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Limiting the types of food you can eat on the keto diet can make social activities a challenge. With that in mind, you may be wondering whether or not drinking alcohol is a good idea. How many carbs are in alcohol anyway? Is there such a thing as keto-friendly drinks? And what’s the difference between the various options available?
With so many options available—wine, beer, cider, hard liquor, premixes, and more—it can feel overwhelming to untangle it all just to have a drink with some friends after work while remaining on-plan. But don’t worry, we have you covered. We’ve compiled a list of just about every option you might encounter at the package store or your local watering hole to create the Superfat Keto Alcohol Guide. With this trusty guide to the dos and don'ts, you can make informed decisions about what and when to drink alcohol on the keto diet.
What You’ll Learn in this Guide:
- Alcohol and ketosis
- Alcohol and fat burning
- Alcohol's effect on keto dieters
- Meal ideas pre-drinking on the keto diet
- Best and worst keto alcohol and mixer options
- Meal ideas post-drinking for keto (avoid hangovers, grogginess, etc)
- Basic Pairings
- dry-wine = yes
- sweet wine = no
- beer = no (almost always)
- liquor = yes (unflavored)
- mixers* = keep it sugar-free or an energy drink
Alcohol and Ketosis
Before we go any further, it's important to understand the effect alcohol can have on achieving and maintaining ketosis. Alcohol is processed in your liver (the same place ketones are made). And because your body perceives ethanol (the alcohol you drink) as a toxic substance, your liver will process the ethanol first (before the fats you eat). In other words, ketone production will be put on hold in favor of ethanol processing. This is true regardless of how many carbs are in your glass of wine. While there's a wide range of carbohydrate content in alcoholic drinks, all alcohol consumption will result in the slowing of ketone production.
So, depending on where you are on your keto journey, it will be up to you to decide whether or not you want to consume even keto-friendly drinks. If you're early in your journey, still wondering if you've become fat-adapted, and are being super-strict with your carb counts, you might opt to hold off on drinking altogether until you've reached your first milestone. If you've been using the ketogenic diet to maintain your weight for a while, you might find that a low-carb beer or cocktail doesn't throw you off course at all. The decision about whether or not to drink alcohol on the keto diet is very individual.
Alcohol and Fat Burning
There's a reason that so many popular diets and holistic health practitioners recommend staying away from alcohol while you're trying to lose weight. This recommendation generally stands, regardless of whether or not you're following the ketogenic diet. And it's true for a number of reasons. You'll find the first reason in the paragraph above: your body preferentially processes alcohol before anything else, therefore, it's necessarily processing alcohol before it processes any fats. This can slow down your fat burn.
The second reason is actually the most obvious one: alcohol is full of empty calories. Even low-carb alcohol contains calories that don't contribute nutrients to your diet. And regardless of what type of weight loss plan you're on, excessive empty calories are counterproductive. The keto diet may not put a huge emphasis on calorie counting, but calories do count in the end. If you're consuming more calories than you're burning you won't lose fat. It's as simple as that. In fact, empty calories from alcohol are part of the reason the term "beer belly" exists. The other part is up next.
The third reason to avoid or limit alcohol is that it negatively impacts your organs. Of course, an occasional drink from time to time will probably not cause you to have a cirrhotic liver, but excessive drinking leads to a lot of stress on your body. If you've ever noticed a beer belly looks like someone swallowed a watermelon, you're likely looking at a very sick liver. That hardened beer belly look is the result of an overtaxed, fatty liver that will most certainly not be optimized to turn fatty acids into ketones.
The final argument against alcohol while dieting in general is that it lowers your inhibitions. Alcohol is called a social lubricant because it helps you let your guard down and loosen up. This can be fun from time to time, but too much loosening could cause you to loosen your dietary restrictions too—a drunken midnight snack isn't usually a low-carb meal. Furthermore, some experts believe that alcohol consumption itself can lead to increased hunger and food intake over time. One rodent study confirmed as much.
So with all this in mind, we encourage you to proceed with caution and to view keto alcohol guidelines with a grain of salt. The best diets are the ones you actually stick to, so if having an occasional drink keeps you on plan, then go for it. If you're worried that it might throw you off, then consider a low-carb mocktail instead.
Alcohol's Effect on Keto Dieters
One more thing to consider that's super important: the effects of alcohol increase dramatically on a keto or low-carb diet. Keto dieters are burning ketones instead of glycogen to fuel their bodies and brains. That's great from a fat-burning perspective, but from an alcohol processing perspective, the ketogenic diet could turn you into a pretty cheap date, so be prepared. Without the usual glycogen stores to help slow down the processing of alcohol, chances are, you'll feel tipsy after your very first drink. For this reason, it's important to plan your transportation in advance, or have your keto beer at home instead of at the bar where you might be too drunk to drive. It's always important to be responsible when drinking, but it's especially important when you're on the keto diet because your alcohol tolerance will much lower than it was before you started eating a keto meal plan.
Meal Ideas Pre-Drinking on the Keto Diet
Considering the risks we've just laid out for drinking on keto, it would follow that drinking on this diet might require some preparation and thoughtful meal planning. We know that protein is the most filling macronutrient. We also know that if you drink when you're full on protein-rich foods, it will slow down the processing of the alcohol. Fat also slows down the absorption of alcohol into your bloodstream because it takes a lot longer to digest than protein and carbs. And finally, we know that if you're full before you start drinking, the chances of having lots of late-night drunken snacks are a lot lower. So choosing high-protein, high-fat foods for your pre-drinking meal, you're setting yourself up for success on the keto diet.
Breakfast for Dinner
Eggs are a great pre-drinking source of fuel. That's because they're a high-protein food with lots of healthy fats and micronutrients as well. Another excellent food to consider before imbibing is salmon. Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which some studies suggest could provide brain protection against potential damage from alcohol. Salmon, like eggs, is also rich in protein to help slow down the effects of alcohol. Asparagus and other antioxidant-rich veggies can also offer protection against alcohol damage. Asparagus, in particular, contains a number of antioxidants that can help protect your cells, including ferulic acid, kaempferol, quercetin, rutin, and isorhamnetin. Consider having an omelet loaded with salmon and veggies like asparagus before a night of drinking to help keep you full throughout the night and slow down the effects of alcohol too.
Snack On the Go
If you've got dinner plans that don't include an evening omelet, Greek yogurt is also an excellent source of protein to consider before heading out on the town. Full-fat, organic Greek yogurt offers both healthy fats and proteins, and while this option is higher in net carbs than eggs and salmon, it's a great on-the-go choice if you go with the plain, sugar-free variety. Throw in some berries, a handful of walnuts, and some stevia, and you'll have yourself a brain-healthy pre-drinking snack. Nuts and berries on their own are also a great start, packing in the antioxidants, alcohol-slowing fiber, and a bit of extra protein (from the nuts) to get you fueled for a night out.
If there ever was a keto superfood, avocado is it. It's a high-fat, high-fiber food that's basically the plant-based green butter of the gods. Avocado goes with just about everything, so getting it into a pre-drinks meal shouldn't be too hard to do. Spread it on keto toast or crackers, or even sprinkle with salt and eat it with a spoon. Better yet, add it to that omelet we suggested above and supercharge your breakfast for dinner.
If you've ever had a brutal hangover, you know that rehydration is the key to recovery. Avocados may actually help prevent a hangover because they're so high in potassium, a key electrolyte for hydration. If you've got drinking plans out on the horizon, you can even get creative and make a keto-friendly avocado chocolate pudding to top off your pre-drink feast. Simply blend avocado, unsweetened cacao, a touch of coconut milk, a touch of vanilla, and your favorite sweetener until silky smooth and enjoy a creamy dessert.
Best and Worst Keto Alcohol and Mixer Options
Now that you're armed with good information about how to plan for drinking on keto, let's dig into the best and worst drinks to choose on the diet. Obviously, you'll want to steer clear of the alcoholic beverages with lots of added carbs and sugars. And same goes for mixers. You might be surprised to learn, for example, that six ounces of tonic water contain about 16 grams of carbs. Not ideal; a better option is club soda or seltzer water, which is calorie-free and zero carbs. So you get the bubbles without the sugar.
Worst Options for Keto Alcohol
In short, you want to avoid most beer, most mixers, most liqueurs, most ciders, and all sweet and dessert wines. Full-bodied beers are just too high in carbs and calories to work on the keto diet. There are some good light beer and ultra-light beer options, so don't lose hope if you're a beer lover. But don't count on drinking IPAs, stouts, porters, or anything very full-bodied or high alcohol in the beer department.
What you may not realize is that all spirits (vodka, whiskey, scotch, bourbon, tequila, gin, rum, etc) are all zero carbs as long as they're unflavored and unsweetened. They're also the most potent alcoholic options, so drinking them straight is not ideal for keto dieters who might already be more sensitive to alcohol than their non-keto friends. The mixers you want to avoid include tonic (which we already mentioned), fruit juices, regular sugary sodas, bloody mary mix, sweet and sour, margarita mix, and anything else with added sugar.
Not to be confused with liquor, liqueurs are also off-limits due to their very high sugar content. Liqueurs like kalua, Bailey's Irish cream, creme de menthe, amaretto, and anything that seems overly sweet is likely chock full of unwanted sugars that will sabotage your goals on the keto diet. We'll also put flavored liquors in this category to keep it simple. So the fruity flavors and birthday cake-flavored vodkas are also off-limits.
Ciders and wines have good and bad options. If you can find a super dry cider, it may be low-carb enough to work for you, but the sweet ciders are definitely out. Same goes for wine: you'll want to steer clear of any overly sweet wines, especially ports and dessert wines like riesling and spumante (Muscato), although there are dry rieslings available. Wine and fruit mixes like sangria and pre-bottled wine coolers are also out, as they're too high-carb.
Best Options for Keto Alcohol
Your safest bets across the board are dry wines, light beers, and spirits with sugar-free mixers. There are also some pre-mixed canned alcohol options like White Claw that basically amount to a spiked La Croix, which also work great on keto. Let's break it down.
Your most reliable options in the beer department are light and ultra-light beers made by the big beer companies. However, with craft beer varieties at their peak since the craft beer movement began, there are actually a number of good craft options too.
First up: Craft Beers
You won't get as many full-bodied and dark beers here, but with brands like Allagash (Allagash Brewing Co), Primetime (Bridge Brewing Co), Bright Tangerine (Devils Backbone Brewing Co), Scrimshaw Pilsner (North Coast Brewing Co), Rose Lager (Surly Brewing Co), IC Light (Pittsburgh Brewing Co), and Da Schootz (Deschutes Brewery) -- you're likely to find a flavoring craft brew that works on keto.
Next Up: National Beer Brands
More standard and widely available beer options from major national brands include: Budweiser Select 55, Rolling Rock Green Light, Michelob Ultra (and Michelob Ultra Amber), Miller Lite, Busch Light, Natural Ice Light, Coors Light, Bud Light, Heineken Light, and Yuengling Light -- with Bud Select 55 taking the prize for lowest carb nationally available (USA) beer.
For wine, regardless of the varietal or brand, you want to make sure you're not choosing anything too sweet. For bubbly, look for the word "Brut" to ensure you're getting something dry. Dry white wine and red wine alike are both great options, with between 90 and 145 calories and two and five grams of net carbs per five-ounce class.
First up: White Wines
Next Up: Red Wines
The liquor information is actually pretty simple: there are zero carbs in hard liquor.
For a 1.5-ounce pour of spirits, you're going to consume between 90 and 110 calories and get about a 40% ABV (alcohol by volume). This is true for all brands of vodka, whiskey, scotch, bourbon, tequila, gin, and brandy. Some rum can run a little lower on the calories and ABV and a little higher on the carbs, never going above two grams of carbs. Your best bet is to pick your spirit for the evening and stick to it with a keto-friendly mixer.
The best keto mixers are low- or no-calorie and low- or no-sugar. These include:
- Lemon or lime juice
- Soda water
- Diet soda
- Calorie-free flavored sodas like Waterloo or La Croix
If you're craving a sweet mixed drink like a mojito, consider this quick recipe: muddle half a lime and a few sprigs of mint, add 1.5 oz of rum, half a can of lime-flavored Waterloo, and three drops of stevia liquid. Fill the rest of the glass with ice and shake for a keto-friendly mojito.
The Keys to Drinking on Keto
The most effective diet and weight loss plans are the ones you stick to for the long-term. While it isn't always easy to stay on a strict keto plan, it can be a little bit easier if you're not feeling deprived of social engagements that involve drinking alcohol.
Depending on where you are in your keto journey, it might be just fine for you to have a keto beer, wine, or mixed drink from time to time, but it's important to know your limits. Drinking on keto can mean a lower alcohol tolerance and lower inhibitions when it comes to snacking and overeating. If you feel solid on your keto meal plan and want to incorporate one of these drinks from time to time, go for it!
Author: Toni Sicola
|Toni is a wellness professional with a Master's in Integrative Health, is passionate about spreading health, happiness, and personal fulfillment to as many people as possible. She has a professional background in health and wellness, dietary supplements, and nutrition, and embarks every day to live a well, balanced, happy life.|
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