Alcohol packs hundreds of calories per serving, and a night of drinking can easily pack on an additional 500 to 1,000 calories to your daily intake. One of the many benefits of quitting drinking is a slimmer waistline, and it’s no wonder given how much people can cut back on their calories just by giving up their go-tos at the bar.
If you’re a routine drinker who wants to lose a couple of pounds and improve your health, check out this breakdown of the caloric and sugar content of the most popular alcoholic drinks. It shows how quitting drinking could help you transform your health.
Why Is Alcohol Fattening?
Most people have more than a single drink when they go out, but even just one 5-ounce glass of red wine contains 123 calories. Your pint of lager at the pub could actually hold the same caloric weight of a large slice of pizza.
You’ve probably heard someone use the term “empty calories” before, but what does this mean when we’re talking about alcohol? The expression comes from the fact that alcoholic beverages have no nutritional value. Alcohol is made of starch and sugar with seven calories per gram, which is almost as much as pure fat.
While there may be traces of vitamins in alcohol, the truth is that it doesn’t nourish our bodies at all. In fact, the effects of drunkenness are caused by our brain shutting down various functions to try and flush the substance from our system.
Alcohol is a toxin that induces the production of the principal inhibitory neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). The relaxing effects of alcohol on the central nervous system cause many people to rely on it as a sleep aid or a coping mechanism for anxiety, but that comfort comes at a high price.
Drinking has many negative effects that impact our health and well-being even when we’re sober. Lack of proper sleep leads to greater fatigue and more anxiety, and it also makes it difficult to concentrate and manage stress. With so much going on, it’s easy to turn to happy hour or a night at the pub to cope.
Let’s Do the Math
Pure fat has nine calories per gram while alcohol has seven as well as double the carbs. The average drink is around 14 grams, which means every beverage is at least 100 calories, although many often contain more.
Sugar itself doesn’t make you fat, but it does contain a lot of extra calories that your body has a hard time getting rid of. Beer doesn’t have any sugar, but it does have a lot of carbs, which your body quickly converts to sugars. The “beer belly” so many frequent drinkers develop results from all the extra calories their bodies couldn’t burn, so they ended up getting stored in the abdomen.
It’s important to understand the composition of alcoholic beverages. The amount of liquid in your glass doesn’t actually determine how much alcohol is in your drink or how many calories you’ll be consuming. “Alcohol by volume” (ABV) measures how much alcohol is in your drink, which can help you gain a better understanding of how fattening it will be.
Average Calorie Count in Drinks
Below is a list of some of the most common drinks and their typical caloric intake. We’ve broken each one down by type and size to help you easily find your go-to beverage so that you can get a good scope of how much you’re consuming whenever you drink.
A serving of beer is 12 ounces, which is the equivalent of one standard-sized can. Many people can put away a six-pack in a single night. This equals an extra 600-700 or more calories on top of their daily intake.
Consuming light beers are a good alternative to traditional brews. They contain a lower alcohol value and fewer calories to be more forgiving on your waistline. Light beers are typically around 4.5 percent ABV while regular beers are 5 percent.
Ale, Cider and Lager
People typically drink ales and lagers in pints. A British pint contains 20 ounces while an American pint is 16 ounces. A pint of lager with an alcohol concentration of 4 percent can have as many as 180 calories. Sugar in ale and lager is minimized since both drinks are a type of effervescent beer that’s been made at low temperatures.
The ABV of your lager or cider will influence its makeup and recommended serving. Ciders range from 1.5 to a staggering 8.5 percent ABV. Cider is made from crushed apples, so its natural sugar content is higher than other alcohols. One pint of cider can contain up to 20.5 grams of sugar, which equates to five tablespoons.
Wine varies in ABV and caloric content. Red wine is more fattening than white, so if you’re trying to drop a few pounds, then you’ll want to cut red out of your diet.
The ABV of wine greatly influences how fattening it is. An ABV between 9 and 12 percent is considered low, although some dry wines have ABVs as high as 17 percent. Many European wines tend to have stricter regulations, so their ABVs are lower and, therefore, better for your figure.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism sets the serving size of wine at one 5-ounce glass. While the sugar content in wine varies, the majority of wines will always have less of the sweet stuff than their cousin champagne. Your favorite bottle of bubbly can hold as many as 175 calories and one teaspoon of sugar per flute.
Your Favorite Cocktails
A few of your favorite drinks might have as many calories as a full meal. Below is a list of 10 of the most popular cocktails on the market and their statistics based on one serving or glass:
Calorie count: 100
Carbs: 13 grams
Sugars: 22 grams
Calorie count: 242
Carbs: 40 grams
Sugars: 37 grams
Calorie count: 70
Carbs: 17 grams
Sugars: 17 grams
Carbs: 19 grams
Sugars: 17 grams
Calorie count: 174
Carbs: 18 grams
Sugars: 15 grams
Long Island Iced Tea
Calorie count: 454
Carbs: 62 grams
Sugars: 61 grams
Calorie count: 300
Carbs: 50 grams
Sugars: 43 grams
Calorie count: 120
Carbs: 15 grams
Sugars: 13 grams
Calorie count: 95
Carbs: 2 grams
Sugars: Zero grams
Gin and Tonic
Calorie count: 143
Carbs: 14 grams
Sugars: 13 grams
How to Reduce Drinking
Most people have a hard time quitting cold turkey, but you can take some conscious steps to reduce your drinking and slowly phase alcohol out of your diet. The first thing to do is determine how much you’re drinking each week and whether it’s too much. Some people overindulge without even realizing it.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) suggests that men should not exceed more than four standard drinks a day and women should have no more than three. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines moderate drinking as no more than one drink a day for women and no more than two for men.
A “standard” alcoholic drink by NIAA guidelines contains no more than 14 grams of alcohol. This would translate to about one can of beer or one 5-ounce glass of wine.
If you drink more than three or four drinks a day, you may be suffering from a dependence issue. Drinking less can start by cutting down your daily amount. If you drink three beers every day, take one away each week until you’re down to just one a day in a just a few weeks. If you want, you could cut out beer altogether within a month.
You can also have an alcohol-free day or limit your drinking to only certain events or times of the day. You should also set and not exceed a strict limit on how much you’ll consume at any given time.
The Benefits of Quitting Drinking
When you stop drinking, there are a lot of benefits you might start to experience immediately. Alcohol disrupts our sleeping patterns and reduces the time spent during REM, the most restorative stage. When you drink less, you’ll sleep better and wake up with more energy.
You can also expect to be less dehydrated once you quit drinking. This will improve your appearance. Less drinking means brighter eyes, clearer skin and a rejuvenated look.
Many people are also stunned at how much weight they drop once they quit drinking. You can easily lose over 15 pounds just by cutting alcoholic beverages from your diet. Instead of a cosmopolitan or mojito, try to learn some mocktail recipes and re-create your favorite drinks with fewer calories.
Keeping Track of Your Consumption
Becoming more conscious of what you eat and how much you consume every day is a great step toward a healthier life. When you make the choice to scale back, you’ll be in a much better frame of mind to learn about how your favorite drinks are impacting your body.
Keep a list of how much you drink on average and add up the caloric intake. Add this to your average daily intake to get the “big picture” and see how many you need to cut out to be at a healthy total.
Drink less by using a drink tracker to keep a record of how much you consume. If you plan ahead, you can also write out exactly what drinks you plan to have and what they’ll add to your diet.
Cut back on how much you drink and get ready to experience the higher energy levels, more balanced moods and relaxed emotions you can feel without drinking. For many people, drinking is just a habit that has become a routine part of their daily life even though it doesn’t serve any purpose.
You may not want to bite the bullet and quit drinking altogether, but if you’re up for it, consider going one month without a drop. Track how many calories you’ve saved, how much weight you lose and how your mood feels over the course of 30 days. You might be amazed at how different you feel without that evening glass of wine.
Your body doesn’t burn as much fat for energy when you drink, so you’re prone to pack on the pounds and keep them when you’re a regular drinker. When you cut back or quit altogether, your body can prioritize more important processes and shed the excess fat that has been acquired. Take control of your life, health and wellness by keeping a tally of your caloric intake, and always drink responsibly.