You think you eat pretty healthily? You’ve cut down on the sugary snacks and fry-ups? So why aren’t you losing weight? The answer could be in that glass in front of you. It certainly doesn’t feel like the equivalent of a doughnut, but as far as your belly’s concerned, it is.
Booze is full of calories – only fat has more. It’s not for nothing that that roll of lard around your middle is called a beer gut! So, if you seriously want to lose weight, do you have to become a hermit and abstain from the booze? The answer is no – you just need to know your enemy.
Here’s the science bit:
The body gives alcohol special treatment – it’s fast-tracked straight from the stomach to the bloodstream, and then to the liver. Half of the alcohol will be absorbed just 10 minutes after having a drink, and all of it within an hour – faster if you drink on an empty stomach.
Why the hurry? Alcohol is a toxin, so the body’s aim is to get it to the liver – the body’s detox plant – as fast as possible.
But the liver can only break down about one unit of alcohol per hour, and any amount above this is turned away as it arrives at the liver and sent back into the bloodstream, to circulate around the body – causing damaging effects to all the cells it comes into contact with – until the liver can process it.
While the liver is dealing with an alcohol onslaught it’s distracted from its other important functions. This leads to a build-up of fatty substances in the liver, which prevent it from working properly. ‘Fatty liver’ is the first stage of liver disease seen in heavy drinkers but it can be reversed if they stop drinking. But if they continue to drink, liver cells die, and there is a progression eventually to irreversible cirrhosis.
Booze and calories
Take a look at the calories in some drinks…
Beers, lager and cider (per pint)
Bitter – 180 calories
Mild bitter – 142 calories
Pale ale – 182 calories
Brown ale – 160 calories
Stout – 210 calories
Lager – ordinary strength – 170 calories
Lager – premium – 338 calories
Dry cider – 190 calories
Sweet cider – 220 calories
Vintage sweet cider – 580 calories
Wine (175ml glass)
Red wine – 119 calories
Rose wine – 125 calories
White wine (sweet) – 165 calories
White wine (medium) – 132 calories
White wine (sweet) – 116 calories
Sparkling white wine – 133 calories
Spirits (25ml pub measure)
Vodka, gin, whisky, brandy, rum etc – 52 calories
Liquers (25ml pub measure)
Tia Maria, Cherry Brandy, Advocaat – 66 calories
Cointreau, Drambuie – 79 calories
Cream liquers – 81 calories
And don’t forget to add the calories for the mixers!
Burn off those calories!
To burn off a 180 kcal pint of bitter (a fairly tame beast in the drinks comparison league), you’d need to do any of the following:
o 14 minutes of running
o 17 minutes of swimming
o 20 minutes of football
o 28 minutes of cycling
o 29 minutes badminton
o 44 minutes of walking
Drinking tips for lean guys
o Watch the glass size
o A one-unit wine glass is a tiny 125ml – a size that doesn’t exist any more. Standard is 175ml, and large can be up to 250ml. And remember that measures poured by mates at home are notoriously generous!
o Go slow – no more than one unit per hour
o If you drink alcohol faster than the liver can handle it, it’ll build up in your bloodstream, intensifying its inebriating effects and making you less able to say no to the next pint – or that chicken balti.
o Steer clear of Premium
o Premium lager and strong vintage ciders pack a far heftier punch than their less alcoholic cousins. And because that’s where the calories lurk, these drinks aren’t for racing snakes!
o Steer clear of sweetness
o Added sugar bumps up the calorie count – sweet wines and ciders are more calorific than drier versions, and syrupy liquers (especially the creamy ones with their added fat) are worst of all.
o Alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic ones.
o Not only will this slow down your drinking, and limit the amount of alcohol calories you consume, it will help to rehydrate you, reducing the threat of a hangover.
o Eat before you go out, not after.
o Eating a healthy snack or meal beforehand will line your stomach and slow the uptake of alcohol into your bloodstream, so you’ll be less likely to get ratted and make decisions that spell disaster for your waistline. Alcohol clouds your judgement, so any health resolutions are likely to fly out the window after a few drinks. And research has shown that if you drink with a meal you’ll eat more, as well as eating more fats.
Words by registered nutritionist Carina Norris, author of You Are What You Eat: the meal planner that will change your life.