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Alcohol and Low-Carb Dieting

author image Jill Corleone, RDN, LD
Jill Corleone is a registered dietitian and health coach who has been writing and lecturing on diet and health for more than 15 years. Her work has been featured on the Huffington Post, Diabetes Self-Management and in the book "Noninvasive Mechanical Ventilation," edited by John R. Bach, M.D. Corleone holds a Bachelor of Science in nutrition.
Alcohol and Low-Carb Dieting
Keep a lid on carbs by mixing your liquor with club soda instead of juice. Photo Credit: villagemoon/iStock/Getty Images

Alcohol isn't totally off-limits when you're on a low-carb diet. But hard alcohol and wine make better choices than fruity mixed drinks and beer. It's important to know, however, that a cocktail or two may affect your appetite and ability to make smart food choices, so if you choose to drink, be sure to limit how much and pair your drink with a meal.

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Alcohol Metabolism 101

Restricting your carbs forces your body to burn fat for fuel. But when you drink alcohol, your body works hard to break it down and get rid of it immediately, so it puts the fat-burning process on hold until the alcohol metabolizes. However, it's not enough to thwart your weight loss.

While your body is breaking down alcohol to get rid of it, your blood sugar drops temporarily and affects your ability to make decisions, so it may lead to poor food choices due to intense hunger and lack of control. Before drinking, eat a meal with fat, such as salmon with avocado or some chicken wings, to help delay some of the effects.

No matter what kind of diet you're following, stick with "moderate" alcohol intake. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate intake is limited to one drink a day for women and two drinks for men -- where one drink is equal to 1.5 ounces of liquor, 5 ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer.

Spirits are Carb-Free

Vodka, gin, rum and whiskey are carb-free. So, if you're going to have a cocktail and don't have the carbs to spare, these liquors are your best choice. But, skip the juice and tonic water. Blending your vodka with 8 ounces of one of these mixers will up your carbs to over 20 grams. Instead, drink your liquor on the rocks or with water or club soda. Diet soda or diet tonic water also make good mixers for your low-carb cocktail. Add a spritz of lemon or lime for flavor.

Wine is Fine on a Low-Carb Diet

Wine isn't carb-free like hard liquor, but with less than 4 grams of carbs per 5-ounce serving, both red and white table wines make a low-carb choice. Not all wines are low-carb, however. Dessert wine, even in a small 3.5 ounce serving, makes a high-carb drink with 12 to 14 grams. If you don't have the carbs to spare and want your drink to last, try a wine spritzer, which is wine mixed with seltzer and a squirt of lime. Light wine and non-alcoholic wine both contain about 2 grams of carbs per 5-ounce glass, which might work on your low-carb meal plan.

Go With Light Beer for Fewer Carbs

Beer isn't a low-carb drink like wine or liquor. If you drink only regular beer, with 12 grams of carbs per 12-ounce bottle, you'll have to give up a lot of carbs to enjoy your drink. On the other hand, light beer doesn't cost you nearly as many carbs and makes a better choice on your low-carb diet. A traditional light beer has 6 grams of carbs per serving, while an ultra light has 3 grams. Non-alcoholic beer isn't low in carbs, though, with almost 30 grams per 12-ounce bottle, and may not make a good choice on your low-carb diet.

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