Back to Basics
Let’s talk about alcohol. What happens when we drink alcohol and how does it impact each of the topics we have discussed so far – calories, metabolism, body fat, cholesterol, and blood sugars. We’ll also talk about the best choices when it comes to drinking and how moderation is always a great choice.
In the first post of this series we talked about calories. Calories come from 4 major sources, and one of those sources is alcohol. Carbohydrates and protein provide 4 calories per gram, fat provides 9 calories per gram, and alcohol provides 7 calories per gram. That means, if you drink 1 gram of alcohol, you have to generate 7 calories to burn it off. So, the first thing to remember is that alcohol, in and of itself, has calories. Pair that with whatever you have added to your drink, and the calories increase.
We also talked about how the quality and source of calories matter. Our bodies don’t love alcohol. They actually see it as a toxin. And, when a toxin is present in our system, the body tends to focus on ridding itself of the toxin as the highest priority. Which then affects our normally functioning metabolism.
Our body is happy digesting, metabolizing, and processing the other 3 sources of calories- carbs, protein, and fat. When alcohol enters the picture, it disrupts the whole scene and our bodies begin focusing on getting rid of it. The problem is, we weren’t finished processing the carbs, protein, and fat. So, while it’s working on the alcohol, the easiest thing for our body to do with all of that excess, unprocessed stuff, is to store it as fat, so that’s what it does. The body then continues to worry about getting rid of the alcohol before it can return to it’s regularly scheduled program.
We all have heard that our liver is responsible for dealing with alcohol, right? Well, the liver loves to use fat as it’s source of fuel to do all of the things it needs to do. So, when alcohol comes along and is broken down in your liver, it actually releases Hydrogen. Your liver gets confused, and starts using the Hydrogen as it’s fuel source, and the fat it would typically use begins to pile up. With excess, unused fat now floating around, it starts to affect your triglycerides (fat in your blood) and cholesterol.
Fat and Cholesterol
So, the fat in your liver is piling up because your liver is using a product of the breakdown of alcohol as fuel instead. What happens next? That fat starts to spill over into your blood stream and increase the amount of fat in your blood – or your triglycerides. If you drink a lot, that fat can really, really build up, and that’s when you get fatty liver disease. So, you now have extra fat floating around in your blood stream, so your triglycerides can go up, along with the harmful form of cholesterol.
Alcohol can have different effects on our blood sugar. Pretty immediately, it can cause our blood sugar to drop (this is called hypoglycemia). You know how when you start drinking, you want to start munching and eating something too? Hypoglycemia may play a part in that feeling. Over time, alcohol can raise blood sugars in chronic drinkers as it starts to alter the effectiveness of insulin (the hormone responsible for helping your body process and use up the sugar in your blood), leaving you with continually high blood sugars – a.k.a diabetes. Chronic drinking can also affect your pancreas, which is responsible for releasing insulin.
Not only does alcohol contain calories, and we know that consuming too many calories can increase body fat, which then increases our risk of a host of diseases, but alcoholic drinks can also contain a lot of added sugars. Consume a lot of sugar, increase your blood sugar. In people with diabetes this can be a harmful combination.
The Best Choices
So, what do we do? Moderation (or abstaining completely) is always the answer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, moderation is considered 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men.
If you do decide to drink, there are certain choices that are better than others. First, ditch the mixers and sweet beverages. These contain a ton of sugar and excess calories. Then, choose a clear liquor, if that’s your thing. The clearer, the better. Fill your glass with mostly seltzer water, or water, and some fresh squeezed lemon or lime.
Wine can also be a better choice, just be aware of how much is actually in your glass. One serving of wine is only 5 oz. That’s not very much. The less sweet, the better when it comes to wine as well. One serving of beer is 12 oz., and be careful of the additives, preservatives, and unknown ingredients in many of the mass produced beers and wines. Keep it local or go organic when possible.
Basically: Our bodies see alcohol as a toxin and shut down most other aspects of normal metabolism to get rid of the toxin. Drinking alcohol impacts all systems of our bodies. Moderation is key, and always avoid the sugary drinks.