When trying to lose weight, many people choose low-calorie alcoholic drinks, mainly because they contain fewer alcohol calories than their regular counterparts. However, drinking too much has a far more damaging effect than you realise - in fact, just calculating the number of alcohol calories in a drink is a bit misleading.
According to conventional wisdom, weight gain associated with alcohol is caused by excess alcohol calories being stored as fat. Yet, only a small percentage of the alcohol calories you drink are turned into fat. Rather, the main effect of alcohol is to reduce the amount of fat your body burns for energy.
Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition is the perfect example of how this works. Eight men were given two drinks of vodka and sugar-free lemonade separated by 30 minutes. Each drink contained just under 90 calories. Fat metabolism was measured before and after consumption of the drink. For several hours after drinking the vodka, whole body lipid oxidation (a measure of how much fat your body is burning) dropped by a massive 73%.
What’s happening in that rather than getting stored as fat, the main fate of alcohol is conversion into a substance called acetate. In fact, blood levels of acetate after drinking the vodka were 2.5 times higher than normal. And it appears this sharp rise in acetate puts the brakes on fat loss. When acetate levels rise, your body simply burns more acetate, and less fat. In essence, acetate pushes fat to the back of the queue.
Not only does it reduce the number of fat calories you burn, alcohol can increase your appetite, as I’m sure we’ve all experienced. The quantity of alcohol doesn’t need to be of binge proportions to have a big impact either. In one study just one small aperitif before a meal increased calorie intake to a greater extent than a carbohydrate-based drink. And that’s before we consider the carbohydrate or fatty food cravings that can hit the morning after a big night out.
So, to act as an extra motivator this week for avoiding even the occasional drink (or two), remember that:
- A small portion of the alcohol is converted into fat
- Your liver then converts most of the alcohol into acetate.
- The acetate is then released into your bloodstream, and replaces fat as your body’s preferred source of fuel.
So, in the long term while the odd drink now and again isn't going to hurt, the bottom line is that when you are trying to lose weight, alcohol just isn’t the answer!
Here are 7 alcohol free options that are as tasty as their boozy counterparts.
- Soda and lime is the traditional go-to for the designated driver. However, you’ll need to request fresh lime if you really want to be truly healthy and avoid the cordial sugar hit.
- Try tomato juice with a dash of Worcester and Tabasco. Add celery stalks and fresh lemon juice for even more vitamins. This drink is full of heart protective lycopene too.
- If you are a cider fan then some of the 100% pressed apple juices are a taste equivalent. But, one glass of juice a day is the sugar limit so dilute with sparkling water to make it last a bit longer.
- Gin is having a moment but so is tonic. One of the founders of Fever Tree recently cashed in to the tune of £70 million, and that was just for a small stake. Expect more posh tonics to flood the market, many of which contain interesting spices such as lemongrass and cardamom.
- Dandelion and burdock have long been used in body tonics and these burly blends are now leading the way for trendy functional drinks with claims that may raise an eyebrow or two, but they deliver great flavour.
- Coconut water is one of the rare drinks that stacks up nutritionally. It hydrates, of course, but it is also rich in electrolytes to replace what your body will lose through sweat. It is still a carbohydrate though, so plan to burn off the energy.