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Alcohol on a Low Carb Diet

Alcohol can be part of a low carb or keto diet. It helps to have an understanding of how alcohol is metabolized in these diets however (i.e., you often will feel it quicker). It also helps to understand where the relative carbs are with various spirits and wines. For the most part, if you avoid sugary mixers and flavored spirits you should be able to socialize and enjoy alcohol with a low carb diet lifestyle. Keto also!

Skinny Moscow Mule ingredients laid out on table
Skinny Moscow Mule Ingredients

SPIRITS

Although alcohol is often lumped into the carbohydrate category, it acts differently in the body. For one thing, when there is alcohol in the body, its calories are used first for energy, before carbohydrate or fat.

It can also have some unpredictable effects on blood sugar. This is because when alcohol is present, the liver goes to work on it immediately. The liver’s job is to get rid of toxins in the body, and alcohol is like a poison in that way.

While the liver is working on breaking down the alcohol, it isn’t doing its other jobs as well, including regulating the amount of glucose in the blood. So blood glucose can drop quickly. To minimize this, don’t drink on an empty stomach, and limit alcohol on a low carb diet to two drinks per day for a man, or one drink for a woman. (A drink is 12-ounce beer, 4-ounce wine, or a jigger of distilled alcohol.)

BEER

There is some confusion about maltose in beer because of things written in some low-carb diet books. Although the malted barley used to make beer produces maltose, a sugar that has a glycemic index higher than glucose, the fermentation process uses up all the maltose in the beer while it is being brewed.

The USDA database shows that there is no maltose in beer. However, there is carbohydrate in beer that should be counted as you would count any other carb. The amount varies depending upon the brand of beer. Regular beer averages about 12 grams of carbohydrate per 12 oz can or serving.

Light beer isn’t necessarily low-carb beer -– some light beer has almost as much carbohydrate as regular beer. Most, though, is in the range of 3 to 7 grams of carbohydrate per serving. Read each label when deciding.

Ale generally has somewhat less carbohydrate than regular beer (5-9 grams per serving), whereas stout is the worst kind of beer you can drink on a low-carb diet –- it has around 20 grams of carb per 12-oz serving.

WINE:

Basically a 3.5 oz glass of wine, red or white, has around 91 g of water, 9.6 g of alcohol, 73 calories and 1.2 g of “carbohydrates by difference”. There aren’t actually ANY carbohydrates in wine, but that ‘leftover’ amount is the glyerine in the wine that sort of acts like a carbohydrate. It just doesn’t raise the blood sugar.


Wines have very few carbs in them at all, and the calories in wine come from the alcohol. The end result is that the wine which is higher in alcohol is the one that will be higher in “carb equivalents”.

So you could say that a wine of 14% gives you 2 carbs and a wine of maybe 10% gives you 1 carb. The net result is that a glass of wine gives you “under 2g of “carb-like substances”.

The Atkins diet has reversed their recommendations on no wine, and it might not be long before they fully endorse wine drinking as a non-carb-counting activity, because of how it raises your HDL and lowers your blood sugar levels.

For some craft cocktails that are good choices of alcohol on a low carb diet, click here.

5 Comments

  1. Anonymous on August 12, 2019 at 10:26 am

    I don’t drink alcohol so problem solved for me. 😉👍🏻

    • dorothy stainbrook on August 12, 2019 at 10:29 am

      Yes, many people don’t drink alcohol for a variety of reasons. Many people do enjoy wine with meals or cocktails at social outings so this article is more for the casual, social drinker that is curious about the relationship to fat loss.

  2. shawn carey on August 12, 2019 at 8:55 am

    I’ve heard that alcohol can actually increase metabolism as long as it’s not abused. This is good info!

    • dorothy stainbrook on August 12, 2019 at 9:17 am

      So glad you got something from it Shawn! I like the part where you say “as long as its not abused”. That part is going to be pretty individual. As a previous bartender I saw a lot of abuse. For me, if alcohol effects my sleep quality I know to back off.

  3. Annie Riley on December 9, 2015 at 11:21 am

    Good to know all this. Thanks for the info.

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