There’s no secret that alcohol has an impact on us when consumed. But how does alcohol affect a diet specifically? Alcohol is the only substance you can get calories from besides the standard macronutrients of protein, carbs, and fats. For example, a one-ounce shot of vodka has nearly 64 calories. In addition to calories, significant consumption of alcohol starts to impact us in ways we don’t really understand. It can have a significant effect on our diet and our overall health. In this article, we are going to go over many different ways alcohol impacts our diet.
I’m not stating that you should never drink alcohol. After all, alcohol in light or moderate amounts can be beneficial to some people. It can help people decompress, celebrate, or according to some studies possibly reduce risks of heart disease. However, this article also does not advocate for drinking alcohol if you are a non-drinker. The potential benefits of alcohol are relatively small and may not apply to all individuals. For many people, the possible benefits don’t outweigh the negative aspects.
What I am saying though, is that when we drink alcohol, it does have an impact on our diets. People should understand and consider this impact. Heavy use can also have significant harmful health effects. Reducing alcohol consumption to a light or moderate amount is beneficial. I myself drink alcohol – but given my recent diet and fitness goals, I try to limit it.
Calories and Macros
As we have mentioned, alcohol is the only thing you can get calories from besides macronutrients. This is not just beer that contains calories. Even alcohols such as vodka, rum, or whiskey contain calories.
But first, What are Macronutrients?
Simply put, macronutrients are carbs, proteins, and fats. They are a major staple of your diet and are where we get energy from. We often base diet plans off of macronutrient breakdowns. We measure the impact of differences between the consumption of 3 macros that make up macronutrients on our body. The term “macro’s” simply refers to carbs, proteins, and fats. Each macro has its own energy count. In other words, one gram of carbohydrates comes with a certain amount of calories (4 cal). The same goes for protein (4 cal) and fat (9 cal).
Macronutrients are important because they are how we get our energy. Maintaining a balanced diet means eating foods with different varieties of macronutrients. Where each macro is different is defined by the unique properties in each macro, namely, carbs, proteins, and fats. Each macro serves a separate purpose in our body and supports a wide variety of bodily functions.
Calories in Alcohol
Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram which is higher than both carbs (4 calories per gram) and protein (4 calories per gram). So the amount of calories in alcohol is actually relatively high. It’s not often thought of as a high-calorie substance, but it certainly can be. The high amount of calories in beer, is actually why there are so many light beers. The ‘light’ in light beer refers to reduced calories and a relatively low body rather than a light color. The same goes for “lite” in “lite beer”.
Alcohol Impact on Caloric Intake
Different alcoholic beverages will naturally give you calories just from the alcohol itself. If you are drinking mixed drinks, those also have a lot of extra calories from the mixers. These mixers often contain a lot of sugar and are nutritionally deficient themselves. As we have mentioned before, one ounce of vodka gives you almost 70 calories. For a single Vodka Sprite that would add up to almost 200 calories. 1.5 oz of vodka plus 8 oz of Sprite really adds up.
200 calories multiple times a night and multiple times per week can add up. The problem is that besides the calories you get, alcohol alone doesn’t offer you any nutritional value. Those calories could much better be spent on some muscle-building protein, energy-rich complex carbs, or vitamin-rich vegetables and fruits.
The Potential for Malnutrition
Potential malnutrition can be one of the most serious effects when considering “how does alcohol affect a diet?” When alcohol is consumed in large amounts, you do put yourself at risk for malnutrition. The reason is that your body detects that its caloric needs have been met. It then communicates that to your body with endorphins. Because of this, your appetite decreases. This is dangerous because alcohol doesn’t provide any macro or micronutrients your body needs. This becomes important if you are trying to stick to a specific diet. The effects of alcohol may make it more difficult to maintain that diet.
According to research done by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, those who drink an alcoholic beverage while eating tended towards meals higher in fat. This research found that alcohol can cause people to stray towards certain high-fat food groups. These high-fat food groups weren’t eaten as often by those not drinking.
Besides this, alcohol, when consumed in larger quantities typically can cause people to lower their inhibitions and eat unhealthy foods anyway.
Other Potential Health Related Issues
We have outlined the answer to “how does alcohol affect a diet”? In addition to that, most people know that heavy alcohol use can have serious health consequences. Heavy use can affect the brain in negative ways including issues like Korsakoff’s syndrome, which impedes a person’s ability to learn new information or remember recent events. Excessive alcohol drinking has also been seen to increase the risk of certain cancers. Specifically, breast cancer and cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and liver saw increased risks.
So to summarize the answer to how does alcohol affect a diet?: Alcohol is high in calories. Specifically empty calories that provide nothing like micronutrients nor beneficial macronutrients. Cutting back on consuming alcoholic beverages may help you reduce your overall calorie intake. You can then replace those calories with sources that are more nutritionally wholesome. An occasional drink or two is okay. Beyond that, though, is where alcohol may start to impact your diet and nutrition negatively.
If you are struggling with your diet, there are plenty of personal trainers that can help you through nutrition consulting. Not only will they help you find a diet that you love. They will also help you better understand nutrition and how to tailor your diet to better fit your needs.