A Guide to Choosing Your Booze
Alcohol is a question that comes up all the time and for good reason. People enjoy it, myself included, but we know there are some obvious negatives to alcohol consumption when it comes to weight management, athletic performance and longevity. I recommend going periods of time from 14 to 90 days without alcohol throughout the year, however, I do enjoy and support alcohol consumption in moderation if you are someone that handles alcohol well. There is certainly plenty of research to support health benefits from certain alcoholic beverages. Perhaps even more important are the stress relieving and social benefits. Humans are social creatures and alcohol is the ultimate social lubricant.
Positives & Negatives
The body doesn’t metabolize alcohol like a carbohydrate and it doesn’t spike your blood sugar like carbs, meaning there isn’t the same insulin spike. Alcohol gets sent straight to your liver where it moves to the front of the line as an energy source to be burned in front of stored glycogen. If fat loss is your goal, this can be a problem because in addition to detoxifying and processing alcohol, your liver is responsible for mobilizing body fat into energy your body can burn. Detoxification and alcohol processing are higher up on the liver’s To-Do List than fat burning so every time you drink you are robbing your body of some of its fat burning resources.
It’s pretty well known that certain alcoholic beverages are high in antioxidants that fight free radicals and promote longevity. Epidemiological evidence shows that those who consume moderate amounts of alcohol live longer and are at lower risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease (CVD) in comparison with those that completely abstain and “heavy” drinkers. Moderate alcohol consumption has also been shown to reduce incidence of Type II diabetes and CVD in diabetic men and women. As long as you aren’t looking to lose weight there is no reason you shouldn’t enjoy an occasional drink. If your goals are weight loss oriented I suggest going without alcohol or going extended periods of time (14-90 days) without it and then timing alcohol consumption to follow a few days of carb depletion and then a longer, relatively intense aerobic workout on the day of drinking. Drinking alcohol, or any liquid calories, will only stand in the way of your fat loss goals.
Hierarchy of Alcohol: Top Shelf to Bottom of the Barrel
- Red wine takes the #1 spot because it has the biggest health benefit with the fewest carbs and additives. It is high in antioxidants, particularly resveratrol, which has been shown to fight cancer and reduce signs of aging.
- Unflavored distilled wood aged spirits like whiskey, scotch and brandy are low carb and have an underrated antioxidant content.
- Other unflavored spirits like vodka and gin are low carb, but have virtually no antioxidant benefit.
- White wines don’t stack up to red wines in terms of antioxidant or phenol content and they don’t have resveratrol, but they still offer a healthy dose of antioxidants.
- Beer offers about the same antioxidant content as white wine, but more carbs and calories. Don’t always assume that darker beer has more calories either. This is a pretty good resource for figuring out where your favorite beer stands. Although light beers offer less calories they also offer less taste and enjoyment in my personal opinion. If I’m going to drink a beer I want to drink a real beer. My personal favorite is Baba Black Lager, an organic beer made by Uinta Brewing.
- Sugary drinks like Grand Marnier, Amaretto, Kahlua, daiquiris, and pretty much anything that is popular in tropical beach locales or at spring break are the bottom of the barrel in this hierarchy by a long shot. Putting them only one numerical spot behind beer does a disservice to beer. They are high calorie, high carb, and lacking in any health benefits, not to mention that at a certain age you shouldn’t be drinking anything that is neon colored.
It is worth mentioning that mixers need to be taken into consideration when drinking. From a health and weight loss perspective it is always best to drink alcohol straight up or with mineral water. Soda water is acceptable too. Stay away from orange juice, 7Up, Coke and tonic water, which goes about 90 calories per serving.
Always keep in mind that you aren’t missing out if you abstain. A healthy diet and supplementation with fish oil can offer all the same health benefits as red wine. If you are in weight loss mode I recommend abstaining until you reach your goal and then seeing how you respond. Regardless of what your goals are, enjoy responsibly and never drink and drive.