By Zoe Bradbury
Start any health kick, and you’ll be instantly told to give up alcohol. It’s like the two go hand in hand; excessive alcohol consumption leads to excessive weight gain.
But why is this actually the case?
It’s not just the additional calories that push one over their recommended daily intake that causes weight gain. It’s how the body actually reacts to the alcohol.
It’s likely that when alcohol is consumed in moderate to excess, there’s probably going to be some food added in there too. Not only does this increase overall calorie consumption, but it affects the way the body breaks food calories compared to alcohol calories.
Nutritional expert and author of The Diet Fix, Dr. Zoe Harcombe, explains that the increased calories from alcoholic beverages are not the major issue at hand. “The body cannot store alcohol or turn alcohol calories into fat,” she says.
The calories can’t be stored because they are ‘empty calories’, with no nutritional value, according to Drink Aware. Protein, carbohydrates and fats all have a use in the body and a placed to be stored – alcohol, on the other hand, has to be excreted as soon as possible.
Harcome explains, “calories in alcohol will be preferentially burned by the body,” before any food calories can be burned. “This means, if you consume 100 calories of alcohol and 100 calories of pasta, the body will burn the alcohol calories before the pasta calories. This makes the pasta calories more likely to be stored, rather than used up.”
As such, this slows down the body’s fat burning properties and the metabolism, because it’s focused on trying to get rid of the alcohol.
And when unhealthy foods such as bar snacks or that late night kebab are consumed along with alcohol, it means the body stores onto this fat and excess calories, which leads to weight gain.
In many countries, consuming a glass of alcohol before dinner is common practice. Thought to have originated in France, “aperitif” literally translates to “open” – i.e. having a glass of wine to “open” up the appetite, ready for a big meal.
It’s scientifically proven that alcohol makes you hungrier, which, leading on from the previous points, will make you consume more calories.
Alcohol activates a group of nerve cells in the brain that regulates food intake, and increases the neurons to send signals to your body that you’re hungry, says, Gary Wittert, head of the School of Medicine at Adelaide University. Additionally, alcohol can have an impact on hormones tied to satiety, or feeling full, reducing the leptin hormone that subdues appetite.
Further, alcohol lowers inhibitions, which can leave the choice to eat healthier or within the right portion size, much harder. And that desire for sweet, salty or greasy foods? Ginger Hultin, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told CNN, “drinking alcohol can impair the liver’s ability to release the right amount of glycogen, or stored glucose, into the blood to keep blood glucose levels stable.”
Although weight gain can be a negative issue for many, it’s also not the be all, end all when it comes to life.
Having a glass of wine or drink at the end of the day can often be used as a way to unwind and relax, a chance to stop and think from a busy, hectic day. A new study has even found that occasionally drinking red wine can have a positive impact on gut health.
Further, many people enjoy unwinding with their friends over a glass, providing a fun social interaction or a chance to catch up. It’s factors like these that can often be more important than how much you weigh, with emotional health coming out on top.
If you enjoy drinking alcohol in a healthy manner, there’s no point in cutting it out completely from your life in fear of a little weight gain. Just be sure to consume in moderation.
If you’re is trying to lose weight, but don’t want to give up drinking altogether, there are still ways to drink and lose weight.
Ditch the sugary cocktails and pre-mixed drinks – they can often have double the amount of calories per a shot of spirit. Further, pay attention to serving sizes, and consume in moderation. For more tips on healthier alcohol options, click here.
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