No matter your diet, relaxation is an important part of life. For over half of Americans, relaxation involves alcohol, while some people's bodies respond problematically to alcohol. For many of us a drink or two is the perfect way to chill out and alcohol does have a range of moderate health benefits in its favor. Humans are no strangers to drinking as the genetic mutation we developed ten million years ago enabling us to digest ethanol is credited with our evolution from tree dwelling creatures to land dwelling ones. That's because the ability to digest ethanol enabled us to eat fruit that fell to the forest floor rather than only being able to eat fruit still attached to trees.
Alcohol vs. Ketosis
Alcohol is a staple of our culture, from social gatherings to romantic meals to sport events, so it's perfectly normal to not want to give up alcohol while following a keto diet. That said, alcohol is a troublesome addition to any weight loss plan. For one thing, it's an appetite stimulant and may make you hungrier, which, when combined with its ability to hamper your decision making skills, can lead to eating foods that aren't on one's diet plan or too much of the foods that are. For another, your body digests alcohol before other macronutrients. This means your body will first burn the alcohol as a fuel source and convert other food to fat or prevent your body from burning its own fat while you're drinking. Because of that you may fall out of ketosis when consuming alcohol. Lastly, alcohol is calorie dense, so even small amounts can add hundreds of calories to your daily calorie intake.
You may be wondering if there are certain drinks that are more keto-friendly than others. Because the keto diet focuses on carbohydrate consumption, the best alcohols for keto are therefore the ones with the fewest carbs. Luckily, some forms of alcohol have no carbs at all and it is only the aforementioned issues of increased appetite and fat burning that you need to focus on. Let's examine the common forms of alcohol we drink and which are the wisest on a keto diet.
If you're a wine lover, you're in luck: dry wines have only about 2 carbs per glass. This includes both red and white, as well as sparkling. However, that safety net only applies to dry wines. Sweeter wines, whether a zinfandel or a moscato, may contain 5 or even 10 grams of carbs per 4-ounce pour.
Because alcohol isn't required to list its nutrition facts, the easiest way to gauge the carb content of your wine is by how sweet it tastes. A tart sauvignon blanc will be lower in carbs than a rich mourvedre. A dry champagne will be lower than a fruity sparkling prosecco. If you don't trust your taste buds, you can reference a wine website.
Fortified and dessert wines are generally much higher in carbs than other red, white, or sparkling wines. While fortified and dessert wines, such as port or sauternes, are served in smaller servings of only 2 ounces, they could still quickly throw you out of ketosis and add a lot of carbohydrates to your day's intake.
The term "beer belly" exists for a reason and that reason is definitely not because beer helps one achieve a six pack. Rather, beer is made from grains and therefore is innately high in carbohydrates. It's known as "liquid bread" as well as a quick way to build belly fat. Beer is a poor choice for a keto diet not only because of its carb count, but because you likely aren't eating grains at all on keto—doing so in liquid form could throw you out of ketosis very quickly.
If beer is your alcohol choice regardless, your safest bet is a light beer. Those can have as few as 3 carbs per serving. However, not all light beer is low in carbs and since alcohol isn't required to label its nutrition info, you'll want to do some research about which beers available to you are lowest in carbs before making your hoppy choice.
Straight spirits such as vodka, whiskey, and tequila do not contain any carbohydrates. That makes drinking them alone or with non-caloric mixers such as soda water, one of the smartest keto alcohol choices. However, just because they don't have carbs doesn't mean they're low in calories. The average hard liquor contains 70 calories per ounce, which translates to 140 calories per shot.
There's a common wellness world ideology that clear spirits are better for you than brown ones and that notion has a small amount of merit. Brown spirits contain a fermentation byproduct called congeners, which includes chemicals such as acetone. Not shockingly, human bodies do not love acetone and darker spirits' congeners are often blamed for hangovers. However, other congener chemicals, such as butanol, actually have protective effects. Butanol protects the stomach lining from damage and may reduce hangover symptoms such as nausea.
Because there's no clear answer on which spirit is the most healthful, the best choice for which to drink on a keto diet is simply the one you like the most.
Mixed Drinks / Cocktails
If things seem likely to go off the rails with cocktails for carb counts, your worry is with good cause. It's actually the mixers in mixed drinks that tend to contain all of the sugar. This is fairly straightforward: sugary sodas, fruit juices, and liqueurs are sweet from sugar, whether added or naturally occurring. When you add any of them to alcohol, you increase the carbohydrate count significantly and make yourself much more likely to fall out of ketosis. You also increase your chances of a hangover from the sugar content.
There's no doubt that cocktails are more enjoyable than sipping on straight alcohol. If cocktails are your drink of choice, pick simple low or no calorie mixers such as soda water, stevia sweetened soda, pure cranberry juice, flavored sparkling water, or tea.
It's normal to want a drink, but it can make weight loss harder. Alcohol isn't a bonus for any diet, but it's an accepted part of human nature and there are ways to drink it safely while on a keto diet. Choose dry wines, straight spirits, or cocktails made with noncaloric mixers when you want to imbibe. Remember that no matter which you choose, alcohol is a calorically dense food and can quickly add several hundred calories to your day's intake. Bottoms up--but maybe just one bottom.
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