The number of calories in alcohol may be a little bit surprising, so lets take a look at why alcoholic drinks may fatten you up in the first place. To begin with, we need to start with the ugly truth: alcohol can’t exist without calories. While we tend to associate calories with the basic macro-nutrients in food such as carbohydrates and fat, we need to remember how calories are defined. The general scientific definition of a calorie is “the amount of heat required… to raise the temperature of one gram of water one degree Celsius”. So to break it down, a calorie is a unit of heat, and in case you’ve never seen a fire-breather before or used an alcohol stove, alcohol is extremely flammable.
Look through our list of alcoholic drinks again, and you’ll realize how important the C.F.A. (Calories From Alcohol) metric is for ranking. As an example, Everclear may have twice as many calories as your typical beer, but almost none of those calories are wasted, nearly every calorie in Everclear comes only from alcohol while most beers contain a decent amount of calories from carbohydrates. These carbs can add up, especially if you’re having a big night on nothing but beer.
So why are those carbohydrates there in the first place? To answer this question, we’ll have to look at how alcohols is made. Without getting too in depth, alcohol is made by fermentation, which is a process in which yeast eat up sugars and turn them into alcohol. So to make alcohol, you first need to start with sugars which themselves are a type of carbohydrate. These sugars can be obtained in many different ways, and the type of sugar used actually defines the type of alcohol. For wine the sugars come, of course, from grapes. Beer and whiskey are typically made from barley, while vodka is often made from potatoes. If the yeast isn’t 100% effective at converting these sugars to alcohol, there will be sugars left over in the beverage, which will result in a more fattening drink. Beer and wine can have quite a bit of this residual sugar, which is why most of the wines with a low C.F.A. ranking taste extremely sweet. The process of distilling hard alcohol after this first fermentation can leave behind the vast majority of carbohydrates which is why pure hard alcohol is often the best choice for those on a diet.
Now let’s take a look at the best strategies for consuming alcohol while on a diet. The real problem with alcohol and weight gain is that while there is alcohol in your system, your body will give alcohol priority over everything else. What this means is that if you drink a 6 pack of beer (~600 calories) and then get hungry and decide you really want a big mac (~500 calories), your body will devote all it’s attention to getting rid of those alcohol calories first. By the time you’ve burned off the 600 calories from beer, you’ll probably be asleep and those 500 big mac calories will have been converted to fat in your body. After a normal meal, your body will start burning calories as soon as they are made available. If you’re drunk and eat a meal, your body will be too busy burning alcoholic calories and will store the food calories in your body as fat.
It has often been said that it’s not the alcohol that makes you gain weight, it’s the food you eat when you’re drunk and hungry that makes you gain weight. If your goal is to get as drunk as possible without getting fat, the best way to do that would be to eat a light healthy meal before your drinking session, and not fall victim to late night drive thrus or pizza deliveries until you wake up the next morning. If necessary, be prepared with healthy snacks like raw vegetables or fruit to tide you over. The main point here is to have as little food in your stomach as possible while drinking, and if you must have food in your stomach, make sure it’s healthy and not packed with calories of it’s own. An added benefit of drinking on a nearly empty stomach is of course that you won’t have to consume as many calories from alcohol, because you’ll get drunk much faster than if you had just eaten a hearty meal.
If on the other hand, you’re not willing to make major changes to your food diet while drinking, then you can simply change the type of alcohol you drink. Instead of a few big hearty pints of beer, go for a couple rum with diet cokes or a high ranking glass of wine. Stay away from drinks mixed with soft drinks, and high calorie liquors.
The bottom line is this: if you’re trying to lose weight, you don’t need to stop drinking, you just need to drink strategically and pay attention to what you’re putting into your body. Here at Get Drunk Not Fat, we’re committed to helping you get drunk and look good while doing it, so check our alcohol calorie chart here before you drink, or download the mobile app to help you make good drinking decisions at the bar.