If you're a social drinker or big wine connoisseur, you're probably eager to learn if booze can fit into your keto lifestyle. After all, the last time you checked keto macros, you noticed that alcohol was not included on the list. So is alcohol keto approved or not?
You see, the issue of ketosis and alcohol is a complex one that we can't answer with a simple yes or now. But for simplicity's sake, let's just say that an occasional drink or two on a keto diet won't make a big difference on keto. Habitual drinking, however, can cause trouble not because all alcoholic drinks have carbs, but because alcohol negatively affects your metabolism.
In this article, we go into more detail on ketosis and alcohol. You'll learn how alcohol affects ketosis, how ketosis affects alcohol metabolism, and how all of that shows on your keto results. We'll also give you a list of approved and forbidden drinks for your ketogenic diet plan.
How Your Body Processes Alcohol
Alcohol, also called ethanol, is a byproduct of carbohydrate fermentation by yeast. This process happens when fruit rots and when people brew beer. Alcohol is highly toxic, so your body always tries to get rid of it right away. However, the human body is also able to metabolize it, i.e. turn it into energy.
The ability to metabolize alcohol is an evolutionary adaptation that humans and other animals developed millions of years ago. According to evolutionary research, this ability allowed our ancestors to eat rotting fruit off forest floors without becoming poisoned . Later on, we leveraged on this ability to enjoy booze.
Your liver metabolizes alcohol with the help of two enzymes: dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). ADH converts alcohol to acetaldehyde, a toxic substance and known carcinogen. ALDH then converts acetaldehyde into a less harmful compound called acetate. Your body then decides to remove acetate or converted it to acetyl-CoA for energy production .
However, your body can only metabolize a limited amount of alcohol at a time. Drink too much and alcohol molecules react with fatty acids to form compounds called fatty acid ethyl esters. These damage the liver and pancreas. Your body struggling to eliminate alcohol also allows for more of it to circulate your blood, cross the blood-brain barrier, and cause that feeling of drunkenness.
Ketosis and Alcohol - Do They Mix?
Because your body sees alcohol as a threat, its priority is to remove it every time you drink . That means that eliminating alcohol takes precedence over all other processes, including carb metabolism, fat oxidation, and protein synthesis. But what about ketosis and alcohol?
Well, alcohol actually boosts ketone production. We kid you not. Alcohol inhibits the formation of glycogen. This then leads to alcoholic hypoglycemia and subsequent ketosis to help meet your body's energy needs . However, this happens only with heavy and frequent drinkers. Note that we definitely don't recommend bingeing as a way to reach ketosis.
The problem with ketosis and alcohol has nothing to do ketone production. Instead, it has to do with the slowing down of processes that make reaching keto goals difficult. Remember, your goals are what matters on a keto diet. Anything that gets in the way of these goals poses a problem. Here's how exactly alcohol can cause problems with ketosis:
- Impaired Metabolism: Alcohol inhibits fat oxidation and protein synthesis, both of which lead to weight gain. It also depletes and prevents glycogen from forming, which although increases ketone levels, leads to overeating and low energy.
- Extra Calories: Alcohol contains lots of calories, 7 per gram to be exact. Luckily, your body is not adapted at using all the calories from alcohol. Still, any extra calories combined with an impaired metabolism won't exactly help on a keto diet.
- Tolerance: Getting tipsy after half a glass of wine is nothing unusual when you're on a keto diet. Alcohol tolerance plummets on a keto diet mainly because your glycogen stores are low in ketosis, so alcohol gets absorbed at a quicker rate.
- Overeating:Alcohol lowers your inhibitions. On keto, that lack of inhibitions will likely be directed at carbs; besides drunk texting your ex, you'll may start thinking that a bagel isn't such a bad thing. This problem is made worse by the appetite-increasing effects of alcohol intoxication.
- Hidden Sugars: Some alcoholic beverages also have lots of sugar in them. Think beer, liqueurs, and cocktails. That's why you need to be careful with your choice of beverage on keto, that is if you still choose to drink.
All of the above things can have a negative impact on your keto diet. This is especially true if weight loss is your goal. But the negative effects of alcohol also impair many other areas of health and functioning such as energy levels, mental acuity, and workout performance. Moderation is key to combating this as is the choice of beverage. We talk more about that in the lines below.
Defining Moderate Consumption
According to current dietary guidelines, moderate alcohol consumption is defined as having 1 drink a day for women and 2 drinks a day for men . To clarify further, one alcoholic drink contains 14 g of pure alcohol. So, what defines one drink will vary depending on the alcohol content of a beverage. Here's how that looks in practice:
- 1.5 ounces of whiskey
- 5 ounces of red wine
- 12 ounces of regular beer
All of the above constitute one serving or unit of alcohol. The higher the alcohol content of a drink, the smaller the serving. That's because your body can only tolerate so much alcohol. But you probably already knew that.
You're also wondering why women are advised to drink less than men. This has partially to do with size: the larger you are, the more alcohol your body can tolerate. Another reason is that women have less of the ADH enzyme making it harder for them to metabolize alcohol. When you have trouble metabolizing alcohol, more of it circulates your system, causing greater intoxication at less volume of alcohol.
A large number of studies show that moderate alcohol intake is completely safe in most cases . However, some studies don't agree and show that even moderate alcohol intake negatively affects the brain . You've probably noticed that all dietary guidelines and health experts do not include alcohol on the list of necessary nutrients. Alcohol is instead something that should be an occasional indulgence as it provides no nutritional or health value.
While ketosis and alcohol don't mix well, there are drinks you are allowed on a keto diet. These drinks tend to be low in carbs making them keto approved. Examples include:
- Hard Liquor– Hard Liquor includes drinks like vodka, tequila, gin, rum, and whisky. These drinks are distilled to boost their alcohol content per fluid ounce. This higher alcohol content, which is usually above 35%, is what makes them "hard." Almost all hard liquor has zero carbs making them suitable for keto.
- Dry Wine – All wine is made through the fermentation of grape sugars. Dry wine is a type of wine in which all of the grape sugar is converted to alcohol during fermentation. In contrast, sweet wine has some unfermented residual sugar. Good examples of dry wine include Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, and Champagne.
- Low-Carb Beer – Not all beers are created equal. Some beers contain over 15 grams of carbs per serving, while others have less than 3 grams per serving – that's a huge difference when your goal is ketosis. Examples of low-carb beers you can enjoy on keto include Busch Light, Michelob Ultra, and Budweiser Select.
As a general rule – the sweeter the beverage, the more carbs it has and the worse it is for ketosis. However, some not-so-sweet alcoholic drinks also contain carbs hidden behind bitter and tart flavor. Dark beer is a good example of a high-carb, bitter-tasting drink. With all this in mind, booze to avoid on keto include:
- Port and Sweet Wines – These are also known as dessert wines and are much sweeter than dry wines due to their higher sugar content. They often contain over 13g carbs in one serving, so they don't exactly fit into the ketogenic diet.
- Cider – Cider is a drink made by fermenting apples. Cider typically has around 6 grams of carbohydrates in one serving (1/2 pint).
- Ales – Ales are a type of beer made with a special fermentation method that results in a fruity tasting beer. This taste is a dead giveaway that you're dealing with a carby drink.
- Liqueurs– Don't confused these with flavored liquors. The latter contain a meager amount of sugar. Liqueurs, on the other hand, are loaded in sugars and sweeteners like corn syrup. Chartreuse, Baileys Irish Cream, and Grand Marnier are notable examples. Although they're tasty, they're definitely not keto-friendly.
- Cocktails– You'll have to pass on margaritas on a keto diet as these and other cocktails contain lots of sugars. There are ways you can make sugar-free cocktails, though. Using diet soda, sugar-free flavorings, and non-nutritive sweeteners can make for some great keto-approved cocktails.
Make sure to add these to your not allowed list of alcoholic beverages and you won't have to worry about being kicked out of ketosis.
Ketosis and alcohol may not be the best pairing, but there's really no reason to avoid alcohol completely. Alcohol alone will not kick you out of ketosis. Sugars in alcohol beverages, on the other hand, definitely will.
The rule of moderation when it comes to drinking also applies to keto. That's because alcohol is both a tonic and a poison, the difference lying in the amount you take in. Too much of it wreaks havoc on your body, and in the long run leads to major health problems. Your goal on keto is to boost your health, so excess drinking is obviously a no-go.
Besides that, when you're on a keto diet, your goal is to make your body busy burning fat, not eliminating alcohol. Make this job easier on your system and always drink in moderation. We suggest one drink a day or even less. Socializing and celebrations are not the same without glasses clinking, so go ahead and enjoy your occasional glass while in ketosis.