Can I Drink Alcohol on the Ketogenic Diet?

Here is another in our series of Ketogenic FAQ’s!

Can I Drink Alcohol on the Ketogenic Diet?

Short Answer: Yes but you want to mainly stick with hard liquor with the understanding that it will slow down weight loss.

Let’s first discuss what happens in the liver when you eat (or drink) something.  Your body processes foods in order of toxicity.  In other words, the more prone something is to do long term harm to your body, the higher up the liver prioritizes dealing with it in order to keep the body healthy.  This is why carbohydrates are prioritized over fat by the liver, high blood sugar does more damage to the body than high levels of fat in the bloodstream so the body chooses to store fat and deal with the blood sugar when both fat and carbs are eaten at the same time.  Unfortunately, this has given carbs the halo of being the body’s “preferred source of energy” as if the fact the body tries to burn off sugar before fat makes the sugar have a beneficial impact on our health.

What really puts the lie to this theory that sugar is the body’s preferred fuel source is that the liver prioritizes burning off alcohol even higher than sugar.  So does this mean that whiskey is the body’s preferred source of energy so we should all be eating a high alcohol diet?  Absolutely not, it just means that the body recognizes high blood alcohol levels as very dangerous in the short term so it prioritizes burning off the alcohol first before dealing with sugar, then finally fat.

Ketone Production and Alcohol

So when you are on a ketogenic diet and you drink alcohol, the liver will be busy dealing with the alcohol so production of ketones will be slowed or stopped.  This means that for the period of time your blood alcohol levels are elevated, you will not be using your stored body fat for fuel, slowing weight loss. (But not very much unless you are getting totally plastered.)  I’m not saying you shouldn’t drink alcohol, you just need to keep in mind what happens when you drink so you can make an informed choice.

Are Some Alcoholic Drinks Worse Than Others?

Now that we have an idea of what happens when we drink, let’s examine other factors that will help us decide what to drink.

Beer

Beer is probably the worst alcoholic drink we can have on the ketogenic diet. (Although there are low carb options we will discuss later)  The problem here is not only is there alcohol but the grains the beer is made of will raise blood sugar, stimulating an insulin response.  So not only does your body have to deal with the elevated blood alcohol but once it gets those levels in a normal range, it then has to deal with the elevated blood sugar levels from carbs in the beer making the time your body is in fat-storage mode instead of fat-burning mode increased.  Beer also causes a large spike in blood sugar levels because of how fat your body absorbs the carbs without any fiber to offset the glycemic load so not only will you tend to store it as fat, you will store it as close to the liver as possible.  This belly fat, or omentum or visceral fat, has the largest detrimental impact on your health.  This is what causes the “beer bellies” you see in heavy beer drinkers.

Wine

Wine has a large range of sugar and alcohol levels but the important thing to remember is that the drier a wine is the less sugar it will contain.  The less sugar in the wine, the smaller the insulin response so the shorter time your body will not be burning off fat.  I typically stick with dry reds because not only do you get the low sugar but the Resveratrol compounds that have been shown to have some beneficial impact on our health.  Of course, any low sugar wine is acceptable and the lower the sugar and the lower the alcohol content, the better for ketosis.

Hard Liquor

Clear distilled drinks are the best to drink in ketosis because there is almost no sugar left in the drink after the fermentation process so all your body has to do is deal with the alcohol.  Darker distilled liquors are fine as well but might have a little sugar left in them but such a small amount it’s not even worth talking about.  A scotch or whiskey is processed fairly quickly by the liver so you can get back in to ketosis very quickly.  Of course it goes without saying that you should also avoid any sugary mixers for obvious reasons.

A Word of Caution

I have no idea why this is exactly but it is definitely something I have experienced and have seen anecdotal evidence in keto forums and in my 28 Day Support group.  For whatever reason, when you are in ketosis and drink alcohol, the alcohol seems to have a much stronger effect on you.  I chalked it up to just being 200 lbs smaller but having heard the same thing from other people, I am wondering if this is a universal effect of alcohol on us Ketonians.  So if you do drink, do not drink and drive or do anything else that might put you or someone else at risk.  Even a small amount of alcohol can impair you.  If anyone out there has a theory as to why this is, please let me know in the comments below.  I am definitely curious.

For reference sake, here is a list of a few sample wines that have a low amount of carbs so you can compare them. Thanks to Perfect Keto for this info.

Reds:

  • Pinot Noir (3.4 g carbs)
  • Cabernet Sauvignon (3.8 g)
  • Merlot (3.7 g)

Whites:

  • Sauvignon Blanc (2.7 g)
  • Pinot Grigio (3.2 g)
  • Riesling (5.5 g)
  • Chardonnay (3.7 g)
  • Champagne (1.5 g)

For beers, choose light options like:

  • Michelob Ultra: 2.6 carbs
  • MGD 64: 2.4 carbs
  • Bud Select: 3.1 carbs
  • Rolling Rock Green Light: 2.4 carbs
  • Natural Light: 3.2 carbs
  • Bud Select 55: 1.9 carbs
  • Michelob Ultra Amber: 3.7 carbs
  • Miller Lite: 3.2 carbs

For those of you lucky enough to live in Australia, there is also a zero carb beer you can try.  I mean you have to live in a country where everything is trying to kill you but at least you have zero carb beer.  Pros and cons I guess.

What is your favorite keto-friendly drink?  Let me know in the comments below!

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Can I Drink Alcohol on the Ketogenic Diet?

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