Friday night again. The end of another long working week. Time to head out with friends and let your hair down. Or is it? Are you acutely aware of undermining an entire weeks weight loss efforts with a single night on the ‘sauce’? After all, drinking alcohol is a sure fire way to increase the size of one’s waistline right?
Do you really have to choose between going out with friends and your ability to lose stubborn belly fat? Or are there specific alcoholic beverages that will support weight loss endeavours?
There’s widespread opinion alcohol is a key contributor to weight gain. Many middle aged men talk almost endearingly about their ‘beer belly’. Visual evidence at countless local bars seems to support the theory a beer belly is well earned. But are beers, or similar alcoholic choices, really responsible for an unsatisfactory midline?
Alcohol is calorie dense
It’s true alcohol is calorie dense. For every gram of alcohol you ingest seven calories. Of the three macronutrients; carbohydrates, protein and fat - only fat delivers more calories per gram (nine). Your beverage, sliding ever so easily down your throat, could be negatively impacting your energy balance.
How many calories are you consuming then? If a Heineken Lager is your liquor of choice, a regular bottle will deliver about 148 calories to your body. Fancy a red wine instead? A 5 ounce glass includes roughly 100-120 calories. Why roughly? Well a study published in Substance Use and Misuse, determined we tend to overpour our wine glasses by about 12%!
Ok, there are a few extra calories in a glass. But 100 odd doesn't sound too harmful does it? Possibly not. I suppose that depends on how many glasses you intend on consuming.
Do you typically down a glass of wine with dinner every night? You’re in good company. Apparently the top 30% of American alcohol drinkers put back one glass an evening. Two glasses and you break into the top 20%. But if you’ve aspirations of joining the top echelon (hopefully you don’t) think again. The top 10% of American drinkers, 24 million adults aged 18+, consume on average 74 alcoholic drinks per week. Wow.
I've digressed slightly… back on track now. Do you need to avoid alcohol altogether to Lose stubborn belly fat like the 30% who claim to refrain from drinking alcohol altogether? Probably not.
Yes, some studies have linked alcohol consumption to weight gain or obesity. A 2005 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology identified as alcohol consumption increased from one to four drinks per day, so did body mass index (a measure of body fat based on your weight in relation to your height). A total of 45,896 drinkers were surveyed, so the results are courtesy of a pretty comprehensive sample size.
Perhaps more worryingly than the alcohol calories is a revelation in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Researchers reported an inverse relationship between alcohol consumption and diet quality. As alcohol consumption went up… diet quality worsened. Individuals tended to consume less fruit, and more food with high sugar content and unhealthy fats.
On the flip side, some scientists have demonstrated a decrease in weight with moderate alcohol consumption. Although the word ‘moderate’ should probably be kept top of mind.
A 1994 study listed in the American Journal of Epidemiology followed more than 7,000 people for 10 years. It found moderate drinkers gained less weight than non drinkers. Another 8 year investigation, published in the 2004 Journal Obesity Research compared alcohol Intake and 8-Year weight gain in women. The results also supported the theory moderate drinking may be beneficial. Light and moderate drinkers were less likely to gain weight than abstainers. Heavy drinkers, on the other hand, were more inclined to pile on pounds around their waistline.
So, the relationship between alcohol and weight appears unresolved. Before I quickly touch on the type of beverage you might want to reach for during a night out (or night in)… let’s briefly explore the popular theory alcohol leads to weight gain.
Alcohol leads to increased calorie intake
There are calories in alcohol. We’ve established that. So it stands to reason that drinking a bunch of extra calories on top of your normal dietary intake is going to negatively impact your calorie balance - potentially leading to weight gain. 61% of extra calories come from the the alcohol itself.
Some individuals try to compensate alcohol calories by skipping meals. Perhaps more concerning, others skip food to increase the alcohol effects, minimising the expense of a night out. If you’re skipping meals to minimise calorie consumption - you might want to think again.
Numerous alcoholic beverages are high in simple carbohydrates. A strong insulin response, blood sugar spike and subsequent crash ensues. At this point you’ll probably be starving… seeking the quickest way to overcome a ravenous hunger. I hear the kebab shop calling your name already.
Alcohol enhances appetite
Alcohol has been demonstrated to enhance appetite. In fact one study, published in the reputable American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, determined an additional 433 calories were consumed by men on the days they drank a moderate amount of alcohol. That’s more than a quarter pounder at McDonalds delivers.
It’s probably no surprise to anyone that alcohol reduces inhibitions. But this trait also affects your eating. Alcohol has the impact of temporarily impairing the prefrontal cortex, a part of your brain that manages impulse control. Impairing this function with alcohol has been reported to deliver diets with higher amounts of saturated fats and meat, and lower fruit intake.
Alcohol will dehydrate you
Do you regularly wake up in the morning with a throbbing hangover and dry sticky mouth? You might think you’ve been punished sufficiently already for your night’s indiscretions; But after over indulging on the diuretic that is alcohol you’re also suffering from dehydration. This can exaggerate your hunger even further. Something, it seems, only a big greasy breakfast can cure.
Pauses your metabolism
Ok, this is the final point I want to make on alcohol consumption. I don't want to put you off it altogether! There’s nothing wrong with the odd tipple now and then. But bear in mind alcohol does impact your metabolism. When you consume alcohol your metabolic system prioritises removing this toxin from your body.
Other metabolic processes, such as burning off calories from a previous meal, are put on hold as the body removes unwanted alcohol. Many believe food intake around this time is more likely to end up as fat.
Ok, we’ve covered the theory of alcohol and weight gain. As I mentioned at best the impact of alcohol is inconclusive. Moderate drinking might be okay or could even assist you to lose belly fat… increasing evidence suggests heavy drinking runs foul of weight loss efforts..
The key thing when balancing alcohol consumption with weight loss is to be wise about which beverages you choose and the quantity you consume.
Let’s consider the type of drinks you might want to indulge in to keep on top of your weight loss efforts.
Two Glasses Of Red Wine
If you are a wine drinker this probably sounds too good to be true! How could this be? Scientists speculate that a polyphenol called resveratrol in red wine transforms fat from white fat into brown fat. So what, it’s still fat right? Well apparently brown fat can be burned off more easily than white fat. In fact one study demonstrated two glasses of wine rendered subjects 70% less likely to be overweight.
Great, glass of wine for me then. But do I need to drink it in the evening? Possibly. We talked previously about the effect of alcohol on increasing appetite. Well one study has associated resveratrol with a suppression of appetite and cravings… meaning it could potentially stop lack night snacking habits and help lose stubborn belly fat.
Not a red wine fan? You’re in luck. Blueberries, strawberries and grapes are all a fantastic source of resveratrol. If you don’t wish to indulge in the wine… make sure you add some of these to your diet.
Does it have to be red wine? White wine is made from the pulp of the grape not the skin and therefore contains no resveratrol. However if you are, on the other hand, purely looking at calorie consumption, white wine typically contains fewer carbohydrates than red. This could make a (small) difference in terms of calorie consumption.
Drink beer and lose the beer belly
Really? There has been a bit of discussion recently about xanthohumol, a flavonoid found in hops and beer. A bunch of media outlets have suggested the substance can help you to lose weight or lower cholesterol levels. Where did they get that from?
A study completed at Oregon State University is responsible. Scientists took 48 male mice, placed them on high fat diets and administered 30-60 milligrams of xanthohumol per kg of bodyweight.
Yes, results seemed to support the idea consumption of this substance can assist weight loss. The mice with the largest dose cut cholesterol levels and gained 22% less weight, despite an identical calorie intake. That seems promising.
However, despite a decent amount of speculation that this could translate to humans and their beer consumption… on further investigation it became clear the volume of beer a man or woman would need to consume to achieve the same level of xanthohumol makes this impossible. In case you were wondering - it would be over 3000 pints of beer!
Perhaps the best approach if you're a beer drinker is to opt for light beer. They typically pack fewer calories and carbohydrates and despite many including a lower alcohol component - a higher proportion of calories come from alcohol. Beck's Premier Light for example contains only 63 calories and Heineken Light 99 calories.
Just make sure if you are reaching for a light beer option you don’t overdo the quantity… otherwise the desired benefit may be short lived.
Straight liquor for lower calories
If consuming the highest alcohol intake with the lowest calorie count is your objective, then you can’t look past straight liquor - on the rocks. For instance… a standard pub shot of whiskey has just 72 calories.
What sort of liquor should you choose? It pays to remember the sweeter it tastes the higher likelihood it contains more calories. Steer clear of the flavoured variety and opt for an original or plain option.
What is your drink of choice on a night out? How does it fit in with your weight loss efforts?