Why the Atkins Diet and Alcohol Don’t Mix

As a rule, the Atkins diet and alcohol do not mix. Any type of alcohol is strictly prohibited in the 2-week induction phase, and certain types of liquor should be avoided in later phases as well.

Low carbohydrate diets discourage sipping those tasty Margaritas because alcohol gives you carbs and calories, and no nutritional value. However, you want to enjoy the things you’ve always liked and that includes taking a libation or two when you go out.

Understand that Booze Stops Weight Loss

The body is constantly burning energy in the order of carbs as the first fuel then fat as the back up source. When alcohol is introduced, the body uses it before everything. Keep in mind what Dr. Atkins had to say about the Atkins diet and alcohol:

“Here’s the problem with all alcoholic beverages, and the reason I recommend refraining from alcohol consumption on the Atkins diet. Alcohol, whenever taken in, is the first fuel to burn. While that is going on, your body will not burn fat. This does not stop the weight loss it simply postpones it. Since the alcohol does not store as glycogen, you immediately go back into ketosis / lipolysis after the alcohol is used up.”

Alcohol and Sugar

Atkins Diet and Alcohol

Most fermented beverages (beer and wine) and a by-product, distilled spirits (hard liquor), started out as a high-carbohydrate fermentables such as sugar, grains, potatoes, or molasses in their raw form. During fermentation, yeast consumes sugar and nutrients and converts them into carbon dioxide gas and alcohol. The CO2 bubbles away and dissipates, leaving the alcohol and residual sugar. Dry wines have very little sugar left so will have around 3 to 5 grams of carbs, while sweet champagne will have 12 to 14 grams of carbs. Hard liquors have zero carbs because the distilling process leaves nothing but ethyl alcohol. However, mixers added to cocktails are sugary and high in carbs so that’s where the problem lies with mixed drinks. You can drink straight liquor as long as you use Seltzer water or any sugarless mixer.

Counting Carbs in Alcohol

The problem with drinking alcohol on the Atkins diet is that alcohol contains around 7 calories per gram, compared to 4 calories per gram in good carbohydrates. The calories in alcohol nearly rival the calories found in fat, which contains about 9 calories per gram. You can see how a few drinks with dinner will add up to hundreds of extra calories – not exactly the right choice for anyone trying to lose weight.

Since the carb count varies significantly in different drinks, you can make better selections once you have an idea of what’s in them. Below is a sample list of the average grams of carbohydrates in one standard drink. There are over 1,000 commercial beers, and hundreds of wines and spirits, so use these figures as a general guide only:

Beer, 12 ounce serving, 5% alcohol by volume:

  • Regular Beer: 13 grams of carbs
  • Light Beer: 4.5 grams
  • Ale: 7 grams
  • Stout: 20 grams

Wine, 5-ounce serving, 12% alcohol by volume:

  • Dry White (Chardonnay): 3 grams of carbs*
  • Off Dry (Reisling): 5 grams
  • Dry Red (Cabernet Sauvignon): 4 grams
  • Red Bordeaux: 3.4 grams
  • Red Burgundy: 5.5 grams
  • Zinfindel: 4 grams
  • Sparkling Wine (dry): 4.5 grams
  • Sweet Champagne: 10 grams

*Dry white wine is your best bet if you are going to drink alcohol on the Atkins Diet.

Fortified Wine, 1.5 fl oz serving, 17% alcohol by volume:

  • Port: 14 grams
  • Dry Sherry: 12 grams

Liqueurs, 1.5 fl oz serving (a jigger), 24% alcohol by volume:

  • Amaretto: 25 grams
  • Benedictine: 8 grams
  • Campari: 12 grams
  • Chambord: 16 grams
  • Creme de Cacao: 22 grams
  • Creme de Menthe: 21 grams
  • Drambuie: 14 grams
  • Grand Marnier: 11 grams
  • Irish Creme: 11 grams
  • Kahlua: 24 grams
  • Ouzo: 16 grams

Distilled Spirits, 1.5 fl oz serving:

  • All 80-proof whiskey, vodka, rum, gin, etc. contain zero carbohydrate grams

When You Want to Imbibe

Ideally, you should wait until you are in the maintenance phase and have reached your goal weight before adding drinks back into your meal plan, always with moderation. Don’t think you can skip the margarita and drink straight tequila because it’s zero carbs and therefore permissible on the Atkins Diet. Alcohol still has a lot of calories, but it also is the first go-to fuel source your body chooses. If you choose to enjoy alcoholic beverages, the Atkins diet suggests that wine is the most acceptable selection but only after the induction phase.

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