Drinking alcohol is a favorite American pastime, both socially and culturally. And now, with all the time we’re spending at home under these difficult and stressful times, I fear alcohol will be used even more frequently as a way to decompress.
But not only does alcohol contribute to elevated lipids, high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease, and some cancers, it also plays a significant role in weight management. Anyone looking to drop those stubborn pounds may want to consider skipping their evening glass.
Here are eight ways alcohol can impede your weight loss and ideas for what you should drink instead.
Alcohol contains “empty” calories
Alcoholic drinks are often referred to as “empty” calories. This means that they provide the body with calories that contain very few nutrients.
There are almost 155 calories in one, 12-ounce can of beer, and 125 calories in a 5-ounce glass of red wine. By comparison, a recommended afternoon snack should have between 150 and 200 calories. A night imbibing several drinks can lead to consuming a few hundred of those precious calories you fight so hard to keep off.
Drinks that have mixers, such as fruit juice or soda, contain even more calories.
Alcohol is used as a primary source of fuel
There are also other elements that can cause weight gain outside of calorie content.
When alcohol is consumed, it’s burned first as a fuel source before your body uses anything else. This includes glucose from carbohydrates or lipids from fats.
When your body is using alcohol as a primary source of energy, the excess glucose and lipids ends up as adipose tissue, or fat, particularly around the belly.
Alcohol can affect your organs
The primary role of the liver is to act as a “filter” for any foreign substances that enter the body, such as drugs and alcohol. The liver also plays a role in the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.
Excess alcohol consumption can lead to what is known as an alcoholic fatty liver. Having small amounts of fat in your liver is normal, but too much can become a health problem.
The liver is the second largest organ in our body. It helps process nutrients from food and drink and filters harmful substances from the blood.
Too much fat in the liver can cause liver inflammation, which can cause damage and scarring. Studies show consuming just one ounce of liquor a day can have this effect, which then can then impact the way it metabolizes and stores carbohydrates and fats. This in turn effects how our body stores energy from food, making it difficult to lose weight.
Alcohol can contribute to excess belly fat
The “beer gut” isn’t just a myth.
Foods high in simple sugars, such as those found in candy, soda, and even beer, are also high in calories. Extra calories end up stored as fat in the body.
Consuming foods and drinks high in sugar can quickly lead to weight gain. We can’t choose where all that extra weight ends up, but the body tends to accumulate that fat in the abdominal area. This then increases the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and elevated cholesterol, known as metabolic syndrome it is characterized by:
- high cholesterol
- high blood pressure
- high blood sugar levels
- high body mass index
- high number of inches around the abdomen (35 for women, 40 for men)
Alcohol affects judgment calls. . .especially with food
Even the most die-hard diet fan will have a hard time fighting the urge to dig in when intoxicated.
Alcohol lowers inhibitions and can lead to poor decision-making in the heat of the moment, especially when it comes to food choices.
A recent study found that ethanol given over a period of three days resulted in a significant increase in food intake. This research suggests that alcohol can actually trigger hunger signals in the brain, leading to an increased urge to eat more food.
Alcohol and sex hormones
It’s long been known that alcohol intake can affect levels of hormones in the body, especially testosterone, a sex hormone that plays a role in many metabolic processes, including muscle formation and fat burning capabilities.
One study found that low testosterone levels may predict the prevalence of metabolic syndrome in men. Plus, lower testosterone levels may affect the quality of sleep, especially in older men, which we know also effects weight.
Alcohol can negatively affect your sleep
A nightcap before bed may sound like the ticket to a good night’s rest but you may want to reconsider.
Research suggests that alcohol can lead to increased periods of wakefulness during sleep cycles. Sleep deprivation, whether from lack of sleep or impaired sleep, can lead to an imbalance in the hormones related to hunger, satiety, and energy storage. All leading to weight gain.
Alcohol affects digestion and nutrient uptake
Your social anxiety isn’t the only thing that alcohol inhibits. Intake of alcoholic beverages can also inhibit proper digestive function.
Alcohol can cause stress on the stomach and the intestines. This leads to decreased digestive secretions and movement of food through the gastrointestinal tract. Digestive secretions are an essential element of healthy digestion. They break down food into the basic macro- and micronutrients that are absorbed and used by the body.
Alcohol intake of all levels can lead to impaired digestion and absorption of these nutrients. This can impact the metabolism of organs that play a role in weight management.
Here’s a breakdown of the calories in popular liquors:
Calories: 100 calories in 1.5 ounces of distilled 80-proof vodka
Alternative cocktail: Choose low-calories mixers such as club soda and avoid overly sugary juices.
Calories: 100 calories in 1.5 ounces of 86-proof whiskey
Alternative cocktail: Ditch the cola and take your whiskey on the rocks for a lower calorie alternative.
Calories: 115 calories in 1.5 ounces of 90-proof gin
Alternative cocktail: Aim for something simple, such as a martini. Remember each additional green olive is 10 calories.
Calories: 100 calories in 1.5 ounces of tequila
Alternative cocktail: The best part about tequila is that the customary tequila “shot” is just salt, tequila, and lime.
Calories: 100 calories in 1.5 ounces of brandy
Alternative cocktail: This drink is best served after-dinner instead of an aperitif meant to stimulate the appetite before a meal. As a desert it can be savored slowly to enjoy its subtle fruity sweetness.
While cutting alcohol completely out of your diet may not be an option you’d choose, there are many improvements that can be made by simply cutting back as much as possible. This way you’ll gain the benefits of a healthier body, improved sleep, better digestion, and far fewer of those excess “empty” calories.