Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Alcohol and Low Carb Dieting

Here I was, cheerfully writing the blog post for Cinco de Mayo and my secret Version 2.1 Smart Margarita when it hit me. I need to discuss alcohol and low carb. But not only that, but I need to discuss the effect of alcohol on the body. It’s a doozy! I won’t go into deep, deep, detail here, because frankly if you want those details you will hit google and bring up days upon days of studies and research.

But, we still need a little information going here because so many newbies ask if they can still drink when they are low carb. The answer is…yes, if you follow a few guidelines:

Simple guidelines that I follow when I drink:
1. Drink as low or “no-carb” as possible

2. Pure alcohol spirits (vodka, rum, gin, bourbon, scotch, tequila) do not have any carbs, but they do have alcohol and alcohol is treated like a carb by the liver.

3. If you drink beer or wine, choose the lowest carb beers and the driest (least sweet) wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz for red wine and Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay for white wines.3. Don’t over-do it. Drink responsibly. Don’t drink and drive. Ever. Never.

Healthy Liver - photo from WebMD
 Now please understand, there is a bad side to this whole alcohol consumption thang. The bad side is that alcohol stops fat metabolism in its track. No fat metabolism occurs the second alcohol arrives at the party. That’s because alcohol is so toxic to your body that your liver starts shouting commands like, “Battle stations! Battle stations, all hands on deck.” It does it the second a drop of alcohol hits your mouth.

Notice I said mouth? Metabolism actually starts the second you put something in your mouth regardless of whether or not you swallow it.

You liver does not want alcohol to hang around in your body. So it starts metabolizing this poison right away, and while it’s being metabolized into constituents like acetone and formaldehyde, your liver, kidneys, and blood stream (not to mention your heart muscle) is going 100 miles an hour to make enough urine, and to break the alcohol down enough through your liver and kidneys, that you can pee that toxic substance right outta ya!

Progressive stages of fatty liver disease. Photo from Der Spiegel.
 And while that’s happenin’, the liver isn’t concerned with breaking down fats or sugars – nor anything else except alcohol. So the sugars and carbs you’ve been eating previous to drinking and while you’re drinking hangs around and gets backed-up in your liver, clogging all the liver cells, filling them with fat.

Have you ever heard of fatty liver? Fatty liver builds up inside your liver while you are busy partyin’ down with your friends. And if you add things like fructose or poly-unsaturated fatty acids like the unending bowl of deep fried corn chips, fried in corn oil and safflower oil and gunk oils like that, you will see fatty liver increase exponentially.

But just because you are drinking and the liver is metabolizing the alcohol first, doesn’t mean you aren’t in ketosis. If you were in ketosis when you began drinking, chances are you will still be in ketosis afterward (assuming you didn’t consume too many carbs in your drink choices or eat too many carbs while drinking and your liver is still healthy enough). But fat metabolism will only resume once you’ve burned off the alcohol.

In a healthy body, the liver and friends can metabolize about an ounce of alcohol per hour. That usually means one ounce of hard liquor, 1 can of beer, 1 glass of wine per hour…get the picture? But that’s in a healthy liver. And I will go out on a limb here and just let you know…if you are fat. If you are obese. If you have a gut hanging out over your hips (truncal adiposity), the chances are 99-1 that you already have a sick liver. And a sick liver doesn’t metabolize alcohol as quickly as the brand spankin’ new one you had in college.

Comprende mi amigo?

But wait! I just finished posting a recipe for FluffyChix Smarter Margarita, and it has orange and lime in it! Doesn’t that mean it’s high in fructose and high in carbs? Won’t that hurt my liver more?

Yes, fructose on top of, or with alcohol, hurts your liver more. But the Smart Margarita is actually lower in fructose than other margaritas because it has no table sugar or agave nectar or honey in it and no margarita mix with HFCS – all high fructose sugars (table sugar is about 50% fructose, agave and honey are significantly higher in fructose than table sugar).

One half of a medium orange (100g) has about 2.2g of fructose in it and we only use ½ of 1 wedge and there are 8 wedges in a half of an orange. So the fructose content is negligible. One average lime only has .2g fructose and since we use ¼ of a lime per drink that comes out to be 0.05g of fructose.

So one Smarter Margarita has only 0.1875g of fructose. Whoppingly better than a traditional margarita and negligible as far as I’m concerned – unless you drink a handful of them - then you have bigger issues than fructose doggin' your heels!  Many doctors recommend staying below 15g of fructose per day in order to help keep your liver happy.

Carb wise, the Smarter Margarita contains 2.1net carbs. In general 5g of carbs has the ability to raise blood sugar about 10points. So you can see the effects on blood sugar of drinking one margarita should be very small. But the liver will still have to deal with that tiny amount of fructose and carbs along with 1 ounce of alcohol for every drink, plus that plate of nachos you may be snarfing down.

So why am I tryin’ to scare ya about alcohol? I’m not, but I’m doing a good job aren’t I? The reality is, none of us need to drink. And if we’re trying to lose weight, we should be putting the partyin’ on the back burner until we’ve given our liver a fighting chance of getting rid of the extra fat built up inside it, before taxing it with more alcohol metabolism.

But that’s a personal decision and my job isn’t to preach, I’m here to help educate as much as my limited skills allow. And realizing that some will still want or need to drink, I will give alternatives that hopefully represent “healthier” choices or at least, the lesser of the evils. And btw, in the spirit of full disclosure, I still drink. I just try hard as all get out not to do it too frequently or in large volume. Sometimes I win? Sometimes I lose. But I know the reality of my choices – there will be consequences. I know that my body will pay a price should I choose to drink.

Scene from Ground Hog Day, starring Bill Murray.
Photo from http://www.mrchompers.net/hc3.asp

There is a second hard reality to face when it comes to drinking alcohol while dieting. For me…alcohol metabolism doesn’t stop my weight loss for only a few hours while the alcohol is being metabolized. I can count on having Ground Hog Day Weightloss for 4-5 solid days following a night of having a drink or two.

Ground Hog Day Weightloss (GHDWL) is when you regain at least 2-4lbs of VWT (Virgin Weight Territory) and then suffer through losing it again, just like in Ground Hog Day, the movie.

Hey Punxsutawny Phil! How's it shakin' bacon?!!

Remember how Bill Murray had to relive the same day, GHD, over and over and over again until he got it right? Well GHDWL - that’s what I call losing and regaining the same weight over and over and over until you get it right and are rewarded with moving into new VWT (Virgin Weight Territory), is just like what Bill Murray’s character experienced in the movie.
Shew! OK, lecture successfully completed!

The things to know about alcohol:

Ditch the "nancy-boy-drinks".
 1. Alcohol is a poison to your body.

2. If you do choose to drink, make good choices and ditch the high fructose, high sugar drinks in favor of low carb options.

3. Drink with portion control and limits in mind (i.e. Responsibly).

4. Get ready for rebound weight gain and possible weight loss stalls.

5. Drink LOTS of water to help your liver and kidneys as much as possible during alcohol metabolism. Alcohol dehydrates the body and the predominance of a hangover is caused from dehydration.

February 2012 Update -

Breast Cancer and Alcohol
Well, just when you think you have cornered the market on your own personal nutritional plan and have Nerdville-worthy metabolic questions answered to a comfort level, life throws a curve.

In my case, the curve ball is a doozy! Breast Cancer!

Little did I know that breast cancer and alcohol met at the bar already. I will be posting a thread soon on the topic that goes into greater detail and gives a few studies to shed scholarly light on the relationship. Let's just say folks, alcohol and breast cancer make up more than a one night stand. It isn't a casual meeting.

In the event you happen upon this post before I get back here with the new post about alcohol and breast cancer, think before you drink. If you have breast cancer, please!!! Go google alcohol and breast cancer - then make an informed decision. Don't follow my advice. I'm just a girl who got breast cancer and has now given up the hooch in favor of NED (No Evidence of Disease).

NED is the guy I wanna go steady with for the rest of my life. Unfortunately NED told me it's either him or the disease. Guess which one I chose?

Return to Fluffy Chix Cook Recipes

Read about the Version 2.1 Smart Margarita

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