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Alcohol and Health

The Truth About Alcohol and Carbohydrates

October 12, 2023
9 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
October 12, 2023
9 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
October 12, 2023
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
October 12, 2023
9 min read
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Reframe Content Team
October 12, 2023
9 min read

Low-carb diets have become increasingly popular, particularly among those looking to lose weight and improve their health. These diets typically involve cutting out high-carb foods (such as refined grains, fruits, starchy vegetables and legumes) and focusing instead on healthy fats and proteins.

Most people following low-carb diets also tend to cut back on drinking, believing that alcoholic beverages are full of carbs. But while it’s true that many popular alcoholic drinks contain carbohydrates, alcohol itself is not a carbohydrate. Let’s take a closer look.

What Are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are a macronutrient found in many foods and beverages that our body turns into glucose (sugar) to give us the energy we need to function. The amount of carbs we consume affects our blood sugar. Consuming a lot of carbs can raise our blood sugar levels, while not consuming enough carbs can cause low blood sugar.

There are three main types of carbohydrates found in foods and drinks: 

  • Starches. Starches are complex carbohydrates, which means they take longer for our body to break down. As a result, blood sugar levels remain stable and we stay full for longer.

    Starchy carbohydrates contain vitamins and minerals and include things like beans and legumes; fruits, such as apples and berries; whole-grain products, such as brown rice or oatmeal; and vegetables, such as corn, peas and potatoes.
  • Fibers. Fiber is also a complex carbohydrate. Our body can’t break fiber down, but it helps stimulate and aid in digestion and also regulates blood sugar, lowers cholesterol, and keeps us feeling full longer.

    High-fiber foods are found in plant-based foods and include things like black beans, chickpeas, apples, berries, nuts and seeds, brown rice, oatmeal, broccoli, lima beans, and squash. (Yes, there’s a fair amount of overlap in starchy and high-fiber foods.)
  • Sugars. Sugars are simple carbohydrates, and our body breaks these down very quickly. As a result, sugars cause our blood sugar levels to rise and then drop quickly — the basis of the term “sugar crash.”

    There are two types of sugars: naturally occurring sugars, such as those found in milk and fresh fruits, and added sugars, such as those found in sweets, canned fruit, juice, and soda.
carbohydrate food chart

Is Alcohol a Carbohydrate?

We typically think of alcohol beverages — such as beer — as being full of carbohydrates, and we assume that they raise our blood glucose level. However, unlike with carbohydrates, alcohol doesn’t turn to sugar in our body. In fact, while sugar and carbohydrate-rich foods raise our blood glucose levels, alcohol actually has the opposite effect: it makes our blood sugar drop.

Here’s what happens: our liver is in charge of turning foods into energy for our cells, usually in the form of glucose. Alcohol, however, primarily gets broken down in the liver — and since it’s considered a toxin, our body works extra hard to get rid of it.

While our liver is working on breaking down the alcohol, it isn’t doing its other jobs as effectively, including regulating the amount of glucose in the blood. This is why our blood glucose can end up dropping. While we’re drinking, our blood sugar will drop even when we eat foods that are high in sugar or carbohydrates

Simply put, the moment alcohol enters our bloodstream, our liver drops everything else to detoxify our body of the harmful substance. And even when our liver does break down the alcohol, it’s converted into carbon dioxide and water — not sugar.

Does Alcohol Contain Carbohydrates?

Even though alcohol itself isn’t a carbohydrate, there can be many carbs in alcohol. For instance, beer typically contains a lot of carbohydrates, since starch is one of its primary ingredients. Depending on various factors, a 12-oz serving of beer can contain anywhere between 3-12 grams of carbs.

Mixed drinks can also be high in carbs due to ingredients like sugar, juice, sweeteners, and syrups that are added for flavoring. For instance, a margarita has roughly 13 grams of carbs, and a pina colada has about 32 grams of carbs.

There are also carbs in all wines — even the driest ones. Fermentation always leaves some residual sugar in the form of carbs. The only alcoholic beverages that have no carbs are distilled spirits. For instance, there are no carbohydrates in vodka, rum, whiskey, gin, tequila, etc. Although they begin as fermented products, the distillation removes all carbs.

Alcohol Contains No Nutritious Value

From a nutritional standpoint, alcohol is a significant source of calories, but these are considered “empty” calories: they contain few vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients our body needs to function properly.

Alcohol is actually the second most calorie-dense “nutrient” after fat — packing 7 calories per gram. Adding even a single serving of alcohol to our diet every day can add hundreds of extra calories while contributing very little of what our body actually needs: protein, fiber, or micronutrients. 

Over time, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to weight gain, particularly if we’re not adjusting our diet to account for any extra calories we’re consuming with alcohol. In fact, research shows that heavy drinking can block fat burning and hinder weight loss. 

Not only is alcohol devoid of proteins, minerals, and vitamins, but it can actually inhibit the absorption and usage of vital nutrients, such as vitamins B1, B12, folic acid, and zinc, all of which are essential for good health.

The list of how alcohol can negatively impact our health and well-being goes on and on. If you’re looking to change your relationship with alcohol and lead a healthier lifestyle, Reframe can help show you the way.

Get Healthier With Reframe

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol.

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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