"It's beauty that captures your attention,
and personality that captures your heart."
— Lynn Drake
Is drinking alcohol healthy or even advisable on a low-carbohydrate
diet? Boy, do we hear that question a lot. The caveat here
is a big one — and an obvious one. Everyone is different.
Different people will react differently to alcohol (and some of
those will be able to incorporate wine but not beer, or vodka, but
not wine.) It's a personal decision that weighs preference and
sociability against health, weight loss, and progress. So read the
facts, and decide.
Is Drinking Alcohol Healthy... period?
This controversial question has been addressed by dozens of studies
over the years. One of the latest appeared in the September 19, 2000
edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine. This study found that
drinking small amounts of alcohol was beneficial and that wine had a
beneficial effect on both heart disease and cancer not seen for beer
Over 24,000 men and women in Copenhagen, Denmark began participating
in health studies from 1964 through 1976 and were followed until 1995
for this analysis. Almost 5,000 of these people died during that
time. Light drinking (a drink a day or less) was associated with a
10% reduction in mortality while heavy drinking (five or more drinks
daily) was associated with a 10% increase in death.
But what does this mean to you? Well, it might not mean anything at all...
Not one of the participants was on a structured diet of
any sort (let alone low-carb) and none had other habits taken into
account (such as weight, smoking, etc.) So while we are likely to
continue to see anecdotal evidence and small-study evidence of the
benefits of drinking, their validity — especially where
low-carbers are concerned will stay up in the air for the time being.
Our concern here, is to look at how drinking alcohol will affect
our diet regime — our weight loss progress, our cravings, and our
To understand that relationship, let's look at what a few of the
low-carb gurus have to say on the subject (and if you're hoping
they'll all agree... well, just keep hoping...)
The late Robert C. Atkins — the Granddaddy of them all, said:
"Here's the problem with all alcoholic beverages, and the reason I
recommend refraining from alcohol consumption on the diet. Alcohol,
whenever taken in, is the first fuel to burn. While that's going
on, your body will not burn fat. This does not stop the weight loss,
it simply postpones it, since the alcohol does not store as
glycogen, you immediately go back into ketosis/lipolysis after the
alcohol is used up.
If you must drink alcohol, wine is an acceptable addition to levels
beyond the Induction diet. If wine does not suit your taste,
straight liquor such as scotch, rye, vodka, and gin would be
appropriate, as long as the mixer is sugarless; this means no juice,
tonic water; or non-diet soda. Seltzer and diet soda are
Drs. Michael R. and Mary Dan Eades (Protein Power)
"Can I drink alcohol on the Protein Power Plan?"
"Yes, you can! But, like with everything else, you are limited by
your Carbohydrate Maximum. Dry white or red wine (3 oz.) or Miller
Lite beer (12 oz.) will cost you 3 or 4 effective carb grams, but
are still reasonable choices as long as you count them in your daily
totals. Hard liquor will cost you a lot of empty calories. Take it
easy and count those carbs! Wine-in moderation-can even help improve
Ray Audette — Author of "NeanderThin":
"Don't Drink Alcohol"
"It is best not to consume alcohol in any amount from any source.
Alcohol is a by-product of yeast digestion (the yeast equivalent
of urine) and is known to damage the stomach, kidneys, and liver.
Alcohol adds fat principally by producing cravings for both itself
and other carbohydrates (see snack trays at any bar) and even other
addictive substances (ask any former smoker.) It is almost
impossible to drink alcohol and follow the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
If you must drink, do so only on special occasions (once or twice a
year) and stick to alcohols derived from fruit (wine and champagne.)
Be aware, however, that once you have been on the NeanderThin program
for any length of time, drinking any form of alcohol could make you
queasy. It is best to avoid alcohol altogether."
Okay, I could go on quoting diet doctors and authors, but I think
you get the idea — they don't agree. So it will be up to you to
decide how they affect YOU, YOUR weight loss, YOUR well-being, and
My personal experience has been that when I drink more often than
a couple of drinks per week, my weight loss stalls. It's also my
experience that I sometimes have sugar cravings the next day that I must deal
with and my hunger levels are increased.
So weigh the pros and cons for yourself. But just in case you haven't
thought of them, here's a list of "sobering" facts about alcohol that
you might want to be armed with when making your decisions:
- Alcohol depletes many nutrients, particularly zinc and magnesium.
- Alcohol can increase the production of free radicals in the body.
(Free radicals are known to be the fertile ground from which cancer
- Alcohol can damage the liver — often seriously.
- Alcohol damages the brain. Not just an off-hand statement. When
alcohol is consumed, brain cells expire — just like with a "puff"
of a cigarette.
- When pregnant women consume alcohol, low-birth-weight babies with
lower IQs often result.
- Alcohol impairs functioning of the digestive tract.
The "Bottom Line" comes from Robert Crayhon, one of the most brilliant
nutritionists I've ever known:
"Optimal nutrition is about isolating the good elements in food and
getting more of those. It is also about avoiding harmful, toxic
substances. Alcohol, even red wine, has some of both. If you want
to be optimally healthy, you only want to accentuate the positive.
You don't want to set your house on fire and turn on your sprinkler
system at the same time.
Don't drink alcohol if you are doing it for health benefits. There are
less toxic ways to get the benefits of the antioxidants, polyphenols,
and other substances found in red wine. Fruits, vegetables, garlic,
spices and herbs and supplements can give you just as much antioxidant
benefit if not more. If you are interested in the protective effects of
red wine polyphenols, they are available in supplement form. Alcohol's
nutrient depleting effect is not what a poorly nourished society needs.
Its liver weakening properties are also not needed in a country where
the liver is nearly overwhelmed with all of the toxins in our environment.
Can you drink alcohol every now and then and be healthy? Yes. An
occasional glass of red wine is not going to do that much damage, and
does offer some benefits. If it gives you pleasure and is an important
part of the way you enjoy life, it may be more unhealthy for you to
abstain. Consume red wine or alcohol, however, only after considering
its full spectrum of possible negative effects."
Copyright © April 2004 Lora Ruffner and Low Carb Luxury
Title photo Copyright © 2004 Neil Beaty for Low Carb Luxury