Dr. Friedman’s Health Blog

The Skinny on Alcohol: How to Drink and Avoid Weight Gain

By: Dr. David Friedman

It’s no secret. Red wine, in moderation, is great for the heart; even the American Heart Association recommends 1-2 glasses per day. New research shows that drinking beer is also healthy. A National Institutes of Health study revealed that beer is high in bone-boosting silicon and helps in the prevention of osteoporosis. Are you having a hard time remembering things? It’s brewski to the rescue! A study published in Behavior Brain Research shows beer contains an ingredient called xanthohumol, which enhances memory. What about Vodka? In Russia, vodka is used to cure everything from a headache to the common cold. In the USA, vodka is used in many herbal medicines to make tinctures. Okay, so drinking alcohol in moderation has some health benefits. But there’s a big downside: weight gain!

Three ounces of vodka contains over 200 calories, a six ounce glass of dry wine has 160 calories and one serving of brandy or whiskey packs on 130 calories. Mixed drinks are even worse. Once you add in the sweet syrups and liquor, you are consuming over 400 calories per drink! For you to burn off the calories you consume from drinking just one pina colada (the calorie equivalent to a donut) you would need to run eight miles at a vigorous pace. When comparing all alcoholic beverages, beer comes in at the lowest caloric content (100 calories per 12 oz. for light beer) However, considering most people don’t drink just one beer, these calories can quickly add up. There’s a reason they call it a “beer belly.

It’s not just the fat causing calories in these beverages that’s a concern; alcohol also stimulates the appetite by depleting the body’s glycogen (carbohydrate) storage. This is why people crave carbs like chips, pretzels, pizza, tacos and other fattening comfort foods. Alcohol also acts like a diuretic, increasing urination thus decreasing electrolytes like sodium which causes salty food cravings. This alcohol induced dehydration slows down metabolism as much as 80%! When alcohol enters the body it becomes a bully; It literally pushes away everything else you’ve consumed or eaten and goes to the front of the line. While the liver is busy processing alcohol, the other food in your system gets stored as fat. This can lead to a disease called Fatty Liver. If you drink alcohol everyday (even just one drink) there’s a 90% chance you have Fatty Liver disease.

When you look at alcohol’s high caloric content, appetite stimulating properties, and the un-inhibiting lack of willpower it causes, drinking isn’t the best choice if you are concerned about your weight. However, following my simple tips below will allow you to enjoy that “bottoms up” without growing your bottom out.

Tips on Avoiding Weight Gain While Drinking:

Drink Water.

For every alcoholic beverage you consume, drink a glass of water. This will keep you from getting dehydrated and the dilution creates less strain on the liver and kidneys.

Eat Before You Drink.

Eating something with fiber, protein, and a little bit of healthy fat will control blood-sugar levels and curb those comfort food cravings. Eat foods like oatmeal, apple slices with almond butter, Greek yogurt with berries, hard boiled eggs or have a protein shake. These food choices stay in the stomach longer and you’ll be less likely to crave food when you drink.

Avoid Certain Drinks.

Cut back on cocktails and mixed drinks. The simpler the drink, the better. Sweet drinks pack on more calories and the sugar they contain will make you hungry. Drink white wine, champagne, or clear liquors. Clear alcoholic beverages are lower in congeners, a substance made during the fermentation process that contains several chemicals your body doesn’t like. (Your liver has to go on overdrive to metabolize them, so it can’t focus on burning food or fat.) Avoid adding sodas like cola to your drink. Instead, go for seltzer water with a slice of orange or lemon.

Don’t Drink Before Bed.

While having a glass or two before bed can definitely relieve the stress of a busy work day and help you fall asleep faster, the quality of sleep is much less. In fact, while the average person gets between 20-30 minutes of REM sleep (the deep restorative sleep cycle we require), drinking alcohol before bed means getting only 5-10 minutes of REM sleep. Alcohol also increases blood sugar levels which is why most people wake up hungry a few hours later and raid the fridge.

Drink in Moderation.

While health experts recommend 1-2 drinks per day, which is not my definition of moderation! Drinking alcohol EVERY single day of your life wreaks havoc on your metabolism and puts a strain on your liver. Some people believe they can just skip their weekly 1-2 daily drink allowance and move those 7-14 drinks to the weekend. Just FYI: If you were to have 4 drinks just one time per week you’d pack on an additional 10 pounds of body fat per year. Moderation means drink 1-2 alcoholic beverages two times per week. Have a few drinks on Friday and Saturday and let your liver rest during the weekdays.


About the Author

Dr. David Friedman is the author of the award-winning, #1 national best-selling book Food Sanity, How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction. He's a  Doctor of Naturopathy, Chiropractic Neurologist, Clinical Nutritionist, Board Certified Alternative Medical Practitioner, and Board Certified in Integrative Medicine.  Dr. Friedman is a syndicated television health expert and host of To Your Good Health Radio, which has changed the face of talk radio by incorporating entertainment, shock value, and solutions to everyday health and wellness issues.

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