It’s the weekend and we want a cocktail!  Is it really so bad to have a drinky poo now and then?  Let’s take a look at the naked truth about that liquid diet…

Alcohol & Nutrition

The key to determining whether you need alcohol is to understand what alcohol is and how it is processed in your body. Calories provide energy for our bodies to function. We get calories from carbohydrates, protein, fat, and alcohol. For each gram, you get a set number of calories.   Protein and carbohydrates have 4 kcal per gram,  while fat has 9 kcals per gram.  Alcohol sits in the middle weighing in at 7 kcal per gram.   Each of these provide energy, but not all are equal when it comes to nutrition.

A food is considered to be a source of “empty calories” when there are no other nutrients present besides the nutrient that provide the calories. Alcohol is considered to be a source of empty calories because it provides only negligible amounts of vitamins and minerals. Due to the fact that alcohol often replaces nutrient-rich food and directly interferes with the body’s absorption, storage, and use of nutrients, it has also been called the “antinutrient nutrient.”

Alcohol & Metabolism

The nutrients protein, carbohydrates, and fat can be stored in our bodies, but alcohol cannot. For this reason, it takes priority over everything else in order to be metabolized.  The enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase begins some of the metabolism of alcohol in the stomach.

Women have less of this enzyme, so alcohol passes through their stomachs and into their bloodstream quicker than in men. Once alcohol is absorbed, it spreads rapidly into the body water spaces, so the smaller size and higher body fat content of women increase its levels. Women metabolize about 10% of the alcohol ingested, while men metabolize about 30%.  Your liver can metabolize about 1 oz of alcohol per hour.

Alcohol is considered a poison by your body, and all efforts are made to excrete it, including the cessation of maintaining healthy blood glucose levels. Studies have shown that alcohol interferes with all three sources of glucose and the hormones needed to maintain healthy blood glucose levels.

Alcohol can also negatively impact blood sugar levels each time that it is consumed, regardless of the frequency of consumption. Research has shown that acute consumption increases insulin secretion, causing low blood sugar, and can also impair the hormonal response that would normally rectify the low blood sugar. Drinking as little as 2 ounces of alcohol on an empty stomach can lead to very low blood sugar levels.

Alcohol and Weight Gain

Your body has a set number of calories necessary that must be consumed to maintain your weight. This need is based on your height, weight, age, gender, and activity level. When you consume more calories than your body needs, you will gain weight. Alcohol provides many calories in a small volume and can end up being a source of unwanted extra calories and weight gain. One study showed a 20% increase in calories consumed at a meal when alcohol was consumed before the meal. There was a total caloric increase of 33% when the calories from the alcohol were added. These additional calories can very easily contribute to weight gain over a short amount of time.

Studies have shown that in the short term, alcohol stimulates food intake and can also increase subjective feelings of hunger. Other studies have shown that the stimulatory effects of alcohol on food intake are controlled by hormonal regulation of satiety and satiation, such as the hormone leptin.  Regardless of the cause, the outcome is the same; people consume more food when they have consumed alcohol.

What type of alcohol is best to drink when I drink?

While there is some evidence that wine may have more beneficial effects than beer and distilled spirits, these results are still controversial and may be confounded by personal characteristics and other lifestyle factors such as diet.

Beer contains more B vitamins than wine and comparable levels of different antioxidants. The antioxidants in beer come from the barley and hops used to make the beer, while the antioxidants in wine come from the grapes.

Regardless of the kind of alcohol consumed, moderation remains the key. Excessive intakes of wine, beer, or distilled sprits will detrimentally affect your health.

So when toasting to your health, remember this….  one martini, two at the most, over three and your liver (and diet) are toast….

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