“Hey doc, can I still drink alcohol?” is a question I frequently get from patients when discussing our nutrition program. It’s a good question and one that requires delicate handling. In general, moderate alcohol consumption seems safe from a health standpoint and may even have some health benefits. But, that does not mean you should start drinking alcohol – just because it might have health benefits.
Moderate Alcohol Consumption
Moderate alcohol consumption is usually defined as 2 alcohol servings per day for men and one serving per day for women. A serving of alcohol is considered 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, and a 1.5 ounces of liqueurs.
Alcohol, Calories, and Glycemic Index
We advocate a low glycemic diet – foods/drinks that have minimal effect on blood glucose and insulin levels. Carbobohydrate affect the glycemic index – not fats or protein. Most alcohol contains carbohydrates as alcohol is made from the fermentation of sugars (carbohydrates). In the case of beer and wine not all the sugar is fermented thus leaving behind some carbohydrate that can still raise blood glucose and insulin levels.
But, here’s where things get confusing. Some forms of alcohol contain no residual carbohydrates yet can contain many empty calories. These include vodka, gin, rum, and whiskey. Ethanol or alcohol is metabolized in the liver similar to the metabolism of fat providing 7 to 9 calories per gram whereas carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram. Also, these liqueurs are frequently mixed with soda, juice, and syrup that can have a carbohydrate content. Below is the calorie content for some liqueurs. (I did not consume each to verify calorie content).
Liqueurs Calorie Content (serving)
- Vodka, Gin, Rum, Whiskey 64
- Bailey’s Irish Cream 156
- Ouzo 103
- Triple Sec 30
- Sambuca 100
- Kahula 72
- Amaretto 12
What’s the Most Healthful Form of Alcohol?
Dry red wine is considered the most healthy form of alcohol. It’s high in antioxidants and has a low carbohydrate content. It also contains small amounts of resveratrol which is being studied extensively because of its “anti-aging” effects similar to those seen with calorie restriction.
Don’t Consume Alcohol Alone
Since some alcohols contains carbohydrates and to also delay absorption from the GI tract into the bloodstream it’s wise to consume alcohol with nuts and/or cheeses. Also, don’t consume alcohol too late in the evening – the last thing you want is the body to end the day having to process and metabolize a bunch of empty calories. That’s like giving up points in football and basketball right before halftime – you don’t have a chance to offset them before you go to the locker room (bedrooom).
If you must drink or enjoy drinking alcohol then do so in moderation. For health purposes consider dry red wine. Don’t consume alcohol too late in the evening or without eating a protein source. Also, drink intelligently and responsibly.
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