The holiday season is a wellness challenge in many ways. Busy calendars limit our rest, treat foods are all around and social gatherings tend to involve an alcoholic drink or two. Okay, sometimes (lots of times) more.
We all know that over-doing it with alcohol isn’t great for our health. But did you know it can also wreak havoc on your waistline?
To help understand how, we asked nutritionist and dietitian Di Munns to explain how alcohol calories behave in our bodies, and how it can all add up to way beyond what you actually drink.
Is alcohol high in calories?
At seven calories per gram, alcohol packs a calorific punch! To put things in perspective, you can compare it to macronutrient we know. Carbohydrates and proteins provide four calories per gram. On the other end of the energy spectrum, fat provides nine calories per gram. Not far behind lies alcohol, which provides seven calories per gram.
What makes things worse is that alcohol is often combined with sugary mixers such as soft drink and juices!
For example, a 45 ml jigger (1.5 shots) of Vodka can come in at almost 100 calories. When you mix with lime cordial or lemonade, you can be adding another 100–150 calories depending on the size of the glass.
Diet versions of soft drinks or cordials can be used, but I don’t recommend these as there is some evidence to suggest that artificial sweetener may cause you to crave more sweetness and therefore calories.
Alcohol can delay the processing of fat, carbohydrates and other calories
Because alcohol is a toxin, the body processes it first. This means that if you’ve had a fair few drinks, the body can spend a long time processing all that alcohol. Until all the alcohol has been processed, your body can do nothing about processing the calories you’ve consumed from food.
So, any other additional calories consumed either in the form of mixers – juice, soft drinks or nibbles will likely get stored as fat while the liver processes the alcohol. This can definitely add up depending on how many drinks you have and what you snack on while you’re out.
Alcohol effects decision making
Alcohol affects the pre-frontal cortex region of the brain. This is where all your organization and planning goes on. So, with alcohol on board, often your good intentions of sticking to limited drinks for the night, or ordering a small healthy meal, can be forgotten.
Alcohol can increase a craving for more calories the next day
If you’ve had too much to drink, you’ll likely wake up the next morning feeling a little hungover, dehydrated and with low blood sugar. This results in cravings for high sugar and high-fat foods and drinks to bring those blood sugars up and rehydrate your body.
How to watch your calorie intake from Alcohol
Although most beverages don’t include nutritional labels with calorie information, there are ways to estimate calorie content of alcoholic drinks.
Resources like Calorie King or My Fitness Pal are helpful when calculating caloric content of drinks.
If you find conflicting results for how much alcohol is in a beverage, take an average. Better yet, proceed with caution and take the highest result on board.
If you are mixing cocktails at home, list the drink ingredients and their calorie count. Then add them up and divide by the number of glasses you get out of the recipe. Calories per serve will of course be different depending on the size of the glass you choose to serve it in.
How to eat, drink (yes drink) and be merry
Although this all sounds pretty dismal, you can still go out and have a good time if you remember a few helpful tips.
- Eat a proper healthy meal with protein, vegetables and fibre before you go out. This will line your stomach and as such, slow down the absorption of the alcohol and keep blood sugars on a more even keel.
- Plan what you will drink. Don’t get caught up in the moment just because someone else is ordering an extra large Pina Colada. Opt for drinks like wine and add lots of ice cubes to help your drink last longer. The water in the ice-cubes will help keep you hydrated too. If you limit your intake to one or two drinks and you won’t suffer the sugar cravings.
- Make sure you drink a glass of water for every alcoholic drink to stay hydrated. The more dehydrated you are, the more hungry you’ll become.
- Many of us may think that they’ll save their calories for the day and not eat much because they’ll be consuming alcohol that night. BIG MISTAKE! It’s only setting you up for overeating the next day, and often selecting poorly in terms of unhealthy food and lots of calories.
- Remember the guidelines for women now are one standard drink of alcohol per day. Ideally with at least two alcohol-free days a week. This does not mean you can save your drinks during the week and have them all on one night of the weekend.
Our minds are blown away! We’ll definitely be watching what’s in our glasses (and what we eat at the same time) from now on!