Whether at a restaurant with dinner, a special event or occasion, or at a resort sitting poolside, sometimes it’s nice to enjoy an alcoholic beverage, or three.
But if you’re dieting, you may wonder whether that beverage — or those beverages — is the best choice for your weight loss goal.
This article explains how alcohol affects fat loss and why some alcoholic drinks are better than others for dieting.
How alcohol can negatively affect fat loss
Alcohol can negatively affect fat loss because it can supply excess calories, increase hunger, and decrease time spent in deep sleep.
Alcohol contains calories
As a source of calories, consuming too much alcohol can make it difficult to maintain a calorie deficit, which is necessary for weight loss.
Alcohol supplies 7 calories per gram — nearly double the calories of protein and carbs.
Depending on the drink, the calories can range from about 100 calories in a drink of whiskey to upwards of 500 calories in a pina colada (1).
What’s more, the calories that alcohol provides are considered empty, meaning they have little to no nutritional value.
Alcohol can increase hunger
Alcohol has minimal effect on appetite in moderate amounts, but it can increase hunger in large amounts.
This is because alcohol shifts metabolism in a way that prevents your brain from effectively using glucose as fuel, causing intense feelings of hunger (2).
The appetite-increasing effect of drinking alcohol in moderation doesn’t seem to occur in everyone, but it is something to be mindful of.
Alcohol can decrease sleep quality
Consequently, even though you may have slept the recommended 7–9 hours, you’ll still feel tired the next day, which is bad for weight loss.
Best alcohol for dieting
Most popular diets typically restrict alcohol due to the negative effects it can have on fat loss.
But there’s no reason you can’t lose fat and still enjoy an alcoholic beverage on occasion or even several times per week with dinner (9).
However, based on calories and sugar, some alcoholic beverages are better than others for dieting.
The best alcohol for dieting is any distilled spirit like whiskey, tequila, rum, gin, and vodka, either alone or with a calorie-free mixer.
By themselves, distilled spirits that are 40% alcohol by volume (ABV) average 97 calories and contain no carbs per 1.5 fl oz serving (1).
The next best alcohol for dieting is light beer, which contains around 100 calories and 6 grams of carbs per 12 fl oz bottle or can, followed by wine — either red or white, but not dessert — which contains around 125 calories and 4 grams of carbs per 5 fl oz serving.
Poor alcoholic beverages for dieting include craft and regular beers and drinks rich in sugar like martinis, margaritas, pina coladas, and dessert wines.
Keep portion sizes and drinking frequency in mind
Portion sizes are just as important for alcohol as they are with food.
A low-calorie drink like whiskey can turn into a high-calorie drink if you consume too much and vice versa.
That said, aim to stick with the serving size of one standard drink.
One standard drink provides 15 grams of alcohol, which is found in:
- 12 fl oz of beer
- 5 fl oz of wine
- 1.5 fl oz of distilled spirits
Be especially cautious at restaurants or bars as they may serve more than a standard drink.
Along with portion size, the frequency in which you drink also matters.
A drink every now and again will likely not affect fat loss, but drinking daily can provide several hundred extra calories.
Depending on the size of your calorie deficit, drinking daily could completely erase your calorie deficit resulting in no fat loss or it could decrease the deficit, resulting in slowed fat loss.
A calorie deficit occurs when you eat fewer calories than you need to support normal bodily functions and physical activity.
For example, if you need 2,000 calories and your diet consists of 1,500 calories, your daily calorie deficit is 500 calories.
Based on this example, if you don’t account for the glass of wine you drink daily with dinner that contains 130 calories, your calorie deficit decreases to 370 calories.
Therefore, if you choose to drink more frequently, remember to account for that drink in your daily calorie goal.
The bottom line
Drinking alcohol in excess can negatively affect fat loss by supplying excess calories, increasing hunger, and decreasing sleep quality.
However, although alcohol isn’t necessarily conducive to weight loss, drinking moderate amounts will unlikely have a significant impact on fat loss.
The best alcohol for dieting is any distilled spirits like whiskey followed by light beer and wine.
Remember to keep portion size and drinking frequency in mind to avoid weight loss plateaus or even weight gain.