When it comes to dieting, alcohol is a controversial subject. Is it okay to indulge every now and then? Or is alcohol truthfully as bad as they say? Many diets will right off the bat eliminate all alcohol. But, what really is the reason behind that and is there a way to incorporate alcohol into your diet in a healthy way?
Alcohol As A Macronutrient
You may have heard this a time or two, macronutrients play a vital role in weight loss and more specifically fat loss. Your macronutrients are composed of three main things: protein, fats, and carbs, which are traditionally where calories come from. However, there is one other macronutrient that also plays a role - alcohol.
Protein and carbs both account for 4 calories per gram, and fat accounts for 9 calories per gram. This means that fat is calorically much more dense than protein and carbs. Alcohol falls somewhere in between these two densities—it accounts for 7 calories per gram, making it the second most calorically dense macronutrient. Understanding this is crucial to understanding how alcohol works for or against your weight loss goals.
Many diets will have users completely stay away from alcohol because of the additional calories. However, some users find that an all or nothing approach can be really difficult to follow and unsustainable in the long run. Which is why we say that if you are going to drink while dieting, drink smart and drink in moderation. Alcoholic beverages can quickly add up and can easily offset any progress, so here are a few examples of some healthier drink choices.
Healthier Drink Choices
Strawberry Pina Colada
Calories Per Drink: 148
- 3/4 Cup of Frozen Strawberries
- 3/4 Cup of Unsweetened Coconut Milk
- 1.5 oz of Coconut Rum or Spiced Rum
- Ice to Thicken
In a blender, mix all of the ingredients on high. Serve in a glass and enjoy!
Low Sodium Bloody Mary
Calories Per Drink: 160
- 1 Cup of Low Sodium Vegetable Juice
- 1/2 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
- 1/2 Tbsp Hot Sauce
- 1.5 oz of Vodka or Tequila
- Pinch of Salt & Pepper
Mix together and serve with fresh vegetables as a garnish!
Kombucha Moscow Mule
Calories Per Drink: 127
- 1 Cup of Ginger Kombucha
- 1/4 Tsp of Ground Ginger
- 1 Tbsp Fresh Squeezed Lime Juice
- 1.5 oz Vodka or Gin
Mix together and serve with fresh mint, lemons, or limes!
Since most of these beverages are intended to be made at home, we also wanted to include some healthier beverages you can order at a bar. Here are some great options:
- Gin & Soda Water with Lemon/ Lime (100 calories)
- Old Fashioned (150 calories)
- Extra Dry Brut Champagne (65 calories)
- Red Wine (120 calories)
- Light Beer (95 calories)
Drinking In Moderation
It is extremely important that if you are going to drink while on a diet, to drink in moderation. While one of the “good” choices in drinks may not offset your progress, the difficult part for most people is limiting your intake to 1-2 drinks. Alcohol can be a slippery slope. Because alcohol impairs your judgement, it may be really challenging to only have one or two drinks. Often times, poor food choices also follow drinking which could be detrimental to your diet progress. In order to make sure that you do not go overboard while drinking, here are some tips.
1) Have A Plan
Most people get really off track when drinking on a diet when they do not have a proper plan in place. If you know you are going to be attending happy hour with your friends or celebrating something special, plan your day accordingly. Beer, wine, and darker alcohols are mainly composed of carbohydrates, so if you plan to have two glasses of wine, track that into your daily macronutrients but understand you will probably have a little less of a caloric deficit that day. However, it is also important not to completely substitute out your carbs for alcohol. Meaning, don’t go overboard and think you shouldn't eat carbs for the day so that you can have your fair share of drinks. When you are dieting, you are at a deficit so your body is relying just a bit more on each and every nutrient coming from your food.
Trifecta's registered dietician, Emmie Satrazemis, describes some of the downsides of alcohol best by saying, "When we consume alcohol, our digestive systems switch gears to process toxins, which can slow down metabolism and halt nutrient absorption. Too much drinking can have long-term affects on the liver, pancreas, heart and other organs." This is an important reminder as to why it is so important to properly plan ahead when drinking, as there can be some negative long-term effects when you regularly drink too much.
2) Set Yourself Up For Success
If you tend to snack after having a few drinks, it will be in your best interest to plan accordingly. If you know you will be craving food, make sure that you have healthy options at home that will allow you to feel satisfied without ruining your diet. It may also incentivize you to avoid the appetizers at happy hour and to get home at a reasonable hour.
Try to stick with foods higher in protein or carbs as they will be easier to digest. If you really like something sweet: have a greek yogurt with berries in your fridge waiting for you. If you really like something salty and savory: have some grass-fed beef jerky waiting at home for you. Make sure to avoid things high in fat after drinking as those items could quickly add up.
Emmie Satrazemis says "When it comes to choosing party snacks, it’s better to go with carbohydrates rather than fats because your body can process them faster. The carbs also will help raise your blood sugar, which drops with alcohol intake. Pretzels are an OK choice, but hydrating fruits and veggies are even better."
3) Get Right Back To It
Most importantly, when your diet is slightly shifted due to alcohol, get right back to your plan the next day. Overall, one day off will not hurt your diet, but you will not want to make a habit of it. Like I said before, moderation is the key to making alcohol work in your diet. Try to limit alcohol consumption to no more than 2 drinks per week while dieting. Calories really do add up in a big way from alcohol so you wouldn’t want to be putting in all of the hard work 6 days a week only to completely offset that work by the 7th day.
The Big Picture
When it comes to your diet you should always be thinking about the bigger picture. Your goal on this diet is to lose weight, so if alcohol compromises your end goal, take that into consideration before indulging in a few too many drinks. With that being said, we also know its not entirely realistic (nor desirable) to completely eliminate alcohol from your diet, which is why we recommend that if you do want to drink, to drink in moderation.
All in all, a little bit of alcohol will not throw your entire plan off course. Exercising moderation, having a plan to get right back on track afterwards, and accounting for these additional calories in your daily calorie/ macronutrient goal, will ensure that you incorporate any alcoholic beverages in your diet in a healthy way.
For an easy way to track your macros and see how alcohol can affect your goals, check out the Trifecta app and see how many calories your favorite drinks have:
Drenowatz, Clemens & Hill, James & Peters, John & Soriano-Maldonado, Alberto & N. Blair, Steven. (2016). The association of change in physical activity and body weight in the regulation of total energy expenditure. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 71. 10.1038/ejcn.2016.228.
Traversy G, Chaput J-P. Alcohol Consumption and Obesity: An Update. Current Obesity Reports. 2015;4(1):122-130. doi:10.1007/s13679-014-0129-4.