Low-carb diets have recently become increasingly popular as an effective way to lose weight and improve health.
They typically involve cutting out high-carb foods like refined grains, fruits, starchy vegetables and legumes and instead focus on healthy fats and proteins.
However, many people are uncertain about whether alcohol can be consumed on a low-carb diet, and recommendations on the subject can be conflicting.
This article investigates whether you can or should drink alcohol on a low-carb diet.
Many types of alcohol are high in carbohydrates — some packing in more carbs per serving than soft drinks, sweets and desserts.
For example, beer typically has a high carb content, as starch is one of its primary ingredients.
It generally contains 3–12 grams of carbs per 12-ounce (355-ml) serving, depending on various factors, such as whether it’s a light or regular variety (1).
Mixed drinks are also typically high in carbs due to ingredients like sugar, juice and other high-carb mixers added to improve flavor.
For comparison, here’s how many carbs some popular alcoholic beverages contain (1):
Summary Beer and mixed drinks are especially high in carbs, with certain drinks packing up to 34 grams of carbs per serving.
Alcohol is rich in empty calories, meaning that it contains many calories without vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients that your body needs.
This can not only potentially contribute to nutritional deficiencies but may also lead to weight gain over time.
Alcohol is the second most calorie-dense nutrient after fat — packing 7 calories per gram (2).
If you’re not adjusting your diet to account for these extra calories, they may lead to weight gain, regardless of your carb intake.
Summary Alcohol contains a high number of calories but is low in important nutrients like protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Studies show that heavy drinking can block fat burning and hinder weight loss.
That’s because when you drink alcohol, your body metabolizes it before other nutrients to use it as fuel (3).
This can slow down fat burning and cause extra carbs, protein and fat in your diet to be stored as fat tissue, resulting in excess body fat (4).
Heavy alcohol consumption can also decrease fat breakdown and increase fatty acid synthesis, leading to the accumulation of triglycerides in your liver. Over time, this causes a condition called fatty liver disease (5).
Not only can this have detrimental effects on your waistline but also serious consequences when it comes to your health.
Summary Alcohol is prioritized over other nutrients for metabolism in your body. It can slow down fat burning and increase fat storage.
On the other hand, excessive amounts of alcohol have consistently been tied to weight gain in observational studies.
One study in 49,324 women found that heavy drinkers consuming at least two drinks per day had increased odds of weight gain compared to non-drinkers (8).
Another study in nearly 15,000 men showed that increased alcohol consumption was associated with a higher risk of weight gain over a 24-year period (9).
Therefore, regardless of whether you’re on a low-carb diet or not, it’s best to drink alcohol in moderation, which is defined as one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men (10).
Summary Drinking alcohol in moderation may be linked to a lower risk of weight gain. However, excessive intake has been associated with a higher risk of weight gain in observational studies.
Certain types of alcohol can fit into a low-carb diet when consumed in moderation.
For instance, wine and light beer are both relatively low in carbs, with just 3–4 grams per serving.
Meanwhile, pure forms of liquor like rum, whiskey, gin and vodka are all completely carb-free.
To add a bit of flavor to these drinks while keeping carb intake in check, simply skip the sugary sweeteners and mix liquor with low-carb options like diet soda or sugar-free tonic water instead.
Here are a few types of alcohol that are low in carbs and can fit into your low-carb diet when consumed in moderation (1):
Summary Light beer and wine are low in carbs while pure forms of liquor like rum, whiskey, gin and vodka are carb-free.
Certain types of alcohol are low-carb or carb-free and can fit into a low-carb diet.
These include light beer, wine and pure forms of liquor like whiskey, gin and vodka.
However, it’s best to stick to no more than 1–2 drinks per day, as excessive intake may slow fat burning and cause weight gain.