Most of us imbibe an alcoholic beverage from time and time. Research is showing that unless we have a tendency towards abuse, a little (1 drink or less per day for women; two drinks or less for men) could be a good thing for our hearts (more than this is associated with certain cancers and other health problems). What’s the best way to handle alcohol when following a low-carb way of eating?
Alcohol vs Carbs
Although alcohol is sometimes lumped in with carbohydrates, our bodies treat alcohol and carbohydrate differently. From a pure calorie standpoint, a gram of alcohol provides the body with 7 calories per gram, whereas carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram. Moreover, the body uses the calories from alcohol first for energy, before carbohydrate or fat.
Some of the popular low-carb diets recommend not drinking alcoholic beverages, at least for the first phase of the diet. This is probably because alcohol can cause blood sugar to be erratic, depending upon the type, amount, and whether we have food in our stomachs.
(Tip: Don't drink on an empty stomach.)
Where Do the Carbs Come From?
Fermented beverages, by definition, start as a high-carb plant, usually grapes or a grain. During the fermentation process, the yeasts eat up the carbohydrates, producing alcohol. Whatever sugars are left contributes to the carbohydrate in the beverage, which will vary from one to another. A dry wine has little residual sugar, whereas a sweet wine can have quite a bit. Liqueurs have sugar added, often quite a lot.
Distilled spirits (vodka, rum, whiskey, etc.) have nothing left but the alcohol, so are zero carb. However, mixers are often sugary, so watch for this.
Just two ounces (1/4 cup) of “sweet and sour mix,” often used for whiskey sours, daiquiris and margaritas, has 17 grams of carbohydrate. As an alternative, you can ask for lemon or lime juice, and add your own sweetener.
Liqueurs such as Amaretto or Creme de Menthe almost always have sugar added, and sometimes a lot. Be sure to check the list below before drinking a liqueur.
Note: There is a great deal of variability with beers and wines, as many factors will contribute to the carbohydrate of the final product. The following are averages only.
Carb Counts – Beer – Per 12 Ounce Serving
Regular Beer: average is about 12 grams carb
Light Beer: check the label –- most are 3 to 7 grams
Ale: most are 5 to 9 grams
Stout: variable –- about 20 grams
Carb Counts – Wine – per 5 Ounce Serving
Dry Champagne: ~2.5 to 4.5 grams
Dry White (e.g. Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay): ~3 grams
”Off Dry” (e.g. Reisling, Chenin Blanc): ~5 to 6 grams
Dry Red (e.g. Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sav.) ~3.5 to 4 grams
Zinfindel: 4.2 grams
Dessert Wines: 12 to 14 grams
Sweet Late Harvest Wine: 20 grams
Carb Counts – Liqueurs – per jigger = 1.5 fl oz
Amaretto: 25 grams
Bailey’s Irish Cream: 11 grams
B & B Benedictine: 8 grams
Campari: 12 grams
Coffee Liqueur (e.g. Kahlua): up to 24 grams
Cointreau: 15 grams
Creme de Cacao: 22 grams
Creme de Cassis: 17 grams
Creme de Menthe: 21 grams
Grand Marnier: 10 grams
Kirsch: 9 grams
Ouzo: 16 grams
Sambuca: 17 grams
Triple Sec: 16 grams
By: Laura Dolson