In our first two posts on eating for fat loss, we focused on two areas which are highly relevant to most people who want to lose body fat: cutting out sugar and choosing low GI carbohydrates. I’m very confident that anybody that has incorporated these two steps will already be seeing results. Today, I want to touch on an area that will only affect some readers but has the potential to seriously hamper any efforts to reduce body fat.
Alcoholic beverages and body fat
Alcohol is a controversial topic among the health-conscious and even the medical community. I’m not going to try to give a definitive conclusion on whether consuming alcohol in particular quantities is healthy or not in this post. In truth, I think the jury’s still out on that one. However, as alcohol consumption is a real part of many of our lives, I think it’s important to understand how it affects fat loss and what one can do to ensure it doesn’t de-rail your efforts to change your body.
What we refer to as alcohol in ever day speech is ethanol, one particular compound in a broader set that chemists refer to as alcohols. It can be produced in a few different ways and has a number of applications including as an antiseptic and fuel. For the average person, it is the enjoyable by-product of the fermentation of fruits, grains or other plants.
Like carbohydrates, alcohol (ethanol) acts as a fuel in your body. While it does not increase your blood sugar in the same way, it does contain even more calories: ~7 calories per gram vs. ~4 calories per gram in carbs. This is worth remembering as it means that whenever you’ve consumed any significant amount of alcohol, your body has a lot of other fuel to burn before it can turn its attention to your body fat stores.
However, the real problem with alcoholic beverages, in terms of your body fat, is not the alcohol itself (as long as it’s moderate), it’s what else is in that drink. Unfortunately for us, many alcoholic beverages come packed with lots of sugar and carbs. As we know from previous posts, sugar’s effect on our blood sugar is the main reason for storing body fat.
Drinking alcohol without the sugar
Fortunately for those who like to have an occasional drink, there are options that don’t involve drinking a load of sugar with your alcohol. But if you’re not careful, it’s very easy to undo all the good work you’ve done in cleaning up your diet and working your body in the Pilates Studio!
Alcoholic drinks that are high in sugar and/or carbs
Now to make this really practical – here are the types of drinks that are likely to derail your fat loss efforts.
- Cocktails – I’m afraid almost all cocktails contain loads of sugar
- Mixed drinks – juice & soft drinks are high in sugar even if you mix them with a spirit!
- Beer – beer is made from grains and still has a lot of carbs in it after fermentation
- Alco-pops – all those sweet, sugary, neon-coloured drinks are packed with sugar
- Sweet wines – if it tastes sweet, it’s because it has sugar in it!
These categories are the important ones to stay away from but do let your tastebuds guide you. Sweet drinks taste that way for a reason!
Alcoholic drinks that are low in sugar and/or carbs
- Neat spirits – the distillation process removes almost all sugar and carbs so vodka, whisky, gin etc. are all ok from a sugar perspective
- Dry wine – most red wines and a lot of white wines only have a small amount of residual sugar. But don’t kid yourself, it will add up if you drink a whole bottle.
- Sugar-free mixed drinks – Mixing with soda water is a great option but diet and light soft drinks also don’t have sugar in them. Having said that, I prefer to stay away from artificial sweeteners because of other potential health-effects
So can I drink all the wine, whisky & vodka I want?
I want to be careful not to give the impression that even these “safer” types of alcohol are ok to consume in large quantities. We’re all very aware that there are lots other good reasons to limit our alcohol intake. But even in terms of fat loss, if the quantities of alcohol consumed in a week are high, it will stall your progress.
So if you want to have a drink or two with dinner once in a while, make choices that aren’t going to put the brakes on your fat loss but try to avoid over-indulging!
Read the next post in the series:
Eating for fat loss – Step 4: Take it easy on the fruit