Booze And The Bulge

August 17, 2010

We’ve all heard the benefits of red wine in moderation – yet most of us struggle with that term “moderation” when it comes to alcohol, sugar and starchy carbs.

Probably because those foods are more closely related than you would think.  The problem with moderation is that some people just can’t do it when it comes to certain starchy carbs, sugary treats and booze. If that’s you, and you know who you are, then limiting yourself to 1 or 2 glasses of wine just might not work.

For you the likelihood of over-consumption outweighs any health benefits. So know yourself and be honest with yourself. It’s not to say that you can’t learn moderation but don’t set yourself up to undo all the good you’ve done with your diet!

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What happens to your metabolism
when you drink?

The sad truth:

1) Fat burning at the cellular level comes to a halt. Alcohol can not be stored by the body, so when it’s ingested it takes priority to get metabolized. Thus every other calorie around (from fat, sugar, etc) gets put on hold. So although it doesn’t have any “carb” of its own it acts like a “supercarb” in the body shutting off fat metabolism and at the same time having about twice as many calories as other carbohydrates.

2) Because it temporarily “paralyzes” your liver by preventing its own sugar-making (called gluconeogensis) it can abruptly lower blood sugar. This effect is “indirect” as alcohol on its own does not affect blood sugar levels. However when this happens, especially if you drink on an empty stomach you end up ravenous.

Combine this ramped up hunger from low blood sugar and lowered inhibitions and you’ll quickly be reaching for the fried calamari, French fries or both. Think of all the breaded options in your typical cocktail party fare and you’ll see how you can be left to fight biochemical urges with mere willpower – and let’s face it you’re buzzed so you don’t really care!

3) It lowers growth hormone…and remember this: the more growth hormone you have, the leaner you are. Alcohol, because its metabolites are stimulants, can also really affect sleep. Lack of sleep also lowers growth hormone. Alcohol can also cause people to wake up in the night or first thing in the morning feeling “starved” and that’s why the next day we will really crave those simple carbs like cereal and pancakes and waffles oh my!

4) It lowers testosterone in both men and women, making it harder to be lean. Alcohol increases the conversion of testosterone to estrogen in our body fat (a process called aromatization). If you are overweight (man or woman) and/or you have any issues with your menstrual cycle, low sex drive, just to name a few – then you are at least relatively “estrogen dominant” and thus alcohol will be an even bigger issue for you.

And now for some better news!

Red wine in particular is an alcohol that has some great health benefits – but only if consumed in moderation. These benefits have been demonstrated in men more than in women (likely due to the estrogen issue mentioned above, studies have shown alcohol consumption tied to breast cancer).

The health benefit from red wine is due to a compound called “resveratrol” which is sort of a super antioxidant that is good for the heart. It reduces platelet aggregation or “stickiness”, inhibits oxidation of LDL – the bad cholesterol, and it’s anti-inflammatory.

Resveratrol is believed to be the most powerful anti-aging supplements you can take – so if you can master moderation and are at your goal weight then a few glasses of red wine per week can indeed be a good thing.

Wines that were grown in more stressful conditions contain more resveratrol. Pinot Noirs boast the highest concentration regardless of climate. Other grapes from cold, humid climates such as Cabernet Sauvignon and wines from the Bordeaux region of France or Canada are other good choices.

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Alcohol is low-carb or carb-free so is it a free-bie on your diet?

You’ve all heard me say this – all calories are not created equal, they count but where they come from counts more. So they are only part of the story, but they are an important part when it comes to alcohol. Red wine has about 2-3g of carbohydrate in a 4 oz glass. Gin, Rum, Vodka and Whiskey (ranging from 80-100proof) have no carbs and run between 64 and 82 calories per ounce.

Let’s be honest though, who really drinks just one ounce or one shot? Or just one 4 oz glass of wine?

So drinking even plain alcohols (i.e. no mixers, juices, added sugar, etc – which are definitely a diet no-no) or red wine can easily rack up the calories. Consider this: 2 vodka sodas with no added mixers at 2 shots each will get you somewhere around 350 extra calories just from the alcohol during your evening out.

Want some really bad news?

A beer per day adds just over 1000 calories per week, or 15 pounds per year.

3 glasses of dry red wine per week will cost you 318 extra calories per week. So take stock of how many nights per week you drink alcohol and if you are trying to lose weight – this is an obvious place to cut back!

Eat, Drink and Be Smart.

Now all that said -I live with you in the real world and most of raise a glass now and then.

When you are going to drink: make good choices.

  • Avoid mixed drinks in general. Juices, syrups, sugar, and mixers will really pack in the sugar calories and carbs. Here’s a few examples:
    *Cosmopolitan 179 calories
    *Manhattan 183 calories
    *Margarita 220-240 calories (4oz)
  • Opt for red wine as it clearly has the most health benefits
  • Beer also has some health benefits like the calming effects of hops and even a few B vitamins. However the carb and calorie content will wreak havoc on your diet. And if you are trying to avoid gluten – this one is typically a no go. The darker or the less filtered generally the higher the calories and carbs (i.e. Hefeweizens come in around 200 calories and 21g carbs)
  • Flavored Vodka in a variety of fruit flavors or vanilla, with or without club soda and a fruit garnish
  • Try a Vodka Gimlet made with fresh lime juice. Gimlets are typically made with Rose’s lime juice with which is loaded with high fructose corn syrup. So either get fresh lime juice ask them for half Rose’s and half fresh juice
  • Try a Bloody Mary. Only 115 calories, loaded with the antioxidant lycopene
  • Whiskey, Bourbon or Scotch on the rocks. Tough to drink quickly so it will slow up your drink ordering. Too strong? Cut it with water or club soda
  • Plain or Dirty Martini with Vodka or Gin. The olives contain great essential fatty acids to help metabolize the alcohol. And again this drink is a sipper, so you’ll likely lower the total drinks ordered for the evening
  • Dry Champagne. Unlike wine, there is some sugar in champagne (5-10g per glass). Dryer champagnes or Sparkling Wines will have less sugar

A Few Final Tips for Getting Tipsy

  1. If you are going to drink all evening, slow it to 1 drink per hour; follow each drink with a glass of water
  2. Order soda water with lime, orange, fresh mint, olives or cucumber for every other drink
  3. Take your vitamins – B vitamins in your multi, fish oils and antioxidants can protect against some of the damage induced by alcohol consumption

The next morning get in a long walk, drink some fresh filtered water with lemon (try 32 oz right before bed and upon waking). Nux Vomica 30c homeopathic remedy can be great for a hangover (5 pellets under tongue every 3-4 hours day after), pressing on Liver 3 – an acupuncture point between your big toe and second toe about 1 inch from the crease between toes will aid liver detoxification of alcohol. You’ll know it when you find it – it’s tender after a bender.

And if you are on a weight loss program remember that alcohol will count as your “cheat” for the week so eat good, lean protein and veggies with your hooch and skip carbs at this meal. If you really want to keep the scale moving add in an additional workout that week to keep your progress going. Cheers!!

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