Can alcohol cause you to pack on the pounds, or can you have a drink or two and still lose weight? Here’s what you need to know about alcohol consumption.
Does Alcohol Make You Gain Weight?
Let’s get something out of the way – alcohol in and of itself is not going to make you fat. However, drinking alcohol can lead to weight gain if you don’t understand its characteristics, and how it’s metabolized.
Alcohol is converted to acetate in the liver. Acetate is then oxidized to carbon dioxide and water. Because of this, there is no real mechanism for alcohol to be converted into fat and stored. What actually happens is alcohol suppresses fat oxidation – making it more difficult to mobilize fat when alcohol is present.
An intake of an alcohol-rich meal suppresses fat oxidation . What this means is that consuming alcohol will inhibit fatty acid mobilization. Before fat loss can occur, alcohol must first be oxidized. It gets preference before protein, carbohydrates, and fats.
Alcohol contains about 7 calories per gram. This is more than protein and carbohydrates, which each contain 4 calories per gram, but less that the 9 calories per gram contained in fat. A 3.5 ounce glass of red wine has about 10 grams of alcohol – equaling 70 calories worth of alcohol. So for fat burning to occur, you must first oxidize those 70 calories.
Alcohol and Weight Gain
Alcohol consumption promotes insulin sensitivity without affecting body fat levels . Through reasons not fully understood, moderate alcohol intake actually improves insulin sensitivity. Through improved insulin sensitivity, we can maintain better blood glucose levels – which leads to a more favorable environment for fat loss.
Moderate alcohol consumption (450ml of red wine daily) is not associated with differences in subcutaneous and abdominal fat contents or body weight . That’s 40 grams of alcohol – meaning 2-3 drinks a day without weight gain. This is an extreme example.
This study did not measure other health markers, like liver enzymes, which I suspect would be elevated due to the high demand being placed on the liver to metabolize the alcohol. However, it does show that moderate alcohol intake does not affect body weight in and of itself.
Alcohol Drinking Guidelines
While drinking alcohol has many health benefits, you still need to be mindful of a few things:
- Alcohol still contains calories. You must balance calories in with calories out if you expect to lose weight. While these alcohol calories “can’t” be stored as fat, they still have to be oxidized before fat loss can occur.
- If you’re going to drink alcohol, have it with a healthy meal. Mixing alcohol with processed foods is a recipe for weight gain.
- Do not let alcohol lead to overeating. This is the leading cause of weight gain with alcohol consumption. If you cannot control your binge eating, you may want to reconsider alcohol.
- Stick to alcoholic beverages that have the fewest sugars. Dry wines and liquors are a good bet. Liquor mixed with soda is good too. Beer can be suitable too.
- Obviously, don’t overdo a good thing. Just because a glass of wine might be healthy for you, that doesn’t mean a bottle would be better. Everything in moderation.
So, will alcohol cause you to gain weight? Yes and no. Combined with a healthy diet, it can be beneficial to your physical and mental health. It will not make you fat by itself.
However, if you combine alcohol with a bad diet, or let it lower your inhibitions, it can put a stop to your fat loss and potentially add calories that can lead to fat gain. Be mindful of how you use alcohol, and it can be your friend instead of your enemy.