When it comes to the ketogenic lifestyle, there are lots of confusing and conflicting opinions floating around, and they can lead to all kinds of mistakes. One of those confusing areas is how alcohol fits into a ketogenic lifestyle. Hopefully, after you read this, you’ll have a pretty good understanding and some tools to use to make informed decisions along the way.
First off, not all alcoholic beverages are the same. Alcohol is the same across the board; it’s a macronutrient with seven calories per gram, so that’s the starting point. It’s a byproduct of fermentation. Essentially, a sugar compound is acted upon by yeast and the yeast produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. Depending on the type of sugar compound, you get different kinds of alcoholic beverages. Hard liquor, or spirits, takes the process a little further and adds distillation. That is, essentially, the process of “boiling off” the alcohol and then re-condensing (as it cools) it into more a more concentrated form. When you something marketed as “Distilled 9 times”, that just means they went through the boiling and condensing process nine times.
Okay, so that’s where alcohol comes from, but that’s not all there is to it. Like said, the type of sugar compound determines the type of alcohol. For example, beer is made with, basically four ingredients. Barley, hops, water, and yeast. Barley is the primary ingredient, it’s where the sugar (maltose) comes from for the yeast.
It’s also very similar to wheat. It’s a very bad carb. And it’s the reason that some people call beer “liquid bread”. It is far too rich in carbohydrates, not just the sugars, but the other “glutenous carbs”. So it’s a definite no for Ketovangelists. Beer does not fit into a ketogenic lifestyle.
(Sidenote: Aside from ice cream, I miss beer the most. It was a sad day for me to have to let it go, but I figured my goals were more important than beer.)
Next we have wine, which is made from fermented grapes. The problem with wine is that everyone reacts differently to it. Some people will stay in ketosis even after a few glasses of wine, and some will get knocked out of ketosis by glancing at an unopened box of wine in the corner of a convenience store. My take on drinking wine is this: cut it out until you are moving toward your goals of eating ketogenically and have two months of solid change under your belt. If, once you’ve lost some fat and/or your clothes start to fit looser, try a glass of wine with dinner. If you don’t notice any negative effects (e.g. You don’t put on fat, your clothes don’t start to get tighter, etc.), then you are one of the folks who will, most likely, be able to drink wine and not have the negative effects. However, I encourage you to really pay attention to your progress and if you suspect wine of preventing your goals, get rid of it.
It’s better to play it safe and be the person you want to be than it is to have the temporary enjoyment of a glass or two of wine.
Lastly, there are spirits, hard liquor. Since these are essentially just alcohol and water (assuming we are talking gin, tequila, vodka, whiskey, or rum), these do not affect your insulin levels and, more than likely, do not affect your ability to stay in ketosis. Having a couple of cocktails, provided they do NOT contain sugary additives, is perfectly fine. In fact, I have an extremely simple cocktail recipe that I enjoy called a KetoRita.
However, not everyone is the same, so if you notice that you are putting on fat after you start incorporating liquor, get rid of it. The buzz isn’t worth the bulge.
Another thing to remember is that a ketogenic lifestyle requires us to stay hydrated. Our bodies become more efficient with water, so we need to keep water in good supply. Alcohol prevents that. It leads to dehydration. Consuming large amounts of alcohol will deplete the body of water, and when you wake up the next morning, you feel awful. That’s what a hangover is, mostly, a lack of proper hydration. Of course, this can be remedied by drinking two water drinks for every alcohol drink.
There’s one final consideration for alcohol. It’s, essentially, a poison. Byproducts of its metabolism are in the same chemical family as formaldehyde, and I think there is ample evidence to show how long-term use can damage the liver, kidneys, pancreas, and brain. Also, people with addictive personalities really should abstain from alcohol, period. Alcohol is a nice, once-in-a-while, treat, but it shouldn’t be a staple. Choose fat.
Ultimately, you have to ask and answer the question of why you want to include alcohol. If you can answer that question, and, if having alcohol doesn’t stop your progress, then you’re fine. If you can’t answer it, or having alcohol prevents your success, it has to go.
It’s really that simple.
I hope this helps.