Drinking Alcohol on the Keto Diet? Here’s what you need to know

Can you follow the Keto Diet and still enjoy an occasional drink? Does alcohol kick you out of ketosis? Read on to find out.

Many people think that drinking alcohol is forbidden on the keto diet. For many reasons, those people are justified. In addition to being unhealthy overall, alcohol can have a counterproductive effect on someone who is participating in the keto diet.

In this article, we’re going to talk about whether or not you could (or should) drink alcohol on the keto diet, and tell you which types of alcohol or ok (sort of!) and which to avoid.

How the Keto Diet Works

To understand what alcohol does to you on a keto diet, first we have to look at what the keto diet is. The keto diet is a strictly low-carb way of eating that works by putting your body into a state known as ketosis. The diet is mainly consisted of fats, with a moderate amount of protein and as little carbohydrate as possible.

On a normal diet your body uses glucose for energy. Whether you are resting, running, or sleeping, your body is using some of this energy to keep your organs and muscles functioning. If you don’t eat any carbs, you will not have any glucose to provide this energy for your body.

Fortunately for you, your body has a backup mechanism! it will begin to burn fat if there are no glucose stores available. This is why the keto diet can be so effective for helping people lose fat quickly. The state of burning fat as a primary source of energy is called ketosis, and this is the namesake for the keto diet.

For more information on the keto diet and getting started, check out our keto beginner’s guide and these 7 tips for starting a keto diet.

Why Is Alcohol Bad for Keto?

The general consensus is that that alcohol is unhealthy for the keto diet (and in general too). Turns out there are plenty of reasons for this that we’ll explore here:

1. Many Forms of Alcohol Are High in Carbs

best keto alcohol

One of the main reasons that alcohol is a problem for people who are on the keto diet is because many forms of alcohol are high in carbohydrates. 

The reason that this is generally not desirable for people on the keto diet is because consuming carbs can interfere with the process of ketosis. When you’re in ketosis, a single dose of glucose can have a serious impact on your body and weight loss.

This is because your body will have a reduced tolerance to glucose, meaning that it will be highly sensitive to all forms of carbohydrates. Consuming carbs can then lead to serious blood sugar spikes, whilst kicking you out of ketosis.

Furthermore, some studies have revealed that people following a low-carb diet can actually sustain physical damage by suddenly reintroducing high doses of carbs into their diet. Subjects in the study were shown to have elevated levels of biomarkers in their blood, indicating that their blood vessels were damaged.

So how bad are the various alcohols?

How many carbs are in wine?

drink wine on keto diet

Wine is actually a relatively low carb option if you’re looking to stay keto and drink, with around 2g of carbs per small glass. Even on a strict keto diet you could probably slip in a glass or two and stay under 20g total carbs for the day.

If drinking wine, go for drier options if possible as these tend to contain less sugar than sweeter alternatives. In particular, don’t group sweet dessert wines in this category, as these can be packed with sugars (it’s pretty obvious drinking these given how sweet they are!) A 5oz serving of a Sherry or Muscat might set you back 200+ calories and 20g of carbs.

Here are your best keto red wine choices (per 5oz serving):

  1. Pinot Noir: 121 calories, 3.4g carbs
  2. Merlot: 122 calories, 3.7g carbs
  3. Syrah: 122 calories, 3.8g carbs
  4. Cabernet Sauvignon: 122 calories, 3.9g carbs
  5. Zinfandel: 129 calories, 4.2g carbs

And the best keto white wine choices:

  1. Sauvingon Blanc: 119 calories, 3 g carbs
  2. Pinot Gris: 122 calories, 3g carbs
  3. Chardonnay: 123 calories, 3.2g carbs

Champagne is another great choice coming in at 100 calories and 2g carbs per 5oz serving.

How many carbs are in beer?

keto and beer

Beer is particularly high in carbs compared to most alcohols, with 13g or more net carbs per serving. Made mainly from barley, wheat and corn beer has a bunch of readily digestible carbs that will quickly kick you out of ketosis.

Let’s not even mention the famous ‘beer bellies’! Drinking beer regularly and in large amounts is a recipe for disaster if you’re hoping to keep your weight down or lose weight.

Generally speaking you’re going to want to avoid beer if possible and choose a lower carb alternative if you’re staying strict on keto. There are a few low carb brands around if you really want to get your beer fix, check them out below:

  1. Bud Select 55: 55 calories, 1.8g carbs
  2. Michelob Ultra: 95 calories, 2.6g carbs
  3. Bud Select: 99 calories, 3.1g carbs
  4. Miller Lite: 96 calories, 3.2g carbs
  5. Becks: 64 calories 3.2g carbs
  6. Bud Light: 103 calories, 4.6g carbs
  7. Coors Light, 102 calories, 5g carbs

How many carbs are in liquors and spirits?

Pure spirits such as vodka, gin, whiskey etc. are essentially zero carb, meaning they’re unlikely to kick you out of ketosis. Just remember these are neat spirits we’re talking about so moderation is extra important!

The problem with these comes when you want to mix them with something to make them a little more drinkable (neat vodka shots are not a tasty drink in the slightest…)

The mixers are where you need to be careful as we usually like to mix these with sweet juices, sodas and fruits to balance out the alcohol, all of which come with a bunch of carbs. So when picking your mixer, opt for seltzer water, sugar free tonic water or a diet soda drink if necessary.

Liquor may be low carb, but it isn’t low calorie and you do need to be aware that while it may not push you out of ketosis like glucose, it is going to impede your weight loss goals. The main liquors are as follows:

  1. Tequila: 96 calories, 0 carbs
  2. Gin/Rum/Vodka/Whiskey : 110 calories, no carbs

You want to avoid liquers on the other hand, as these often do contain a lot of carbs. Not to be confused with liquors these are flavored spirits often sweetened to make them more drinkable. Examples are Ameretto, Bailey’s, Kahlua etc.

2. Alcohol Changes Your Metabolism

The goal of the keto diet is to stay in ketosis, and that means that you want your metabolism to be working in a very specific manner. Unfortunately, alcohol can interfere with your metabolism in a way that’s not conducive to maintaining ketosis.

One of the reasons for this is that alcohol produces a number of byproducts that the body uses before consuming other nutrients. This is why alcohol can produce such a quick burst of energy. Unfortunately, this can also mess up your ketosis.

Some of the byproducts of alcohol metabolism are acetaldehyde, acetate, and phosphatidyl ethanol. These compounds are pretty toxic, and as such, your body targets them to be ‘burned’ much like it would any other poisons. During this process, your body prioritizes the burning of these toxic compounds above the burning of energy sources – such as glucose and lipids.

This means that the lipids which you’ve worked so hard to get rid of by staying in ketosis are now taking their place on the back-burner. This means that if you drink a lot, or if you drink very often, your body is going to put more time and energy into burning away the byproducts of alcohol.

In short: regular alcohol consumption can actually promote fat storage. 

3. Alcohol is High-Calorie

Even alcohol that is not high in carbs is generally high in calories. While this might not be as disastrous for someone on the keto diet as a dose of carbs, it’s still important to consider the repercussions here.

If you are hoping to lose weight by following this diet plan, then you may well be counting calories. If you’re not already aware, alcohol is known for being very calorie dense.

  • A shot of gin has 73 calories
  • A can of beer has 154 calories
  • A glass of wine has 123 calories

These numbers might not seem that high on their own, but you can see how easy it would be to bulk up your calorie count after having a couple drinks. In fact, just 3-5 drinks can provide you with as many calories as a whole meal.

4. Alcohol Interferes With Decision Making

keto alcohol guide - bad decision making

Aside from the fact that alcohol makes it easier for you to make bad life choices, it’s also notorious for leading people to make terrible dietary choices. Even people who uphold the strictest dietary regime whilst sober have been known to neglect their diets when they’ve been drinking.

If you’re going to be going out for drinks, it’s probably a good idea that you check in with yourself. Are you really strong enough to hold true to your decisions even after you’ve had a few?

Add to that the next day, hangover munchies are a real thing (assuming you’ve not drunk so much you can stand food the next morning) The knock on effect of over-drinking on your diet can be a major cheat day (or two)

5. Keto Lowers Alcohol Tolerance

When you’re on the keto diet, chances are you’ll be drinking a lot less. This means that your alcohol tolerance will be significantly lower than it usually is, which could lead to some embarrassing moments should you decide to drink your normal amount.

Furthermore, your tolerance to glucose drops when you’re on keto. This means that your body will be hyper-sensitive to any form of carbohydrate or sugar, and that you’ll be more prone to carbohydrate crashes. Since the majority of alcoholic beverages are rich in both of these, this could lead you on to an emotional and energetic rollercoaster.

6. Alcohol Is Just All-Around Unhealthy

The other main reason that alcohol is considered unhealthy for dieters is because it’s just plain unhealthy. Alcohol is not a nutrient – in fact, it’s about the opposite of a nutrient. Alcohol can sap your body of the nutrients that it does have, and it can interfere with the digestion and absorption of other nutrients.

That’s not to say that all alcohol is entirely deprived of nutrients. Red wine is well-known for its high antioxidant content, and certain types of beer such as stout are known for being rich in B vitamins. 

However, if you’re a chronic drinker, chances are the negatives of alcohol outweigh the positives. And furthermore, most people aren’t going to the bar in search of the most nutrient-dense alcoholic beverage they can find (though if this is one of your considerations, you’re probably doing better than most!)

What are the Best Alcohol Choices on the Keto Diet?

As discussed, alcohol is generally not ideal for people who are hoping to stay in ketosis. Because of the way that it can interfere with our metabolism, alcohol can actually lead to an increase in fat storage – which is the opposite of what you’re looking for.

However, a drink here and there isn’t the worst thing in the world. If you’re going out for an evening and want to have a drink or two, it’s possible that you can choose some low-carb drinks that won’t wreak havoc on your metabolism.

Obviously the best choice here is no drink at all, but if you’re going to drink go for one of these:

Low-Carb Alcohols

If you’re going to be drinking alcohol on the keto diet, then you’re going to want to make sure that you stick with low-carb drinks. 

If you like your drinks on the rocks, then you’re in luck, because most forms of hard liquor are free from carbs. This means that you can drink whiskey, gin, tequila, rum, and vodka (in moderation, of course) without having to worry too much about throwing off your carb count. 

That said, it’s still important to remember that alcohol can adversely affect ketosis, regardless of whether or not it’s high in carbs. That said, here’s a brief list of some of the low-carb drinks you can indulge in without too much guilt.

  • A shot of rum, vodka, gin, tequila, or whiskey, containing 0 carbs.
  • A glass of red or white wine, containing between 3-4 grams of carbs.
  • A can of light beer, containing roughly 3 grams of carbs.
  • Light seltzers (ie: alcohol flavored seltzer water)

As you can see, you can drink any of the above without causing too much damage, in moderation. 1 glass of red isn’t going to cause too much trouble, one bottle on the other hand…..

Low Carb Mixers

Now you know that there are certain types of alcohol that you can drink without throwing yourself out of ketosis. The next thing to be cautious of is what sort of mixers are being used to make your drinks. 

The most popular drinks are generally made with mixers like juice, carbonated soda, and energy drinks – all of which are quite high in carbs.

If you want to make a delicious, low-carb drink, then consider using some of the following zero-carb mixers.

  • Tonic water (as long as it’s sugar-free)
  • Seltzer or other types of carbonated water
  • Diet soda
  • Crystal Light or other carb-free juice mixes

Low Carb Cocktails

It’s worth learning a few low carb cocktail choices that you can take to any decent bar and be confident you aren’t downing a bunch of sugar with that spirit. Here are a few common cocktails that are low or no carb:

  • Gin and Tonic (sugar free)
  • Gin/Vodka Martini
  • Vodka, Lime and Soda
  • Tequila, Lime and Soda
  • Whisky and Diet Coke

Know Your Limits

It’s important to make sure that you know your limits when you’re drinking alcohol, regardless of whether or not you’re on keto. Realistically, though, you should set your limits quite a bit lower when you’re on a diet.

There are plenty of reasons to keep your alcohol consumption down. 

  • Alcohol is filled with empty calories, meaning that you’re going to be downing a lot of nutrient-free energy that will have to be burned off by your body.
  • Alcohol can actually increase your chances of gaining weight and throw off the benefits of being in ketosis.
  • Alcohol tends to sap the body of nutrients and can lead to nutritional deficiencies, especially when consumed on a regular basis.
  • Alcohol can lead to the development of serious mental and physical health problems.

These are some of the most obvious reasons that you should moderate your alcohol consumption. 

‘Moderation’ is generally acknowledged as being no more than one drink a day for women and no more than two for men. However, when you’re on the keto diet, you probably don’t want to be drinking every day – even if it’s just a single drink. This will only make it more difficult for your body to adapt to ketosis.

Keto Alcohol Take-Aways

Many people think that alcohol is a definite nope for anyone on the keto diet. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that. Deciding whether or not you want to drink alcohol on the keto diet depends on a number of factors. 

There are a few things to keep in mind before heading out to the bar.

  • There are many different types of alcohol, some of which are actually quite low in carbohydrates. Hard alcohols are virtually carb-free, and wine contains no more than 3 carbs per glass.
  • Even though some alcohol may be carb free, all alcohol creates toxic byproducts that your body must burn off. Your body prioritizes burning these compounds over fats and carbs, and this can throw off your ketosis.
  • Regular alcohol consumption can actually promote fat storage.
  • If you are going to drink alcohol while you’re on keto, make sure you choose a low-carb source of alcohol and use a low-carb mixer. 

If you remember this information and follow the tips that we’ve provided in this article, then you should have no problems. Remember – moderation is key.

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