Most diets ask you to avoid alcohol with good reason – alcohol packs a lot of calories. Just one gram of alcohol (ethanol or ethyl alcohol) provides 7 kilocalories of pure energy. According to the World Health Organisation, a unit of pure alcohol is 10g although this varies from 8g to 14g in different countries. If we stick with the W.H.O definition, then each unit you drink provides around 70 kcals energy. As a large glass of wine typically provides two units of alcohol, this soon mounts up. On top of that, many alcoholic drinks also contain sugar which provides additional calories.
Alcohol and weight
Another problem with alcohol is that it’s converted to a substance called acetate which your cells can readily converted into fat for storage when you drink more calories than you need. What’s more, this conversion is highly energy efficient so few of the calories are wasted as heat.
Researchers have also found that when counting calories, many people miscalculate the number in alcoholic drinks, or forget to include them when calculating their daily energy intake. The World Cancer Research Fund believes the hidden calories in alcohol are a major factor in why many people fail to lose weight on a diet, and can also sabotage your efforts to maintain your current weight by causing a slow and insidious weight gain.
Weight gain linked with alcohol becomes an increasing problem as you get older. This is partly due to increased activity of an enzyme, Aldh1a1, which causes visceral fat to build up around your internal organs. For women, the female hormone, oestrogen, supresses this enzyme before the menopause, but after middle age, as the menopause approaches, oestrogen levels fall and the alcohol starts to pile on weight around the waist. Excess alcohol can also contribute to skinny fat syndrome. Men don’t have the advantage of high levels of oestrogen, so men who drink a lot of alcohol can develop a so-called beer belly at a younger age.
Unfortunately the visceral fat that builds up around the waist is what increases your long-term risks for developing metabolic syndrome whichis associated with high blood pressure, raised cholesterol, fatty liver, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Low calorie alcohol drinks
Beers have a lower calorie count per 100 millilitres (ml) than most other alcoholic drinks because they contain a lot of water. However, they are also served in larger quantities – typically in amounts of half a pint (300 ml) or 1 pint (600 ml). Pale ale and lager can slightly fewer calories than bitter and stout, while shandy is lower still as it is diluted with lemonade.
Typically calorie counts per 100 ml, and per drink are included in the following calories in alcohol chart:
Calories in alcohol chart
Calories per 100ml
Calories per drink
|Shandy||24 kcals||½ pint = 72 kcals
1 pint = 144 kcals
|Pale ale||28 kcals||½ pint = 84 kcals
1 pint = 168 kcals
|Lager||29 kcals||½ pint = 87 kcals
1 pint = 174 kcals
|Beer, bitter||30 kcals||½ pint (300ml) 90 kcals
1 pint (600ml) 180 kcals
|Brown ale, bottled||30 kcals||½ pint = 90 kcals
1 pint = 180 kcals
|Stout, Guinness||30 kcals||½ pint = 90 kcals
1 pint =180 kcals
|Best bitter, premium||33 kcals||½ pint = 99 kcals
1 pint (= 198 kcals
|Strong ale, barley wine||66 kcals||½ pint = 198 kcals|
|Cider, dry||36 kcals||½ pint = 108 kcals
1 pint = 216 kcals
|Cider, sweet||42 kcals||½ pint = 126 kcals
1 pint = 252 kcals
|Cider, vintage||101 kcals||½ pint = 303 kcals
1 pint = 606 kcals
|Red wine||68 kcals||125 ml = 85 kcals
250 ml = 170 kcals
|White wine||66 kcals||125 ml = 83 kcals
250 ml = 165 kcals
|Rose wine||71 kcals||125 ml = 89 kcals
250 ml = 178 kcals
|Sparkling wine, dry Champagne||74 kcals||125 ml = 106 kcals|
|Sparkling wine, sweet Champagne||94 kcals||125 ml = 118 kcals|
|Port wine||157 kcals||70 ml = 110 kcals|
|Sherry, dry and medium||116 kcals||70 ml = 81 kcals|
|Sherry, sweet||136 kcals||70 ml = 95 kcals|
|Vermouth, dry||109 kcals||70 ml = 76 kcals|
|Vermouth, sweet||151 kcals||70 ml = 106 kcals|
|Cream liqueurs eg Baileys Irish Cream||325 kcals||35 ml = 114 kcals|
|Sweet liqueurs, high strength eg Pernod, Drambuie, Cointreau, Grand Marnier, Southern Comfort||314 kcals||35 ml = 110 kcals|
|Sweet liqueurs, low-medium strength eg cherry brandy, Tia Maria, Crème de Menthe||262 kcals||35 ml = 92 kcals|
|Spirits eg brandy, gin, rum, whisky, vodka||222 kcals||Single (35 ml) = 78 kcals
Double (70ml) = 156 kcals
Can you drink alcohol on a diet?
Cutting out alcohol is one of the quickest ways to lose weight. If you don’t mind a slower weight loss, then you can have a small amount of alcohol – for example one glass of wine on Friday and Saturday nights. You can also:
Mix chilled white or red wine with equal quantities of sparkling mineral water to make a refreshing spritzer – this instantly cuts the calorie count of an alcoholic drink in half.
Alternate each alcoholic drink with a glass of mineral water plus a dash of lime, or a soda water plus angostura bitters to cut the number of calories you drink.
Select drinks that have a lower than average alcohol content. A typical wine supplies 12% to 16% alcohol by volume, but brands designed for those who are watching their weight are available with an 8.5% to 9% alcohol content. These allow you to enjoy a glass or two on occasion without risking a hangover or gaining weight.
When it comes to wine – size matters
Large fish-bowl sized wine glasses are fashionable but do they make you drink more at home or at a party, or do you just top them up fewer times? Researchers from Cambridge University have found that drinking wine from a large glass does, in fact, increase the overall amount that you drink. It seems you tend to drink more quickly when using a large glass, even if the volume is the same. Psychologists suggest this is because your brain is tricked into thinking there is more to drink so you drink more quickly. If you’re trying to cut back on the amount of alcohol you are drinking on a diet, swap to using a smaller sized glass!
What is a unit of alcohol?
A unit of alcohol depends on where you live – it’s equivalent to 10ml or 8 grams of pure alcohol in the UK, 14grams pure alcohol in the US, and 10g alcohol according to the W.H.O.
Half a pint (300ml) of beer, lager or cider that is 3.5% alcohol in strength contains one unit. But many lagers now contain 5% and some versions supply as much as 9% alcohol. One small (100ml) glass of wine that is 10% alcohol in strength contains one unit. But most wines are now much stronger (12% to 15% alcohol) and many pubs sell wine in 250ml glasses.
Depending on its % alcohol, a bottle of wine typically contains between 8 and 11 units of alcohol. A 25ml pub measure of 40% spirit contains one unit, but most pubs now serve 35ml measures as standard, and will often serve a double unless you specifically say you want a single.