As you all know fruits, veggies, lean protein, whole grains and healthy fats are all foods and nutrients we talk about a lot and encourage you to have often!! However there are other foods (and drinks!) that are a part of our culture and you might wonder how these actually fit into a “healthy” diet and contribute to our weight. This would include alcohol. Alcohol is often associated with life’s celebrations, dinner’s out at a restaurant or just a relaxing evening at home. This is especially true this time of the year!! A cocktail in moderation is certainly fine and really can be part of a healthy lifestyle. However, being aware of how alcohol affects our health and weight is helpful to know!
What exactly is alcohol?
Alcohol is considered a drug (it contains the active ingredient ethanol) and is actually its own macronutrient! However in comparison to the other macros (carbs, fat, and protein) it provides very little nutritional value. What alcohol does provide is calories! It provides 7 calories per gram of alcohol. This is high considering carbs and protein provide 4 calories per gram and is closer to fat which provides 9 calories per gram. These calories from alcohol are considered “empty” due to their lack of nutrients. We also may have heard that red wine is “good for you”. This is true in the sense of its antioxidant property; however you can also get those antioxidants from fruits alone as well (i.e. grapes, berries, etc.), they are not exclusive to just red wine.
Alcohol will be used as a primary source of fuel
What does that mean you say? Well whatever alcohol you consume will be used first by your body for its energy needs. It will be used before any other carbs, proteins or fats you may have consumed within the same timeframe. Therefore those other foods will be stored as fat if your body does need them.
Alcohol can contribute to belly fat
I think we all know the term “beer bellY”. There is actually truth to that term. Any food high in simple sugars (candy, soda, alcohol, etc.) tends to be high in calories and stored in the body as fat. We don’t exactly know where this fat ends up but it tends to be in the abdominal area for most of us.
Alcohol affects digestion and nutrient uptake
Intake of alcoholic beverages can actually cause stress on the stomach and intestines which can lead to decreased digestive secretions and movement of food through the GI tract. Without enough of these digestive secretions there is a good chance that the macro and micro nutrients consumed will not be absorbed and used by the body.
Alcohol effects sleep
Studies have shown that alcohol tends to lead to periods of wakefulness during sleep cycles. Any type of impaired or disrupted sleep can lead to an imbalance in the hormones which are related to hunger, satiety and energy storage. In other words, alcohol can cause poor sleep which definitely contributes to weight gain over time!!
Alcohol causes poor judgment
We have all been there, a little too much to drink and not the best decisions are always made!! This includes food choices! Studies have actually shown that alcohol can trigger hunger signals in the brain, leading to an increased urge to eat more! And sometimes what we choose may not always be the most nutritious!
Despite this information, having a drink once in a while and keeping the weight down is definitely doable!! Remember to stay hydrated (drink water!) when enjoying a cocktail. Also as per the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans it is recommended that adults of legal drinking age can choose not to drink alcohol or drink in moderation. Moderation includes limiting it to 2 drinks or less per day for a man or 1 drink or less per day for a woman on days when alcohol is consumed. Here are some lower sugar, calorie options if you do decide to indulge!
Wine - red, white and champagne
Mojito without the syrup
Margarita without the agave
Rum and diet coke
While alcohol isn’t something your dietitian is going to encourage you to have, we are also realistic and know it’s a part of our society! It has its place (as does chocolate cake!) in a healthy eating plan. Be sure to keep your intake moderate and enjoy! Cheers!!
Until Next Time,
Mary Corso RDN CDN