Alcohol and its impact on weight and diabetes

Wednesday, 15 December 2021

Drinking alcohol can impact your body weight, we take a closer look at how this works.

Alcohol provides energy

In Australia, we use kilojoules (kJ) to measure how much energy comes from the food and drinks we consume. Energy comes from the macronutrient’s fat, protein and carbohydrates. However, we can also get energy from alcohol.

Fat, protein, carbohydrates and alcohol provide different amounts of energy to the body. Fat provides the most energy per gram (37kJ) and is considered energy-dense. In contrast, protein and carbohydrates provide the least amount of energy at approximately 17kJ per gram. Alcohol falls right in the middle, providing 29kJ per gram. You can see a comparison of the amount of energy provided by each nutrient below.

  • 1 gram of fat is equal to 37kJ
  • 1 gram of alcohol is equal to 29kJ
  • 1 gram of protein is equal to 17kJ
  • 1 gram of carbohydrate is equal to 17kJ

How much energy is there in one alcoholic drink?

One standard drink is defined as any drink that contains 10g of alcohol. As we now know, 1g of alcohol provides 29kJ of energy. That means that one standard drink provides at least 290kJ. This energy comes from the alcohol alone, and does not include anything you mix your alcohol with.

How does your tipple compare to others?

Not all alcoholic drinks are equal. The nutritional properties vary according to how they are made, what they are mixed with and their alcohol content.

An interesting fact, is that beer, wine and spirits are quite low in carbohydrates. The table below demonstrates the estimated carbohydrate content in one standard drink of beer, wine and spirits.

Alcoholic Beverage Standard Drinks Carbohydrate Content
Beer 1 10-12g
Wine 1 2-3g
Spirits 1 0g

Alcoholic beverages that do contain higher amounts of carbohydrates are usually cocktails, this is due to the sugar found in the soft-drink, sugar-syrups or other mixers.

Beer

The table below compares the nutritional content of a standard ‘stubby’ of beer, which is approximately 375mL. Beer contains no fat and minimal protein. In a standard beer, 75% of the energy (kJ) comes from alcohol, 20% from carbohydrates and the remaining 5% from protein.

Low carbohydrate beers are similar in their nutritional properties to a standard beer. They usually contain around 3-8g less carbohydrates than a standard beer, which is the equivalent to between two and six Sakata rice crackers.

If you’re looking for a healthier beer choice, go for a low or zero-alcohol beer as they contain half the energy of a standard beer. Even more importantly, you’ll have a clear head the next day which makes making healthy food choices so much easier!

  Standard ‘Lager’ Beer Ultra-Low Carb ‘Lager’ Beer Zero-Alcohol Beer
  375mL 375mL 375mL
Standard drinks 1.7 1.2 0
Energy (kJ) 659kJ 387kJ 297kJ
Alcohol 17g 12g 0g
Carbohydrates 8g 2g 16g
Fat 0g 0g 0g
Protein 2g 1g 0g

Note: Exact nutritional content will vary with different products and brands of beer

For an in-depth look at beer, read this article.

Wine

Wine, especially sparkling wine, often comes out during celebrations. Did you know, that champagne does actually make you intoxicated faster? This is because the bubbles causes faster absorption of the alcohol.

As you can see from the table below, the nutritional content of different types of wine is very similar. In a glass of wine, more than 95% of the energy comes from alcohol and less than 5% from carbohydrates and 0% from protein and fat.

If you are trying to make a healthier choice when drinking wine:

  • Add ice-cubes to white wine to dilute the alcohol and make it last longer
  • Try a low- or zero-alcohol wine
  • Have a white wine spritzer (wine mixed with mineral water)
  White Wine Sparkling Wine Red Wine
  150mL 150mL 150mL
Standard drinks 1.5 1.5 1.6
Energy (kJ) 453kJ 459kJ 478kJ
Alcohol 15g 15g 16g
Carbohydrates 1.5g 1.5g 0g
Fat 0g 0g 0g
Protein 0.3g 0.3g 0.3g

Note: Exact nutritional content will vary with different product and brands of wine.

 

Spirits

One standard drink of spirits is the equivalent to 30mL or a ‘nip’ or ‘shot’. As with all standard drinks, this provides the equivalent to 10g of alcohol. When drinking spirits, you need to also consider what you are mixing them with as this will provide additional energy.

As you can see in the table below, spirits have a lower energy content when mixed with zero-energy (kJ) fluids such as soda water, instead of a soft-drink such as cola.

Despite its bitter taste, tonic water contains a similar amount of added sugars to standard soft-drinks, which makes a gin and tonic a high-sugar beverage.

How to make better choices using spirits:

  • Mix spirits with low-kilojoule mixers such as soda water or mineral water
  • Add flavour to spirits using fruit such as lemon, lime, oranges and strawberries, and add herbs such as mint and rosemary
  • Enjoy a spirit ‘neat’ or ‘on ice’ – make sure you drink it slowly!
  Vodka, Soda and Lime Gin and Tonic Rum and Cola
Standard drinks 1 1 1
Energy (kJ) 257kJ 840kJ 930kJ
Alcohol 10g 10g 10g
Carbohydrates 0g 34g 40g
Fat 0g 0g 0g
Protein 0g 0g 0g

Note: Exact nutritional content will vary with different products and brands of spirits and mixers.

Cocktails

Most people have had a night where they’ve had one too many cocktails and found themselves going from tipsy to toppling very quickly. The culprit is usually a combination of a higher alcohol content (1.5-2 standard drinks per serve) as well as added mixers that make the drink go down easily.

The amount of alcohol, carbohydrate and sugars in cocktails can varying greatly depending on what ingredients your bartender throws in. The table below provides an example of some favourites. A good rule-of-thumb is to remember that every 30mL (or ‘shot’) of liquor is usually about 1 standard drink.

How to make better choices using spirits:

  • Pick cocktails that contain more mixers and less alcohol
  • Go for cocktails that use mineral or soda waters as the main ingredient such as mojitos, spritzers, fizzes
  • Drink slowly, break up the cocktails with some time on the dance-floor

 

  Espresso Martini Mojito Strawberry Daiquiri
Standard drinks 1.5 1.8 2
Energy (kJ) 560kJ 655kJ 999kJ
Alcohol 15g 18g 20g
Carbohydrates 8g 8g 26g
Fat 0g 0g 0g
Protein 0g 0g 0g

Note: Exact nutritional content will vary with different cocktail combinations of spirits and mixers.

The bottom line

Enjoying alcoholic beverages at events may be an important part of your social life. If you are trying to make healthier choices or watch your intake, remember these key facts:

  • The number of standard drinks is usually the best indicator of total energy
  • Any alcoholic drink that is mixed with other beverages containing added sugars will have higher amounts of total carbohydrates and energy

The best approach to drinking wisely is to:

  • Set yourself a limit
  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic drinks, preferably water
  • Use the option of some low-or no-alcohol beverages
  • Drink mindfully – drink slowly and appreciate the flavours in every mouthful
  • Follow the Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol

Charlotte Lentfer
Accredited Practising Dietitian

 

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