Having a few drinks conjures up images of relaxing at home or unwinding after a long day at work with good friends, good conversation, and good food. But then a drink or two becomes three or four — you reach for the pretzels and the peanuts — and suddenly your waistline is the only thing doing the unwinding. You can do everything right, but with just a few gulps, you might as well have been eating donuts all day.
Typically, alcohol and weight loss don't mix:
- There are about 7 calories per gram of alcohol, compared to 4 calories per gram for carbohydrates or protein (fat is about 9 calories per gram).
- Alcohol can lessen the body's ability to burn stored fat. Calories from alcohol are also likely to go right to your stomach — ever heard of a "beer belly"?
- Alcohol impairs a dieter's good judgment — which means you eat and drink more than you normally would. To top it off, most people enjoy eating high-calorie, high-sodium snacks when they drink alcohol — three times the trouble if you're trying to lose weight.
- Alcohol can be especially harmful to dieters because blood sugar levels may drop more rapidly. This drop in blood sugar can stimulate your appetite, and disrupt your ability to tell when you've had enough to eat. Additionally, this can create fatigue and your energy level will suffer.
- Alcohol interferes with the body's absorption of vitamins and minerals.
- Alcohol is often used as an inappropriate replacement for food, resulting in inadequate nutrition.
I'm not suggesting that you never drink again — in fact, moderate levels of alcohol consumption have been shown to reduce the chances of heart disease. But it is important to be conscious of what you consume. Simply having 1 beer a night adds more than 1,000 calories per week — that's an extra 15 pounds per year. A few glasses of wine over the course of one meal adds as much as 400 calories.
BEER: 12 ounces of regular beer is about 150 calories; 12 ounces of light beer is 100 calories.
WINE: 5 ounces of dry wine or champagne contains only 100 calories, which makes this a good choice — but watch out for sweet dessert wine, which has 226 calories.
HARD LIQUOR: 1.5 ounces of 80 proof (40% alcohol) liquor is about 100 calories. Keep in mind that the higher the proof, the higher the calories. Remember, a typical serving of scotch on the rocks has about 1 1/2 – 2 shots (depending on how well you know the bartender or if you're pouring the drink yourself). Also, be aware that the really sweet stuff such as schnapps (1 shot) has 159 calories, and crème de menthe has 186 calories.
MIXED DRINKS: Alcohol itself is packed with calories, but when you add in mixers — soda, juice, sugar and other ingredients — well, watch out. Turning rum into a rum and Coke nearly doubles the calories; the same goes for a gin and tonic. A suggestion: keep it simple and on the rocks.
Obviously, the larger the drink, the higher the calorie content. If your favorite bar or restaurant serves bucket-sized margaritas, you can easily drink more than 1000 calories (without the chips and guacamole). Try to choose smaller drinks and avoid the creamy and frozen ones. And don't be shy — ask for diet sodas for all of your mixers, it makes a difference of about 80 to 100 calories.
FOR THE RECORD:
- Bloody Mary (1.5 oz. vodka, 6 oz. tomato juice, dash of Tabasco and pepper) — 131 calories
- White wine spritzer (4 oz. white wine topped with club soda) — 80 calories
- Vodka and diet soda — 100 calories
- Piña Colada (8 oz.) — 464 calories
- Long Island Ice Tea (8 oz.) — 227 calories
- Mudslide (1.5 oz. coffee liqueur, 1.5 oz. Irish cream, 1.5 oz. vodka) — 441 calories
- Margarita in a pint glass — 650 calories
- Martini (3 oz.) — 187 calories
And lastly, just for comparison, two glazed Dunkin' Donuts contains 360 calories — you make the choice.Created: March 20, 2009 Last Reviewed: March 18, 2010
CHARLES PLATKIN, Ph.D., M.P.H., THE DIET DETECTIVE is one of the country's leading nutrition and public health advocates, whose syndicated health, nutrition and fitness column, the Diet Detective appears in more than 100 daily newspapers nationally. Dr. Platkin is also the founder of DietDetective.com, which offers nutrition, food, and fitness information. Platkin is a health expert and blogger featured on Everydayhealth.com, Active.com and Fitnessmagazine.com. Additionally, Platkin is a Distinguished Lecturer at the CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College in New York City.
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