Low-carbohydrate dieting provides a wealth of benefits to those who adopt this as their
mode of eating. Weight loss, blood-sugar stability, increased energy, improved triglyceride
and cholesterol profiles — all positive effects of the lowcarb diet. Lowcarbing provides the
health that we need to achieve what we most desire in life — happiness. But, other components
of life bring happiness to our day, as well. Our children, a beautiful flower, a stiff shot of
rotgut? Ok, maybe not the last one, but many do derive pleasure from sipping a glass of wine,
drinking a cold beer or nursing a well-crafted mixed drink. Alcohol is a substance that does
please many but it is a substance that also presents some special concerns for the lowcarb
lifestyle. Although not banned from the lowcarber's diet, it is recommended only in moderation
and only for later stages of the weight-loss process.
Copyright © November 2004 Cerise Cauthron and Low Carb Luxury
To understand the main reason alcohol is yellow-lighted for lowcarbers, one has to examine a
fundamental process of the body — how we get our energy. Our body functions energy-wise,
just like a car. Cars take fuel (gasoline), and use it to generate the energy required to "go."
Gasoline is a molecule made of many atoms held together by chemical bonds. Energy is required
to form chemical bonds and, once formed, the bonds store the energy. Break the bonds, and the
energy is released. Breaking the bonds from molecules like gasoline requires a combustion
reaction. Supply oxygen and a kick-start of energy (like a spark), and the bonds snap like dry
twigs. Well, we are no different than cars in this respect. We have the machinery to combust
certain molecules, and let their energy fly free.
Every cell of our body contains many tiny carburetors called mitochondria. Mitochondria take
fuel and, combust it to release the stored energy. You can now "go." Our fuel molecule is not
gasoline however, but glucose. HOLY INSULIN BATMAN! GLUCOSE IS THE ENEMY! Actually, no.
Glucose is not the enemy, excess circulating glucose can cause health woes, but the glucose
molecule itself is critical for the body's function. Without glucose, you won't "go." Period.
The body's energy-releasing mechanism uses the glucose molecule as the fuel we need to survive.
However, Slurpees are not required to provide our carburetors with this necessary material.
The major biological molecules that create our fine form — carbohydrates, lipids (fats) and
proteins — are all sources for this magic molecule but, the body prioritizes them in terms
of when they are used to provide the necessary glucose.
Carbohydrates are, basically, short or long chains of glucose or its best friends like fructose
(made by plants from glucose) linked together like pearls on a necklace. When we ingest an
excess of carbohydrates, the body takes the molecules and reconfigures them a bit to make fats.
They are not identical to carbohydrates, but are made of the same stuff and are designed around
a similar plan. Proteins are another story. They are highly-complex, large, precisely-sculptured
molecules that actually contain components lacking in carbohydrates and fats. They are not
designed to be energy sources, but rather to perform other critical functions.
Carbohydrates remain most similar to plain ol' glucose. Fats are kissing cousins. Proteins
are the distant relative about which no one speaks. Now the body is, frankly, lazy. Given its
druthers, it will take the path of least resistance in all circumstances. Which molecule would
be easiest to use as a glucose source? Carbohydrates! Which will get used first by our carburetors
to make us "go"? Carbohydrates! As long as carbs are readily available, the body will use them as
fuel before anything else. The entire purpose of introductory lowcarb phases is to remove this fuel
option from the body's grab-bag. When there is no easy carbohydrate source available, the body
still has to "go" and needs to find another source of the necessary glucose. Next in line is fat.
Fats are the molecule next closest to the basic carbohydrate layout, but are harder for the body to
reconfigure into glucose units. And remember, the body is as lazy as a hound dog on a hot summer
day. The body does not want to burn fat — that requires extra effort.
We must drag the body kicking and screaming into fat-burning mode, and, once there, if you give
it any easier option for fuel (like a Twinkie), it will snatch it immediately and stop burning
fat. Proteins, though, are just too wacky for the body to consider in all but the bleakest of
circumstances. There has to be nothing left anywhere for the body to start deconstructing protein
molecules to make glucose. This is experienced in circumstances of starvation. The body has
exhausted its carbohydrates and fats and now begins to break down its proteins (muscles and organs)
to keep the fuel supply continuous.
So, if carbs are present — the body will use them. When carbs are depleted, you can force the
body to go to fat storage and enter ketosis. It is not surprising, based on our slothful internal
nature, that it takes commitment for lowcarbers to enter ketosis and maintain that condition
through their weight-loss journey. While in ketosis, the body obediently burns fat for fuel, but
it never loses its longing for an easier energy source. This is where alcohol enters the picture.
Alcohols are not carbohydrates. The body does not recognize them as carbohydrates, so they don't
promote the insulin response of Ho-Ho's. However, the body does recognize alcohols as fuel. Anyone
who has seen documentary footage of a civil uprising knows that alcohols burn quite nicely in the
presence of oxygen and a spark. The ol' Molotov cocktail does fine incendiary damage? And,
structurally, alcohols are sufficiently similar to carbohydrates that the body can convert them
into glucose more easily than fats. Our lazy hound of a system will sense alcohol and do
the happy-puppy dance. The body will ditch fat-burning and torch the alcohol with unabashed delight.
It will not exit ketosis, necessarily, since it is not turning to burning carbohydrates, but will simply
postpone burning any further fat until this quick and easy source of energy is depleted. Alcohol
consumption doesn't usually derail weight loss, but it will slow the rate. As long as alcohol is in the
system, the body won't burn fat. When the alcohol orgy is over, the body grudgingly resumes
Will alcohol forever eliminate your weight loss progress? No. Will it slow your rate of weight loss?
Likely. If you don't mind a longer weight-loss journey, then an occasional treat is fine (after
Induction.) However, your choice of indulgence, also, is critical to your progress. Alcohol is not
the only component of liquors, wines, beers and liqueurs, and carbohydrates may often be found skulking
around the bottle?
Hard or distilled liquors of at least 80 proof generally contain 0-net carbs/ounce. This is not a
hard and fast rule, though, as some do contain trace carbs from spices, herbs, flavorings, etc. For
example, Captain Morgan's Silver Spiced Rum is 80 proof, but contains 2 net carbs/oz; Bacardi 8 is
also 80 proof, but contains 1 net carb/oz. Flavored rums and other products hovering around 70 proof
can contain anywhere from ~1 to over 3 net carbs/ounce. Most liqueurs are a case of "would you like
some alcohol with that sugar?" Best to avoid?
Beer and wine naturally contain more countable carbohydrates than distilled liquors, but one can still
indulge if these are factored into the daily budget. Also worth investigating are the new,
specially-formulated lowcarb beers, wines and other alcohol-based beverages that are popping up
in stores. Lower in carbohydrates than their traditional counterparts and, from many reports, quite
We lowcarb for health, since health is a key component of happiness. However, we should not neglect
other happiness-generating factors of our lives. Alcohol, in moderation, is something that does have
a place in the lives of many lowcarb dieters. It makes tasty beverages, relaxes us, facilitates
socialization and has a laundry list of health benefits all its own (including helping with blood-sugar
control.) If you normally enjoy an alcoholic beverage now and then, it is perfectly possible that
you will be able to continue to do so as a lowcarber. Just choose your poison wisely and, always,
Title photo Copyright © 2004 Neil Beaty for Low Carb Luxury