Alcohol has an impact on your weight as do other foods. However, alcohol provides many calories in a small volume and can end up being a source of unwanted extra calories and weight gain. It can wreak havoc on a system that is in place for your health and well-being. One study has shown a 20% increase in calories consumed at a meal when alcohol was consumed before the meal. There was a total caloric increase of 33% when the calories from the alcohol were added. It goes without saying, but I’ll state it anyway, alcohol is not considered a necessary component in a healthy diet.
Alcoholic choices are sometimes made based on the perceived health benefits of the individual beverages. The debate over which beverage is more beneficial continues. Some claim that there are more vitamins in beer, while wine drinkers point to the “French Paradox” for the health benefits of consuming wine. Some studies suggest and have shown that wine drinkers, compared with beer and distilled spirit drinkers have lower risks of cancer, stroke and total mortality. Some have shown that the frequency of wine drinking was independently related to a lower incidence of deaths due to coronary heart disease and respiratory diseases. These results are still controversial and may be confounded by personal characteristics and other lifestyle factors such as diet. Beer contains more B vitamins than wine and comparable levels of different antioxidants. The antioxidants in beer come from the barley and hops used to make the beer, while the antioxidants in wine come from the grapes. Regardless of the kind of alcohol consumed, moderation remains the key. Excessive intake of wine, beer, or distilled spirits will detrimentally affect your health.
Alcohol can also affect your blood sugar. It is considered a poison by your body and all efforts are made to excrete it, including the cessation of maintaining healthy blood glucose levels. Studies have shown that alcohol interferes with sources of glucose and the hormones needed to maintain healthy blood glucose levels. Alcohol can negatively impact blood sugar levels each time that it is consumed, regardless of the frequency of consumption. Research has shown that acute consumption increases insulin secretion, causing low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and can also impair the hormonal response that would normally rectify the low blood sugar levels. Drinking as little as 2 ounces of alcohol on an empty stomach can lead to very low blood sugar levels. This makes alcohol an even bigger problem for anyone with diabetes.
When alcohol replaces food, there can be numerous deficiencies caused by the lack of an adequate intake of nutrients. The damage to your liver and other organs brought on by chronic, excessive alcohol consumption will cause severe problems that can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Numerous other deficiencies will occur when alcohol replaces nutrients in a balanced diet. The long-term consequences of these deficiencies far outweigh the amount of health benefits that have been found with alcohol consumption. Also, there is an increased risk of problems when combining alcohol and exercise. It is not uncommon for people to go out for a drink after playing team sports or to consume some alcoholic beverages while playing. Your blood sugars naturally drop during exercise and your body is working on replacing your glycogen stores once you are finished. Consuming alcohol during this time will halt this process and can cause blood sugar levels to stay at an unhealthy level. Please note that excessively low or high blood sugar levels have long-term consequences. If you choose to consume alcohol, here are some tips:
You should limit your calories in your drink by choosing those with less alcohol and a limited amount of sweetened beverages. By using flavored seltzers or water, you will save calories. Some diet-friendly alcoholic beverage choices include:
Wines: If you are going to drink, red and white wines (Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot) are the most calorie-friendly selection with a typical 20 calories per ounce with no cholesterol, sodium or fat. A typical 5-oz serving will contain about 100 calories and 2 to 4 grams of carbohydrates.
Hard Liquor: Hard liquor is higher in calories than wine per ounce and is often mixed with soda, which increases the calorie count. To save calories, mix with diet tonic, water or just have a shot. One shot glass or mixed drink will contain about 1.5 ounces of hard liquor. Caloric values per 1.5 ounces are:
Vodka: 1-4 calories, 0g carbs
Tequila: 104 calories, 8g carbs
White Rum: 104 calories, 0g carbs
Coconut Rum: 77 calories, 8g carbs
Scotch Whiskey: 104 calories, 0g carbs
Gin (various brands): 77-119 calories, 8g-0g carbs
Cognac: 104 calories, 3g carbs
Vermouth: 64 calories, 0.4g carbs
Beer: Choosing light beers will drop your caloric intake without sacrificing much flavor. It is worth noting that it can be hard to estimate your intake when pouring from a pitcher, or drinking from an oversized beer mug. Caloric values per 12-oz serving are:
Light Beer: 108 calories, 6g carbs
Draft Beer: 144 calories, 13.2 carbs
Lager: 168 calories, 13.2 carbs
Ale: 216 calories, 13.2 carbs
Liqueurs: They are tasty and should be enjoyed sparingly as they pack the most calories per ounce. Liqueurs can be served alone, over ice, with coffee, or mixed with cream or other mixers. Adding mixers will increase the calorie and fat content of drinks with liqueur. The words “cordial” and “liqueur” are used interchangeably since both drinks are flavored, very sweet and often served as (or paired with) dessert. Whether served in a cocktail or alone, one serving of (chocolate, mint, peppermint, strawberry) liqueur is about 1.5 ounces, contain 155 calories and 17 grams of carbohydrates.
Be careful to budget your alcohol servings carefully. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you but I’ll mention it anyway, drinking loosens your inhibitions and may make you eat, among other things, without thinking. Practice in moderation and consider the other potential health benefits of different types of alcohol. Most health experts recommend the following hierarchy for alcoholic beverages: choose red wine, white wine, lighter beers, hard liquor and lastly liqueur.
Andrea Stewart Roa, M.S.
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