If you think that you don’t need to alter your drinking habits while on the journey to lose weight, then think again. If you’re trying to lose weight, your alcohol use is important to think about. If you want to lose weight, you might need to cut out alcohol altogether to get the best results. You may be able to eventually reintroduce alcohol in moderation once you’ve reached your goal weight, but if you continue to drink, shedding pounds is likely going to be more difficult. So why is alcohol bad for weight loss, how does it affect the body and what are some ways to drink in a healthy way?

TC 46 connected with Nutritionist Minal Shah from Fortis Hospital, Mumbai to better understand the relationship between alcohol and weight. Here, she shares the nutritional value of alcohol, the effects of regular consumption of alcohol on the body and some healthier alcoholic drinks options.

1. What are the benefits of various alcohols and what nutritional value do they hold?

Alcohol or alcoholic drink is a drink that contains ethanol, a type of alcohol that is produced by fermentation of grains, fruits or other sources of sugar. Nutrition is defined by three macronutrients – Carbohydrates, Protein and Fats, that are used for energy after being broken down into simpler products. Although alcohol is an energy source, the way the body processes and uses the energy from alcohol is more complex than simple calorie conversion. Chronic drinking triggers an inefficient system of alcohol metabolism, the microsomal ethanol-oxidizing system (MEOS). Consequently, most energy from MEOS-driven alcohol metabolism is lost as heat rather than used to supply the body with energy.   Therefore, alcohol is considered empty calories without much evident health benefits.

2. What are the adverse effects of gradual consumption of alcohol on a woman’s health?

Studies show that women start to have alcohol-related problems sooner and at lower drinking levels, than men and for multiple reasons. On average, women weigh less than men. Even if they weigh as much as men, the body composition are different. Also, alcohol resides predominantly in body water, women have less water in their bodies than men. This means that after a woman and a man of the same weight drink the same amount of alcohol, the woman’s Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC-the amount of alcohol in the blood) will tend to be higher, putting her at greater risk for harm. Other biological differences may contribute as well. It’s possible that some alcohol is broken down in the stomach before it reaches the bloodstream; this may happen less in women if they drink a lot of alcohol

3. How does alcohol affect your weight? How does alcohol contribute to unhealthy weight gain?

The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) Australia conducted a systematic review of alcohol and obesity. and found that it is unclear whether alcohol consumption is a risk factor for weight gain. There is a positive association between alcohol and body weight, which is more likely to be found in men than in women. 

When alcohol is consumed, it’s burned first as a fuel source before your body uses anything else. This includes glucose from carbohydrates or lipids from fats. When your body is using alcohol as a primary source of energy, the excess glucose and lipids end up, unfortunately for us, like adipose tissue, or fat. When considering alcohol, there is a positive association, it is more likely to cause abdominal obesity (fat around the stomach) than for general obesity for men and women. So yes, it’s possible to gain weight from alcohol, but it’s not inevitable.

Alcohol can cause stress on the stomach and the intestines. This leads to decreased digestive secretions and the movement of food through the tract. Alcohol intake of all levels can lead to impaired digestion and absorption of these nutrients. This can greatly affect the metabolism of organs that play a role in weight management. Heavy episodic drinking is associated with a 41% higher risk of transitioning from normal weight to overweight, a 36% higher risk of transitioning from overweight to obese, and a 35% higher risk of maintaining obesity, compared to those who aren’t heavy drinkers.

4. What are the risk factors involved in the regular consumption of alcohol for women with various health conditions?

Brain Damage: Alcohol kills brain cells and women are more susceptible to this alcohol effect than men. Women also may be more susceptible than men to alcohol-related blackouts, which are gaps in a person’s memory for events that occurred while they were intoxicated. Similarly, teenage girls who drank heavily showed a greater reduction in the size of important brain areas involved in memory and decision-making, than teenage boys who engaged in heavy drinking.

Pregnancy: Alcohol can affect a woman’s ability to get pregnant. In addition, alcohol use during pregnancy can have serious harmful consequences on the unborn child. Prenatal alcohol exposure can cause physical, cognitive, and behavioral problems in children, any of which can be components of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). No amount of alcohol consumption is safe during pregnancy. Alcohol can also disrupt a woman’s menstrual cycle. Studies have shown that even drinking small amounts can reduce the chances of conceiving.

Liver: Excessive alcohol leads to liver scarring or cirrhosis of the liver. Excess alcohol leads to alcohol-triggered Fatty Liver Disease. 

Appearance: Tired eyes. Alcohol interferes with the normal sleep process so you often wake up feeling – and looking – like you haven’t had much rest. Alcohol dehydrates your body too, including the skin. It’s also thought to deprive the skin of certain vital vitamins and nutrients.

Cancer: Women who drink alcohol may be at increased risk of Breast Cancer and head & neck Cancers. Up to the age of 75 years, drinking alcohol also increases your risk of several other types of Cancer, including Liver, Bowel, mouth, Esophageal Cancer (gullet) and Laryngeal Cancer (voice box). So a woman who is pregnant, or who has a personal or family history of Breast Cancer, Liver disease, or alcohol abuse, should generally avoid alcohol. For others, one drink a day is generally healthy.

Did You Know?

One recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that consuming as few as three to six alcoholic drinks a week may be linked to a 15% increased risk of Breast Cancer. Studies demonstrate that women who consume about 1 drink per day have a 5 to 9% higher chance of developing Breast Cancer than women who do not drink at all. Oxford University’s Million Women Study of 1.3 million women estimated that each additional alcoholic drink, regularly consumed per day, was associated with 11 additional Breast Cancers per 1000 women, in developed countries.

5. What are the other health benefits of quitting drinking?

  • You might think that a regular glass of red wine or other alcoholic beverages might be good for your heart. But that may not be true, or true only for light sippers (less than one drink a day). If you use more than that, cutting back or quitting may lower your blood pressure, levels of a fat called triglycerides, and chances of heart failure
  • The liver’s job is to filter toxins and alcohol is toxic to your cells. In absence of alcohol, the liver can repair itself and regenerate. So it’s always worth drinking less or quitting
  • Giving up drinking may let you focus on your relationships, work, and health. It also may ease any depression and anxiety and elevate your self-esteem
  • Alcohol disrupts the important REM stage of sleep and may interfere with your breathing. Quitting alcohol will let you sleep better
  • Quitting alcohol also helps curb expenses
  • When alcohol is metabolized by this different pathway, it produces lots of free radicals which is known to oxidize bad cholesterol (LDL), and when the LDL is oxidized it deposits on the carotid arteries forming a blockage
  • It helps boost brain function 

6. What are some tips for quitting or cutting back on alcohol?

Staying Safe: Have fixed drinking days will help you cut down the overall quantity of alcohol and thus total calorie intake.

Find Other Ways To Relax: Some people drink alcohol to relax, but in reality, alcohol can make you feel even more stressed out. Consider some alternative stress-busters, like hitting the gym or having a hot bath, playing games, trekking and more.

Know What You’re Drinking: Check out the ABV of alcohol before you buy it. ABV stands for Alcohol by Volume, which is the percentage of the drink that is pure alcohol. Six glasses of wine at 13% ABV strength contain 15 units, putting you over the weekly low-risk guidelines. You can cut down on units by switching to drinks that are lower in alcohol, or try having a spritzer with a small (125ml) measure of wine topped up with soda, instead of a large glass of wine. The Drinkaware app will help you to track the units in your drinks so you can be sure you’re staying within the guidelines. 

7. What dietary changes would you recommend to aid weight loss as one gradually limits their alcohol intake?

  • Healthy accompaniments can be planned and chosen with alcohol. Salads over fried foods is a healthy move
  • Increasing the quantity of fibre in the diet can be of help to maintain good cardiac health and healthy weight. It also helps reduce the occurrence of certain types of cancer
  • Increasing the physical activity also helps achieve a fitter physique
  • Hydrating oneself is of prime importance. Alcohol causes dehydration and can have harmful effects due to higher concentration
  • Choosing complex carbohydrates over simple carbohydrates such as french-fries over whole potatoes will lead to weight gain
  • Add a bit of healthy protein in every meal for healthy weight loss  

Also, watch this video to learn about some common myths surrounding weight loss that you need to stop believing!

8. What are some alcoholic drinks that are lower in calories and relatively healthier?

In terms of nutrition content, there are mostly similar.

  • 155 calories in one 12 ounces can of Beer (356ml)  
  • 125 calories in a 5-ounce glass (150ml) of Red Wine 
  • 94 calories in 44ml (1 ½ fl. oz.) Brandy
  • 75 calories in 100ml Champagne
  • 66 calories in 1 shot (25ml) of Gin 
  • 58 calories in 1 shot (58ml) of Vodka
  • 110 calories in 44ml (1 ½ fl. oz.) Whiskey 

Drinks that have mixers, such as fruit juice or soda, contain even more calories. Alcohol can be consumed in moderation with a less calorie mixer.