Saturday, July 14, 2012

How Does Alcohol Affect Fat Metabolism?

How Does Alcohol Affect My Metabolism?
Alcohol plays a large role in many of our lives. We have a drink when we come home from a hard day. We have a drink when we go out to dinner or want to celebrate a special occasion. We even have a drink when we just want to relax and kick back with a few of our friends. Alcohol is probably just as interwoven within traditional American society as food is, but if you’re attempting to follow a low carb diet, what does that mean?

How does alcohol affect fat metabolism?  

Dr. Atkins’ Views on Alcohol

When Dr. Atkins’ wrote his first low carb diet book back in the early 70s, he believed that alcohol was the number one problem with weight control. Although it isn’t actually a carbohydrate, he handled it as if it were:

“But this is one diet where alcohol acts just like a carbohydrate. It makes your body discharge insulin and stops you from putting out FMH.”

FMH stands for fat-mobilizing hormone. Due to the initial metabolic advantage experienced before the brain adapts to using ketones for energy, Dr. Atkins believed in its existence. FMH hasn’t turned out to be true. There is no fat-mobilizing hormone. However, alcohol does complicate what a low-carb diet is attempting to do because of its toxic effects on the body.

In the 70s, low-carb dieters were counseled to count each ounce of 100-percent alcohol as 20 total grams of carbohydrates. That equaled about one ounce of distilled alcohol or four ounces of wine. Later on, as more information about how the body metabolizes alcohol became available, the restriction was relaxed.

Alcohol puts your weight-loss efforts on hold until after its metabolized. Therefore, the 2002 version of the Atkins’ diet allows you to occasionally indulge in a glass of wine or shot of distilled alcohol provided you count the carbohydrates. A 3-1/2 ounce glass of wine contains about 4.3 grams. Like all additions that you include after completing Induction, Atkins also cautions that if you stop losing weight, it’s best to cut it out.

How Metabolism Works

When you eat or drink something, the body can either oxidize those nutrients or store them for later use. All nutrients except for alcohol can be stored. Some nutrients such as dietary fat are more easily stored than others are. That’s because the body is better at storing triglycerides than it is at storing carbohydrates or protein.

Despite what most people believe, body-fat storage isn’t static. The body constantly moves triglycerides into and out of your fat cells as needed. When you eat a meal, what the body doesn’t need immediately for energy or repair is stored. Since dietary fat is the easiest nutrient to store and your fat stores have an unlimited storage capacity, fat gets taken care of first. It doesn’t matter if you’re following a low-carb diet or not. Metabolism works the same way.

Dietary fats not immediately needed for energy are placed in storage until the body can use them. Vegetables and other incidental carbs are quickly converted into glucose and sent to the brain or burned. If you eat more carbohydrates than your body can immediately use, they are converted to glycogen and stored in your liver or muscles. In the meantime, the liver begins converting about half of the protein you just ate into glucose. It can also burn amino acids themselves for energy if needed.

Gluconeogenesis takes a little time to complete plus the liver needs energy to do that, so as insulin levels return to normal and glucose supplies run low (liver glycogen can only hold about 50 grams of carbohydrates), the body pulls the fat back out of your fat cells and oxidizes it for energy and other purposes. Metabolism is a dance between glucose, protein and fatty acids.

What a low-carb diet does is correct elevated insulin levels, if applicable, improves insulin sensitivity if that’s a problem for you and sets up a metabolic situation where your body has to predominantly burn fats for energy rather than other sources. Whether those fats come from dietary fat or your fat stores depends upon the number of calories you eat on a daily basis. As Dr. Eades has consistently said, low carb keeps the door to your fat stores open, but if your body doesn’t need to use your fat stores for energy, it won’t.

What Alcohol Does to Your Metabolism

There is no way for the body to store alcohol. When metabolized, it’s converted into acetate – which is toxic. Acetate oxidation is 100 percent. The body will rev up your metabolism and do everything in its power to burn the acetate as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Alcohol metabolism takes precedence over everything else. While many like to point out that dietary fats are stored when you eat them along with alcohol, any carbohydrates or proteins you eat along with the alcohol are also stored. The body puts all dietary metabolism on hold when alcohol is around. That’s why the Atkins’ Nutritionals folks tell dieters that weight loss is simply placed on hold when you drink. What they don’t tell you is that everything you eat with that alcohol will be placed in storage.

Because the body metabolizes alcohol aggressively, it carries a high TEF score – about 20 percent. TEF is the amount of calories it takes to metabolize the alcohol. Of the calories that alcohol provides, one-fifth are used during the metabolic process. That’s not enough to make up for the increased fat storage, but it helps. In addition, alcohol carries an odd ability to increase insulin sensitivity. Probably, because that’s how the body is able to get protein, carbohydrates and dietary fat stored so quickly.

What You Can Do

If you’re having problems with weight gain or losses and you’re drinking alcohol on a regular basis, you might want to take a close look at your dietary habits during those occasions. Although the bottom line is always about the number of calories you’re consuming on a regular basis, many people lean towards a high intake of fatty foods and carbohydrates while drinking.

Keep in mind that protein is stored as muscle rather than body fat. Heading off the body’s tendency to move everything into storage when alcohol is around can be made easier by cutting way back on your dietary fats and increasing your consumption of lean proteins on the days that you drink. While munching on un-breaded chicken breast strips may not be as exciting as hot wings and bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers, sometimes keeping your weight manageable requires trade-offs.

In addition, eating lean proteins such as low-fat cottage cheese, tuna mixed with sour cream instead of mayonnaise, pork loin chunks or a protein shake made with cottage cheese rather than heavy cream can help fight against alcohol’s lack of satiety. While an occasional drink or celebration is nothing to worry about because weight loss will continue as soon as the alcohol is metabolized and calories return to a deficit, if you need to drink more often, then the best way to handle the situation is to keep a close eye on your calorie and fat intake.


  1. thanks for sharing..

  2. I am so conscious about my metabolism and I certainly know how it relates to the way people get fat. What I actually used to know was that alcohol intake, especially beer that is bubbly, puts in too much gas to the stomach that makes belly go larger.

  3. Beer isn't one of my pleasures, thank goodness, since we haven't been able to even find gluten-free beer in our neck of the woods. Thanks for your comment.