include them in moderation in a low-carb diet. However, you'll need to watch out for sugar mixers — and limit your drinking for your overall good health.
The Carbs and Sugar in Hard Alcohol
Good news: If you're drinking straight hard alcohol, you won't blow your daily carb budget. Hard alcohol — including vodka, gin, rum, tequila and whiskey — has 0 grams of carbs or sugar per ounce.
These liquors with no sugar get all their calories from alcohol, and range in calories from 65 calories from a 1-ounce shot of 80-proof vodka to 83 calories for a 1-ounce shot of 100-proof vodka, rum, gin or whiskey, to 100 calories for a 1.5-ounce shot of tequila.
So while these drinks don't eat into your total carb budget for the day, you'll still add calories to your daily intake. And if you're drinking an extra 100 calories in hard alcohol a day, that's enough to make you gain almost a pound a month.
Most Drinks Aren't Just Hard Alcohol
If you're sipping straight vodka, you're not taking in any carbs — but most mixed drinks come packed with added sugar, which significantly ups your carb intake. A canned tequila sunrise, for example, has 232 calories and 24 grams of carbohydrates, while a canned pina colada contains a whopping 526 calories and 61 grams of carbohydrates.
Other drinks may fare slightly better. A 2-ounce portion of daiquiri, for example, contains just 112 calories and 4 grams of carbs — though you might actually drink several "servings" as one large portion, since 2 ounces won't fill a daiquiri cup. And mixed drinks made with carb-free mixers — like diet cola or seltzer — won't add carbs from what you mix with the alcohol.
Alcohol on a Low-Carb Diet
Even though hard liquor itself doesn't contain carbohydrates or sugar, it might affect your weight loss. At 7 calories per gram, alcohol is actually more calorie-dense than carbs or protein, so even the small portions that count as one drink still supply a significant number of calories.
Your body also starts burning alcohol preferentially after drinking — which means it stops burning stored fat until the alcohol is metabolized. If you're drinking on a regular basis and you're struggling to shed pounds on a low-carb diet, lowering your alcohol intake may help. Conversely, if you've been losing weight well on your low-carb diet, drinking more alcohol might sabotage your results.
Health Concerns with Alcohol
Drinking hard alcohol may have other adverse effects, too. Alcohol affects your digestive system and actually blocks the absorption of certain essential nutrients, like folate.
Since folate helps activate enzymes that contribute to your metabolism and helps you make red blood cells — the ones that transport the oxygen you need to feel energized — low folate levels can get in the way of your active lifestyle.
And excessive drinking harms your liver and can even up your risk of certain cancers, like liver and colorectal cancer. Limit your alcohol intake to a drink a day if you're a woman — up to two drinks for men, recommends the Harvard School of Public Health — to minimize your risk.