Can You Drink Alcohol on a Low-Carb Diet?
Wine, beer and liquor don't have nutrition labels, but don't worry, we did the work for you. Whether you eat keto, have diabetes or just want to cut carbs, keep reading to learn the best drinks for a low-carb diet.
Whether you're just starting a low-carb diet or have been watching your carb intake for a while, it can be tricky to know how alcohol fits in. But, we're here to help answer your questions about drinking while watching your carbs. The short answer is yes, you can still have some alcohol on any diet. Read on to find out what type of alcohol is best, how many carbohydrates are in different drinks and how alcohol can fit if you are on a very low-carb diet, like the ketogenic diet, or have diabetes.
What is a low-carb diet?
A low-carb diet is any diet that is lower in carbohydrates than what is generally recommended (see our low-carb diet meal plans). The Dietary Guidelines recommend that 45-65% of calories come from carbohydrates. So any diet with less than 45% of calories from carbs is considered low-carb. This may include Atkins, the ketogenic diet or a diet designed for someone who has diabetes.
Can you drink alcohol if you're eating low-carb?
Yes. If you're just worried about carbs, you can definitely drink alcohol on a low-carb diet. Simply count the carbohydrates in the drinks into your daily carb count. Beer has more carbs than wine, 13 grams versus 3-5 grams in a typical serving of each (see our picks for 10 low-carb wines). Cocktails also can have a lot of carbohydrates due to sugary mixers like juice and simple syrup. But liquor is carb-free. Flavored liqueurs, like Grand Marnier or Irish cream, are sweetened and so they do contain extra sugars and carbohydrate. What can be frustrating about alcohol is that it doesn't have a nutrition label, so it can be a little harder to figure out how it fits into your diet.
Here's the number of calories and carbohydrates in various drinks and mixers:
How many calories are in alcohol?
Aside from carbs, there are other factors you might want to consider when choosing whether or not to imbibe. If weight loss is a goal, for example, your total calorie intake is important. Alcohol has 7 calories per gram compared to carbohydrates, which have just 4 calories per gram. Protein also has 4 calories per gram, while fat has 9 calories per gram.
Alcohol, chemically known as ethanol, is also technically a toxin. Your body wants to get rid of it as quickly as possible. This means it stops burning fat when metabolizing alcohol. If you're eating too much and also drinking, your body will store the excess calories from food as fat instead of burning them because it's busy trying to flush out the alcohol. This can halt weight-loss efforts. Learn more about what happens to your body when you drink alcohol.
Alcohol is also considered "empty" calories, meaning that it has a lot of calories but no nutrients like fiber, fat or protein. Eating too many calories can lead to weight gain, regardless of the number of carbs in a drink. Twelve ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, and one and a half ounces of liquor all have about 120 calories. Do you know how many ounces your standard drink has? If not, measure it out next time to see how much you normally consume.
Can you drink alcohol if you have diabetes or you're eating keto?
You can drink alcohol if eating keto—as long as the drink(s) fit within your carb range. Only 5-10% of calories from carbs are allowed on the ketogenic diet. This might be hard to do regularly since there are so few carbs you can consume in a day and fruits and vegetables have carbs too. But if you want to drink, choose liquor—either neat, on the rocks or with a low- or no-calorie mixer, like club soda. Or opt for wine, which has only 3-5 grams of carbohydrates in a 5-ounce pour (just make sure you know what 5 ounces looks like!).
Alcohol can fit into your diet if you have diabetes—just keep your doctors in the loop (learn more about alcohol and diabetes). Count the carbohydrates in your daily carb count and monitor your blood sugar. Alcohol can cause blood sugar to rise after drinking, especially if drinking sugary cocktails or sweet wine. Limit these types of drinks for better blood sugar control.
Drinking can also cause blood sugar to drop up to 12 hours afterward. If drinking at night, check your blood sugar levels before going to bed and eat a snack if levels are too low. Also eat a meal or snack that has carbohydrates while drinking for the best blood sugar control. Alcohol can count as one to two fat exchanges, but you shouldn't replace meals or snacks with booze.
Alcohol can also raise blood pressure and possibly triglyceride levels over time. If you're on blood pressure medication, alcohol could interfere with the medicine's ability to work best.
Keep an open dialogue with your doctors about your alcohol consumption. A good rule of thumb is the recommendation for women to drink no more than one drink per day and men no more than two drinks per day (one drink is 12 oz. of beer, 5 oz. of wine or 1.5 oz. of liquor).
You can drink alcohol on a low-carb diet. But you do need to factor the number of carbs into your daily carb count. Liquor and wine are the lowest in carbs, while beer and cocktails are the highest. Measure out your drink of choice so you know how many ounces you normally consume. Steer clear of sugary mixers like juice and simple syrup, which can have 10-20 grams or more of sugar per serving. Try club soda, diet tonic, lemon or lime juice instead for some flavor sans carbs.