Can I have a glass of wine with that? Probably one of the most common questions asked when it comes to the topic of dieting and weight-loss. While stricter diets may limit alcohol consumption all together, we’re also commonly reminded of the benefits of the Mediterranean diet which boast the benefits of a daily glass of red. So what is the science behind weight loss and alcohol? Does alcohol really slow down our metabolism, or is this another misinformed health fact circulating in pop culture?
A Calorie Isn’t a Calorie
If there is one thing we’re becoming more common aware of, it’s that not all calories are created equal. Two-hundred calories coming from a handful of gummy worms do not have the same metabolic effect as two-hundred calories coming from spinach. The way food is metabolised in our bodies has much more to do with the nutrient composition than it does caloric value. The same is true for alcohol. A pint of beer doesn’t have the same metabolic effect as a glass of red wine. Knowing this, we can quickly establish higher carb and sugar drinks like beer and cocktails will have more on an impact on our waistline than hard liquors like whisky or vodka.
The Alcoholic Metabolic Process
So, sugary drinks aside, does alcohol itself affect our metabolism? Short answer, kind of. Regardless of the carb count in your drink, when alcohol is consumed, the body immediately prioritizes metabolizing the alcohol above all else. This is because alcohol is viewed as a toxin in the body, something that must be removed immediately. Our body wants to break it down and get it out. What this means is as soon as you have a drink, your liver will start breaking down the alcohol (otherwise known as ethanol), and as a result, your body will use the by-products of ethanol for fuel over everything else. While liver is focused on detoxifying alcohol, all other processes may be slowed or put on hold, and as a result this may slow other components of our metabolism while the alcohol is being processed .
In addition to slowing our metabolism during the chemical breakdown process, alcohol is also metabolized directly into fat in the body. It follows the same pathway our body uses to convert high fructose corn syrup into its metabolic parts. Like fructose, alcohol cannot be converted into cellular energy. After we have a glass of alcohol, about 20% of the ethanol is broken down in the stomach and brain. The remaining 80% is directly metabolized in the liver. In the liver, a small portion of the ethanol is converted into aldehydes. Only a small portion of the aldehydes are converted into glucose, but most will contribute to the formation of fatty acids, VLDL (small density LDL cholesterols) and triglycerides.
Defining Your Goals
So, should you stay away from alcohol? It depends what your goals are. While a glass of red one a few times a week may not have a large impact on weight gain, if you’re actively trying to lose weight, limiting alcohol consumption may help your body maintain steady weight loss. If you have a lot of weight to loose, staying away from sugar and high-carb drinks may be beneficial. Although even people on the ketogenic diet can include alcohol in their diets and maintain weight-loss, if you find your weight loss stalling or do not see the results you’re looking for, taking out alcohol completely may help. For those who do not suffer from any metabolic or liver issues and focused on maintaining weight rather than loosing, a glass or two every now and then will likely not cause weight gain.
Ultimately, there are many factors that affect weight loss, all completely unique to the individual. The occasional drink will likely not have a big impact on weight-loss long term. However, if you have a habit of a weekly drink and are finding your weight-loss stalled, taking out the alcohol may help.