Dietitian Ashleigh Jones shares her tips and tricks to understand alcohol and calories, and how you can consume in a healthier way.
When it comes to weight loss, many of us focus on what we should and shouldn’t eat.
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Carbs matter, but calories are king
If you’re working hard to make healthy food choices, it’s important that you don’t let your drinking habits derail all your efforts. Most people are not surprised to learn that alcoholic beverages, such as beer, wine and spirits, are not great for weight loss. But many people blame the carbs in beer, or the sugar in wine and cocktails. This is why low carb (or even no carb) beer and sugar-free spritzes have become so popular in recent years.
But when it comes to alcoholic drinks, no carb does not equal ‘no calorie’.
A standard 30mL nip of vodka contains no carbs, protein or fat, but still provides 65 calories. That’s because the alcohol molecule itself contains calories. In fact, alcohol provides almost twice as much energy per gram as protein or carbs:
- 1g carb provides 4 Calories
- 1g protein provides 4 Calories
- 1g fat provides 9 Calories
- 1g alcohol provides 7 Calories
So, how many calories are you drinking?
If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s not just about the calories you consume from alcoholic beverages. You also need to consider how your drinking habits might be impacting your food choices.
Alcohol lowers our inhibitions, which can make us more inclined to indulge in extra snacks or less healthy food choices. Depending on how much you’ve had to drink, a 2am kebab might sound like a great idea – even if you had a three course meal for dinner. And let’s not forget the morning after, because a hungover fry up is certainly not going to help your weight loss efforts.
Alcohol disrupts our sleep-wake cycle. Yes, it can make you sleepy, but it also disrupts your sleep cycle, making you less likely to enjoy a restful sleep. It can also cause you to wake up earlier than you would otherwise.
We know that quality sleep is crucial for good health, as well as making good health choices. If you are not getting enough good quality sleep, you are more inclined to make less healthy food choices, and even look to sugar and fast-acting carbs to boost your energy levels throughout the day. This is bad news for weight loss!
The other problem with overconsumption of alcohol is its impact on your lifestyle. A big night will make you much less inclined to get up and tackle that early morning gym session.
If you actually do make it to the gym, you will start the session dehydrated, and the alcohol in your system will impair both your performance and your recovery.
What to drink if you’re trying to lose weight
If you choose to consume alcohol, it’s important to keep your overall alcohol intake in mind. The current NHMRC guidelines recommend that we consume no more than 4 standard drinks on any single day to reduce your risk of harm from alcohol. Sticking to this rule will not only look after your health, but also your waistline!
Choose light or mid-strength beers rather than heavy, and try some of the lower alcohol wines that are available. If you’ve got your favourite varieties that you don’t want to stray from, at least try to alternate each alcoholic beverage with a glass of water or soda water.
As with food, keep your portion size in mind. A generous pour of wine, or a pint (570mL) rather than a schooner (425mL) of beer, will make a big different to your calorie (and alcohol!) consumption at the end of the night.
If drinking spirits, choose soda water as your mixer of choice. Remember that double the alcohol means double the calories. A double vodka soda will clock in at 130 calories , not the 65 calories you had planned.
The sober revolution
Mocktails and soft drinks are often loaded with sugar, and become a bit too sweet if you’re consuming more than one. They can also make you feel like the odd one out in social situations.
But the non-alcoholic beverage market is constantly expanding, with a huge range of zero alcohol beers, wines and even spirit substitutes available. We’re even seeing zero alcohol beer available at festivals, concerts, sporting events, pubs and restaurants!
I’ve tried quite a few, and can confirm they taste just like the real deal, and help you feel like you’re part of the action. At only 80 calories per 375mL bottle or can, zero alcohol beer is a lower calorie alternative that won’t disrupt your food choices, sleep, exercise performance or your overall health.
- Alcohol contains more calories per gram than protein or carbohydrates
- Reducing your intake of alcohol is the best strategy for overall health and managing your weight
- Choose lower alcohol beverages, or no alcohol beverages, wherever possible
- Remember that alcohol will also impact your food choices, sleep, exercise and recovery
If you need help managing your alcohol intake, visit DrinkWise.
Ashleigh Jones is an Accredited Practising Dietitian with extensive dietetics experience working across hospitals, corporate health, private practice and the food industry. Ashleigh is passionate about promoting healthy habits, especially for busy people and offers simple and sustainable nutrition solutions.