One of the most common questions I get is about alcohol. Is it acceptable when following PFC guidelines? How does alcohol fit into this lifestyle? Should I drink it if I’m trying to lose weight? What should I drink when I drink? Do YOU drink? Before we go any further into this topic, I want to start out by making this clear: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the occasional drink if it’s not standing in the way of you reaching your goals and if you tolerate alcohol well. Ultimately the choice is yours; you just need to be aware that it may take longer to reach your weight loss goals if you DO decide to include alcohol.
I should also mention that when it comes to alcohol, everyone has their own opinions, beliefs, and habits. I certainly recognize that alcohol can easily be abused and I encourage anyone who struggles with this to seek support and guidance. For those of you who are content with a drink now and then and want to know the healthiest way to consume alcohol, my following tips will be sure to help you out.
My Alcohol Tips:
Assess your goals. We all have different health goals, and in our personal coaching program, my dietitian coaches and I individualize our recommendations based on a client’s goals. Alcohol will definitely have an effect on your body, and you’ll need to determine whether or not it's worth it as you work towards your goal. I don’t mean to be a Negative Nancy, but it’s not a bad idea to try to cut back or avoid alcohol altogether when weight loss is a goal because when you've taken in alcohol. I’ve had many clients who’ve had trouble losing weight while including alcoholic drinks and that's because when you drink alcohol, your liver's primary goal is to detoxify and get rid of it. If giving up alcohol altogether seems like too great a challenge, I would still recommend doing a trial run at least for a little while to see how much it affects you. Then, maybe you’ll notice such a difference from making such a little change that it'll be easier to cut out even more! It’s also important to consider how alcohol affects your sleep. Alcohol can interfere with your ability to sleep soundly, although maybe you hadn’t noticed that it does. If you wake up and don’t feel rested, think about how the drinks you consumed before bed may have caused your blood sugar to crash in the middle of the night, resulting in restless sleep. Lack of sleep is well documented as a promoter of inflammation and weight gain. If alcohol is affecting your sleep, try to drink as far away from bedtime as possible (and don’t take that the wrong way — I’m not encouraging Happy Hour starting at 10am!). Enjoy your drinks earlier in the evening (preferably with a meal) and be sure to have a big glass of water and a balanced snack before bed. Remember: less alcohol = better sleep = less inflammation = easier weight loss. One last point to consider: if you’re using alcohol to help you unwind and fall asleep, it might be advantageous for you to address underlying blood sugar issues, mineral deficiencies, or hormonal imbalances to get you falling asleep and staying asleep.
Pay attention to blood sugar levels. I’m always talking about blood sugar levels and the goal of keeping them stable. One aspect of alcohol that shouldn’t be overlooked is its negative effect on blood sugars. Everyone’s body responds uniquely to alcohol. In some people, blood sugar drops immediately after consuming alcohol while in others, it spikes quickly, which is then followed by a precipitous drop. Either way, you’re in for a ride on the blood sugar roller coaster if you consume alcohol without balancing it out (PFC!). Know your body and be smart when you drink. It’s wise to not drink on an empty stomach and make sure to drink water between your alcoholic beverages. Don’t forget to have some fat with your alcohol to help stabilize your blood sugar levels too. Cheese and olives are a great healthy fat-filled snack to keep you balanced.
Choose your drinks wisely. Of course, not all drinks are created equal. From a nutritional standpoint the biggest concern with alcohol, like coffee, is not the substance itself but all the crap added to it. Many mixed and specialty drinks are high in sugar and/or artificial sweeteners, and who knows what else. To make matters worse, liquor isn’t regulated like food so manufacturers are not required to list ingredients or even nutrition facts in many cases. Because of this, you can be sure that the nasty artificial flavorings, artificial sweeteners, colorings, preservatives, and other chemical ingredients are included in your favorite fancy drinks as well. I mean really, how can they possibly make vodka taste like cake batter without using something artificial?!
Now that you know my basic guidelines about alcohol, let’s talk about the fun stuff!
The best drink choices for your blood sugar levels:
Vodka or tequila + soda water + fresh squeezed lime. It’s refreshing and free of sugar and artificial sweeteners. Stick with clear spirits, like vodka, tequila and gin (liqueurs like amaretto, rum or crème de Menthe usually have sugar added).
Wine. Another alcoholic beverage I love to love, since it’s a far better choice than beer (which we’ll talk about below) and less sugary than many of those mixed “girly” drinks. Keep in mind, the sweeter the wine, the higher in sugar it is. When it comes to white or red, I say drink whichever you love. Red wine has more antioxidant power than white, but to get in the amount of resveratrol that has been suggested to improve heart health you have to drink more than a few glasses (somewhere around 200 I believe!) to get this benefit. I’m not about to recommend that much wine per sitting, so instead I recommend drinking a glass or two of whichever you like best.
Gluten-free hard cider. A fermented alcoholic beverage made from fruit juice. Be careful because the sugar content varies significantly depending on the brand. I like ACE Pear Cider, Fox Barrel and Strongbow; each has 9 grams of sugar in a 12 ounce bottle. Angry Orchard and Woodchuck are popular brands, but AO has 24 grams of sugar in a 12 ounce serving and Woodchuck has 22. Crispin lies somewhere in the middle with 15 grams of sugar per 12 ounce bottle. IMHO, they’re not worth it when ACE and Strongbow are both excellent with almost 1/3 less sugar. Lastly, as you know, I NEVER recommend products with the words “light” or “lite” in their names, but here is an exception: Michelob Ultra “light” cider is sweetened with stevia, a plant-based sweetener, rather than the artificial stuff used in most other “light” products. Although I have not yet verified that it's real stevia (let me know if you find this out!), it may be another good cider option (and tasty too).
Kombucha Cocktail. If you’re looking for something more like a mixed drink, make your own kombucha cocktail! Add a shot or two of vodka or tequila into your favorite flavor of kombucha. Read more about the benefits of this awesome drink here.
What about beer? Beer is full of grain and carbs, both of which I recommend LIMITING (beer bellies, anyone?). If you’re drinking beer on a regular basis, I’d encourage you to do a little experiment and go without it for a few weeks. You may be surprised at how much better you feel (and even drop a few pounds!) once it’s out of your system (I encourage people to do the same with gluten and dairy if they’ve never tried this before. Sometimes we don’t know how something is affecting us when we include it every day.)
What about Bloody Marys? While they do have some positive aspects to them (full of veggies and sometimes even PFC balanced (see pic)), often times the quality of the ingredients used in Bloody Marys aren’t the best. MSG, sugar and other preservatives are lurking in most pre-made bloody mary mixes.
The Hangover Cure. Finally, if you have decided to include alcohol in your diet, be smart about it and take these last tips with you to avoid that nasty side effect of alcohol; the hangover. I’ve found that after dramatically changing my drinking habits by including the following four strategies, I rarely get them anymore! 🙂
1. Don’t drink too much. (DUH! 😛 )
2. Stick with the drinks recommended above instead of the fru-fru drinks and wine coolers I used to love (Who needs wine coolers anyway when there’s mojito flavored kombucha? 😉
3. Have a glass of water between drinks.
4. Eat a FC snack before bed (especially the "F").
As always, be mindful of what you are eating (and drinking!), but don’t forget to live life. If that means having a few drinks now and then, so be it, but don’t forget to take into consideration how its affecting your body and goals. Cheers!
Grab the guide below for my BEST tips to BUST (and prevent!) sugar, alcohol and carbohydrate cravings below: