When you start a diet, one of the first things you are usually told to give up, is alcohol. Yet alcohol is a mysterious beverage – many people who drink heavily, for instance, are not overweight, which makes little sense considering that alcohol is loaded with what nutritionists call ‘empty calories’. At face value, alcohol contains around 7 calories per gram, which is pretty close to fat, which contains 9 calories per gram; for nutritionists, alcohol often ‘counts’ as fat in the diet of persons battling diabetes. Proteins and carbohydrates, meanwhile, have 4 calories per gram. Why, then, do those with an addiction to alcohol not necessarily pack on the pounds?
The mystery deepens further. A recent study published in July, 2015 in prestigious journal Obesity, aimed to learn more about how alcohol affects food intake. A group of 35 women were intravenously administered alcohol before eating a meal and on another study visit, they were given a placebo saline injection. The researchers measure the women’s responses to food and food aromas before eating using brain imaging scans. They found that when women received the IV alcohol, they ate more food at lunch, than they did when they were given the saline solution. Their response to food aromas was enhanced by alcohol.
To return to the question regarding why people with alcohol use disorders are not necessarily overweight, let’s consider that the calorie content in a 750ml bottle of hard liquor such as whiskey, gin or vodka is around 1,650 calories. If a person consumed that amount of liquor plus around 1,650 calories from food, that would add up to over 3,000 calories, which should cause weight gain. Yet in very heavy drinkers, the opposite can occur – according to Susan Smith, Ph.D., Professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, “When talking about ‘alcoholics’, not social drinkers, alcohol typically doesn’t promote an insulin response. This means that for very heavy drinkers, alcohol calories are less likely to be processed for cellular energy.” Very heavy alcohol consumption can also stop the body from obtaining energy from food because alcohol reduces the function of mitochondria (the energy generators of cells).
If you are considering drinking heavily to lose weight, though, think again; alcohol damages the liver, brain and other organs. Stick to a Mediterranean diet and stay active, always taking a common-sense approach to weight loss.