Alcohol on a Low Carb Diet!
Alcohol gets a bad rep, and is certainly one of the most abused substances in the world. It can become a serious problem when it interferes with your personal/social life and well-being. To enjoy it we need to exercise moderation and self-control.
If you like having a couple of beers, shots or glasses of wine to relax or have a good time on weekends, you’re in good shape! But throw a low carb diet into the mix, and you may find yourself struggling with the quantity of alcohol you’re drinking. People on a keto or low carb diet notice their tolerances significantly drop. And when you realize your favorite drink contains more than 30 grams of carbs in a small serving, you may consider giving alcohol up.
Before you give it up, use our Ultimate Keto Alcohol Guide to help navigate your way through your local bar and become a keto connoisseur.
How and Why Alcohol Affects Us
“…alcohol molecules slow down signals from the brain for actions such as walking and talking” Alcohol is actually the fourth macronutrient, providing our body with 7 calories per gram. If you aren’t familiar with macronutrients, you can read more about macronutrients here. Since alcohol is not needed for survival and is considered toxic to humans, it’s ignored under this umbrella of essential macronutrients.
When we ingest alcohol (in the form of ethanol), our body begins to work to metabolize it, or destroy/break it down to get energy. Since alcohol is toxic to our bodies, we begin to metabolize it as soon as possible. The tipsy feeling we get is the alcohol being metabolized. Since alcohol molecules are water and fat soluble, they’re able to pass through and be delivered to pretty much all parts of our body, most importantly, our brain and liver. About 98% of the alcohol we consume is processed in the liver; the rest is excreted through urine, sweat and even breathing!
Some symptoms of being drunk like slurred speech, impaired judgement and poor gross motor movement is caused by the alcohol molecules slowing down signals from the brain for actions such as walking and talking. For this reason, it’s classified as a depressant, as it slows down our bodily functions – fat burning being one of them.
The Science of Fat Burning and Alcohol Metabolization
Many people find that drinking alcohol in excess stalls their weight loss. That may be because the liver will begin to process the alcohol as soon as possible. Our fat burning processes are disrupted to rid ourselves of that alcohol quickly. The speed at which alcohol is metabolized differs from person to person.
The liver of a person on a high carbohydrate diet has a lot of glycogen stored. Glycogen is a by-product of glucose (sugar and carbs) and is the secondary long-term energy storage, with the primary energy stores being the fat cells held in adipose tissue. If you are eating a carbohydrate rich diet, the pathways for fat burning are busy breaking down sugars; the alcohol is metabolized slower because of this hold up. Conversely, a person on a low carb diet has depleted their liver’s glycogen stores and is now running on fats instead of carbs and glucose, and burning body fat more efficiently. Since their glycogen stores are low, the alcohol ingested will start to be metabolized by the liver right away.
This immediate metabolization will cause that sudden onset on feeling drunk. Your liver isn’t going to warn you when that alcohol has arrived for processing. Many keto-ers will experience lowered tolerance simply because their liver is ready to metabolize efficiently instead of feeling sluggish processing extra carbs and sugars.
Other Issues with Drinking and Fat Loss
Besides the science behind our metabolic processes, we’ve also got some humanistic flaws.
When we ingest alcohol, our inhibitions are lowered, which can make mindless snacking and cheating on your diet much more likely to happen.
On a ketogenic diet, you’ll notice you are hungry less because of the slowly released energy from fats. If you start drinking alcohol on a relatively empty stomach, you will start to feel the effects of alcohol much faster (again, having to do with glycogen stores and being in a fasted state).
Speaking of a fasted state, a great way to deplete glycogen stores is by intermittent fasting. This technique allows your body to enter ketosis much faster, as the primary source of energy is fat and not carbs. Your body is forced to use up its glycogen stores faster, run out, and move on to the fat you’re feeding it.
Lastly, just as with any diet, alcohol consumption should be limited. Alcohol calories are empty calories. They provide our body will small amounts of energy, but are short lived. We also don’t absorb any nutrients, vitamins or minerals from alcohol. It’s best to keep alcohol a treat and enjoy in moderation.
So What Alcohol Can We Enjoy?
Clear liquors at about 40% alcohol are a safe bet and are considered keto alcohol, and anything that tastes sweet is not! Acceptable keto alcohol includes:
You can also still enjoy wine and beer! Here are a few low carb wine and beer options to explore! Stick to dry or semi-dry wines; you’ll develop the taste for them if you haven’t already. The calorie and carb counts will differ depending on brand, types of grapes/growing conditions and process of fermentation, but an average is provided:
What To Watch Out For
Sugar is hidden everywhere! Even something seemingly innocent like a gin and tonic can have over 30g of carbs- tonic water is very high in sugar. If the bartender adds artificial lime juice and simple syrup, you’re probably well over 50g of sugar in one glass. Avoid the following popular drinks and mix-ins, and you’ll be a low carb pro in no time.
Need to Chase? You’re Not Alone.
Alcohol isn’t dessert. Most people need to chase or mix their spirits to make them go down easier. Some good chasers/mixers you can safely enjoy are:
Our favorite drink to order (and make ourselves) is the Raspberry Lime Rickey, made with gin, sugar-free raspberry syrup and limes.
Hungover? Why and How to Help
Simply put, the state of being hungover is caused by DEHYDRATION. The fix? DRINK MORE WATER.
While drinking alcohol, DRINK WATER. Got home safe and going to sleep? DRINK WATER. Wake up feeling icky? DRINK WATER. Water will cure and prevent hangovers better than any spicy, gingery, supplement, raw egg tonic anyone can try to sell to you. The answer is water. Between drinks at the club or bar, down a cup of water. Do this a few times and it will help immensely. Avoid that nausea, headache, fatigue and misery with this easy fix.
The best hangover cure is lots of water, some aspirin to speed up recovery and a good lounge on the couch. Chill and recover. Rinse and repeat.