Written by Emily Shiffer
If you’re trying to lose weight, you’re likely cutting out the ‘junk’ from your diet--excess sugar, fast food, anything overly processed. Your fridge is likely full with loads of fruits,k veggies, and lean protein. So when it comes to the 6-pack sitting in the back, you’re likely wondering if it makes the ‘cut’.
So when it comes to alcohol, is it really necessary to totally cut it out if you’re trying to lose weight? How does alcohol affect weight loss? We asked two dietitians for their thoughts.
What’s the nutritional makeup of alcohol?
To understand what alcohol actually is, you need to understand how it’s created.
“The type of alcohol that humans drink is called ethanol or ethyl alcohol. It is formed when certain types of natural sugars from grains, fruits, or vegetables are used to ferment yeast,” says Cindy Dallow, PhD, RD, sports dietitian at 2 Doc Tri Coaching in Colorado. https://2doctricoaching.com/ “The chemical process of fermentation yields ethanol and carbon dioxide.”
Compare calories with other types of macro nutrients, and alcohol comes in reasonably high. https://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/how-many-calories-are-one-gram-fat-carbohydrate-or-protein
Protein: 4 grams per gram
Carbohydrate: 4 calories per gram
Alcohol: 7 calories per gram
Fat: 9 calories per gram
Keeping that in mind, nutritionally, alcohol itself is also a nutrient-deficient calorie.
“When it comes to weight loss, I always recommend getting in nutrition from fueled foods versus non-nutritional foods, things like alcohol or added sugars,” says Jessica Crandall Snyder, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist at Vital RD in Denver, Colorado.
However, certain types of alcohol do have nutritional benefits.
“Red wine actually has substances in it that have been shown to be cardioprotective, thus red wine is probably the ‘healthiest’ of all alcoholic drinks,” says Dr. Dallow. “But beer also has "polyphenolic compounds", which may increase antioxidant activity in humans so it may provide some health benefits as well.” https://2doctricoaching.com/triathlon-training/beer-keeps-doctor-away).
Should you cut out alcohol completely?
A firm ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is ultimately up to you and your weight loss goals.
“For those who wish to lose weight, look at the big picture. How can you tip the energy balance scale to produce a sustainable deficit? The most likely way is to reduce calorie intake by 100 - 200 calories per day and increase energy expenditure by the same (or more),” says Dr. Dallow. “Over time, this will produce a weight loss (mostly from fat tissue, not muscle).
Whether alcohol fits into that equation should determine if you give it the axe or not.
“It depends on so many other things as well, i.e., how much you are currently drinking, how many calories are you getting from food and other beverages, how many calories you are expending, whether you are male or female, pre- or post-menopausal, etc.,” says Dr. Dallow.
How to drink alcohol and still lose weight
Cutting out alcohol isn’t totally necessary if you’re trying to lose weight, but you can also make smarter and healthier decisions when it comes to your drink of choice.
“My recommendation is to focus more on the amount and frequency of alcohol consumed and so much as the type of alcohol,” says Dr. Dallow.
Here are 7 ways to make weight-loss friendly alcohol choices.
Be mindful of mixed drinks.
“Mixed drinks tend to have more calories than other alcoholic beverages so for people who drink mixed drinks on a regular basis who want to reduce their caloric intake, this would be a great place to start (eliminating mixed drinks).
Choose low-calorie mixers.
“Try to pick low or no-calorie options,” says Crandall Snyder. “Things like water, ice, soda water, or diet tonic are great choices.”
Keep track of craft beer.
“Many craft beers are also high in calories, and due to their popularity, many people consume them often,” says Dr. Dallow. “To reduce calorie intake, drinking less craft beer would be a smart thing to do for people who want to lose weight. For the person who only occasionally drinks a beer, or has a glass of wine, eliminating them will not produce weight loss. It only works for those who are drinking on a regular basis (4 or more drinks per week).”
Pay attention to serving size.
“If you want to keep drinking alcohol, keep it to 1 drink a day for women no more than 2 for men,” says Crandall Snyder.
One drink is equivalent to:
- 12 oz beer
- 4 oz wine
- 1 oz hard liquor
Use a smaller drink glass.
A great way to portion control your alcohol is to use smaller glasses.
“I suggest using a champagne flute for wine instead of wine goblet,” says Crandall Snyder.
Drink more water.
If you do plan to drink alcohol, make sure you up your water intake.
“Space out your beverages. Try to do a glass of water, then wine, then another glass of water,” says Crandall Snyder. This is keep you hydrated (since alcohol is a natural dehydrator), as well as dilute alcohol volume.
Try non-alcoholic options.
Okay, so this one technically does cut out the alcohol...but it’s worth a try to explore non-alcoholic beverages that mimic your favorites.
“There are many non-alcoholic drinks available now that are very tasty and better for your health,” says Dr. Dallow.
She likes Seedlip Cocktails (www.seedlipdrinks.com), which offers more natural and lower calorie drinks.
The bottom line: “If you drink alcohol on a regular basis, reducing the amount or frequency of alcohol is the best place to start,” says Dr. Dallow. “Eliminating it altogether will likely speed up the process, especially if you increase your physical activity at the same time. But don't make any changes that you can't maintain forever or the weight will come right back on as soon as you resume your old habits.”