The actual question my beloved domestic ‘alcoholic’ asked me was ‘is gin and tonic fattening’? The simple answer is that any liquid calories are more fattening than water. But life is not so kind to me that I can get away with such a simple answer…
So let’s see if we can make some sense out of what’s best and worse in relation to alcoholic beverages.
But in order to make it a little bit more of a professional challenge for me, let’s assume that we’re talking about the effect of alcoholic drinks on a person who is on a low-carb diet. However, you can safely assume that the following information will have similar or less severe impact on you if you are on a balanced diet (rather than on a low-carb diet). The other obvious thing to keep in mind is that alcohol is not a weight-loss aid.
Having stated that, however, there’s a huge difference between different types of alcoholic drinks. Some are ok’ish and others are a catastrophe.
If I skip straight to the bottom line, wine is much lower in carbs than beer so if you’re on a low carb diet or prefer lower calories wine should be your preferred option. Pure spirits like whiskey and vodka contain zero carbs, but watch out for the ‘sweetened’ version of those as they may pack massive amounts of sugar.
For comparison, Champagne has 1gr of carbs per typical servings, Red wine 4gr, white wine 4gr and beer has 13gr.
That means that even if you’re on a low-carb diet you can probably still afford to have one glass a day. Note that dry wines contain less than 0.5 grams of sugar per glass. The other 3.5 grams of carbs are miscellaneous remains from the fermentation process. This should only have a small effect on blood sugar or insulin levels. So basically, dry wine is ok for low-carb diets. Sweet dessert wines such as port, ratafia and others contain a much greater quantity of sugar.
Beer is a ‘no-go-zone’ for low-carb diets. The term ‘beer belly’ was not coined without a reason. Beer is like ‘liquid bread’. It contains tons of rapidly digestible carbs and best avoided if on a low-car diet. Note that the actual amount of carbs in beer depends on the brand. There are some low-carb beer options but I’m not aware of no-carb beers. In my research I found a low-carb American beer called Select 55 that has 1.9gr carbs in 355ml bottle.
When it comes to spirits, it pretty straightforward. Pure spirits like whiskey, vodka, cognac, tequila etc. contain zero carbs. Therefore they are all ok for low-carb diets. But if your tipple is a cocktail then I’m afraid I don’t have good news for you. G&T for example is full of sugar (16gr, so worse than the average beer). It’s better to switch to Vodka, soda and lime instead and the result will be zero carbs.
The worst are the drinks that contain spirit plus a juice (such as orange juice) or a sweetened soda (such as coke). These are sugar bombs. Alcopops or wine-coolers are no different. Smirnoff Ice for example has 31gr of sugar in a normal bottle and Bacardi Breezer has 39gr.
I should warn you, though, that when you’re on a low-carb diet (or when on an empty stomach) it takes significantly less alcohol to get you drunk. So basically you will need half the amount of alcohol to give you the same sort of kick (so a low-diet can also be quite economic when it comes to your bar bill). It is not completely clear what is the reason behind this effect but it could possibly be because the liver is busy producing ketones or glucose and therefore has less capacity to process alcohol, which slows down the process.
Obviously drinking and driving does not mix and if you or someone you love is struggling with over drinking (or any other addiction) you might want to check this out. Help is at hand in Monaco.
Udi Gon-Paz is a Wellness Coach and a Functional Therapist specialising in Clinical Nutrition and Stress management. Licensed in Monaco and the UK.