Drinking On Keto: Alcohol Consumption’s Affect On Ketosis
Cocktails On Keto: Understand The Implications
Perhaps one of the most frequently posed questions on keto sites and of keto gurus is, “Can I drink alcohol while on my keto diet?”
Social drinking has been around for thousands of years, some studies even claim drinking in moderation has certain benefits. There are those times a cocktail certainly seems in order – a special occasion, to relax after a hard day’s work, or as a social lubricant to help you relax in a crowd.
We’ll explain a bit about how alcohol is processed, its effect on the body, and how it impacts fat burning and ketosis. If you are going to imbibe, we’ll give you some tips on what to drink and what not to drink. We’ll address the science and leave the philosophical to you.
Alcohol And Ketosis
First, a bit about the science of alcohol consumption.
As previously discussed, the macronutrients – protein, carbohydrates, and fat – are stored in our bodies; alcohol is not. Because your body can’t store alcohol, it takes priority to be metabolized, and doing so may have a detrimental effect on other metabolic processes. To add injury to that insult, alcohol has no nutritional value: carbs possibly, calories definitely, nutritional value zero. In fact, alcohol, at 7 calories per gram, is nearly double the caloric value of protein or carbohydrates.
When we drink alcohol, it first makes contact with the mouth, throat, and esophagus. Alcohol then passes to the stomach, where about 20% of it is absorbed into the blood stream. The remainder passes through to the small intestine, where it is further absorbed. Although the body’s main goal is to get the alcohol to the liver for detoxification, it will first circulate in the bloodstream a bit.
A small percent of alcohol is excreted through perspiration, urine, and the lungs, which can be detected in breathalyzers. While being metabolized, alcohol is distributed throughout the body, affecting the brain and other tissues. Within minutes of being ingested, alcohol reaches the brain and initially gives the temporary impression of being a stimulant.
Note: Some individuals on a keto diet exhibit symptoms of gout, more likely caused by the types of protein consumed (red meats and certain seafoods) than carb restriction. However, adding alcohol to the mix can exacerbate the issue due to the build-up of uric acid. This excess uric acid is deposited in the joints as small crystals, causing inflammation and soreness.
The Toll Alcohol Takes On Your Liver
The liver is the largest organ in our bodies, weighing on average 3+ pounds. Its functions are critical to life. It is the metabolic crossroad of the body, and it serves as the primary site for alcohol metabolizing. As alcohol is broken down in the liver, there are by-products produced that can be toxic. Additionally, free radicals are produced when alcohol is processed in liver cells. And with continued, heavy alcohol consumption, low-level, chronic inflammation becomes an issue, which can lead to alcohol-induced liver damage such as fatty liver, hepatitis, and cirrhosis. Fortunately for its survival, given the abuse it may be subjected to, the liver is regenerative.
Beyond all that, alcohol consumption while on a ketosis diet, especially if your goal is weight loss, may be detrimental. In addition to adding calories to your diet, alcohol interferes with other normal metabolic processes, including fat burn. Alcohol contains fewer calories per gram than fat; however, alcohol is your body’s preferred fuel source and you must burn off those calories before you start burning calories from the food you eat or stored fat. Alcohol does not stop weight loss, it simply delays it. Not the ideal situation, more calories, less fat burn.
Other things for you to consider are:
- Incremental calories consumed
- Zero nutritional value
- The potential “craving connection”
- Inhibited fat burn
A Common-Sense Approach To Alcohol And Keto
An active social life and ketosis can seem to be nearly mutually exclusive, there are carbs everywhere in social settings! That said, being on keto doesn’t mean you need to live like a Trappist monk. Yes, alcohol will slow your fat burn, but there is evidence alcohol can deepen your state of ketosis. We believe in an informed, common-sense approach to the subject.
- Drink responsibly, from both a health and safety point of view. People on ketosis may experience a heightened reaction to alcohol, feeling the effects faster and deeper than usual.
- Make smart choices about your preferences for alcoholic beverages. Some low/no carb options are listed below.
- Understand the caloric and macronutrient implications and don’t forget to post alcoholic beverages in your fitness tracker.
Some Acceptable Options from the Bar
Unfortunately, many of the most popular forms of alcoholic beverages are the poorest choices when in ketosis. As an example, beer and most sweet wines are not great choices. It almost seems the stronger the alcohol the better, such as vodka and whiskey, which have no carbs or very low carbs. The following list will give you some reasonable options.
- Stronger alcohols like vodka, whiskey, scotch, and tequila
- Red wines such as Pinot Noir, Cabernet, and Merlot
- White wines like Chardonnay, Riesling, and sparkling white wines
- When beer is a must, think Lite beers: Ultra or Select varieties with lower carbs
As with any product you ingest on keto, read the labels, and opt for those items with the least carbs and reduced calories. One last thing to consider when drinking, particularly when someone else is preparing your beverage – a bartender, host, etc., is mix-ins and chasers. Even tonic water can contain up to 20 grams of carbohydrates per serving, not to mention the really sugary flavored mix-ins available.
Drinks to Avoid When in Keto
Much like foods, if it’s sweet and tastes great, it’s most likely off the “good list” due to sugar content. Here are some popular types of alcohol best avoided when attempting to lose weight while on keto:
- Flavored alcohols: think peach schnapps, Fireball whiskey, etc.
- Sweet wines such as dessert wines, port, sherry, sangria, and so on
- Beer: it’s best to avoid beer entirely during keto, but definitely avoid any full-flavored, full-calorie varieties
- Mixed cocktails with sweet mixers such as whiskey sours, mojitos, and frozen margaritas
Cocktails On Keto, In Conclusion
Consumer beware – that is, the person consuming alcohol while on keto. In addition to the incremental carbs and calories, the delayed fat burn, and potential damage to your liver, remember that while in ketosis, you may be more susceptible to the effects of alcohol. That includes the “craving connection” – meaning that extra urge for a double cheeseburger and fries at the end of the evening (don’t do it!).
Monitor. Monitor your response to alcohol. Not always easy to do in the moment, but many people report more severe hangovers while in keto. This will be a good indication you may have over-indulged. Also, monitor your body’s response to alcohol. Check your ketone levels after alcohol consumption to better understand its impact on your regimen. Then adjust as necessary, either change your beverage of choice or re-visit your decision to imbibe while on the keto diet.