Keto + Alcohol: Do They Mix?

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It’s the burning question that nearly every novice keto-goer wants to know…

Can I drink alcohol and remain in ketosis?

Don’t worry. I’m not here to tell you that alcohol is off-limits while on the ketogenic dietthough it may be worth considering 🤔. I get it there was a time in my life where simultaneously cutting out both sugar and alcohol felt like an absolute nightmare. Actually, I believe it was just last week. 😉

Yes, I’m a Health Coach, I live the keto lifestyle and I drink alcohol. Probably far too much in fact. And that’s what makes me the perfect person to discuss the ketogenic diet in relation to drinking.

Nobody wants to be told not to drink, how much to drink or what to drink, and I’m not here to babysit. All this post is designed to do is to help you drink wisely while in ketosis. So let’s get started.

Something to be aware of…

It’s not uncommon to crave alcohol during the initial stages of keto-adaptation. 

As you likely know, the ketogenic diet is essentially a sugar elimination diet. When the body is deprived of its daily sugar fix the internal alarms are sounded in preparation of potential starvation. The body responds by asking for more sugar, we’re familiar with such responseswe call them cravings.

The body is clever, and it’s well aware that it can receive fuel (glucose aka sugar) in the form of cakes, baguettes, bananas and bellinis.

The fact is, sugar and booze go hand-in-hand. Beer is metabolized in the body in the same form as sugar. Plus, most cocktails contain a considerable amount of added sugarwhether simple syrup, fruit juice, ginger ale or sour mix, each of these mixes are recognized and metabolized as sugar. This is one reason why you’re likely to crave booze during the initial stages of the ketogenic diet and just as likely to crave sugar if you were to give up booze.

How much sugar are we talking about?

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Let’s have a look…

Simple syrup is frequently added to cocktails in order to provide subtle sweetness. Take a lemon drop martini for example. A typical lemon drop would call for two ounces of vodka, one ounce citrus (such as fresh lemon) and one ounce simple syrup. One ounce of simple syrup equals fourteen grams of sugar.

To put this into perspective, if you were to down two lemon drop martini’s it would be equivalent to eating a snickers bar. Again, this is not about slapping you on the wrist; this is about drinking with awareness.

How about a Jack and Coke?

Assuming our Jack and Coke is made with two ounces of Jack and six ounces of coke, we can assume one Jack and Coke would be just shy of the sugar count in one Snickers bar.

How about a basic margarita?

Let’s say you’re mixing with equal parts: two ounces tequila to two ounces sour mix. Again, that’s nearly an entire Snickers bar before adding the Triple Sec or Grand Marnier.

Whoa! There’s a whole lotta sugar hiding in your alcohol fix.

The first thing you should know…

Drinking alcohol slows weight loss. Once consumed, alcohol is immediately recognized by the body as a toxin and the liver goes to work processing it accordingly. Well, it just so happens that the liver is also responsible for ketone production (turning fat into energy). Because toxins will always take precedence in the body, the fat burning will be delayed until the toxins are adequately dealt with.

What if sobering up is not an option?

That’s not to say that you can’t get away with a bit of boozing and still remain in ketosis. You simply need to commit to making better choices while drinking. Let me walk you through some of the best and worst alcoholic options while on the ketogenic diet.

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Straight Spirits

Most hard liquor contains no carbohydrates or sugar. These include:

  • Vodka
  • Gin
  • Rum
  • Tequila
  • Brandy
  • Cognac
  • Whiskey

Keep in mind that I am talking about unflavored and unadulterated varietiesjust straight spirits. Meaning, this does not apply to Fireball, Baileys, or Pinnacle Birthday Cake Vodka. Sorry friends. My personal fav is Templeton Whiskey on a large ice ball (my apologies to the purists, but I like my whiskey watered down).

Bubbles

You may be surprised to hear that brut champagne or dry sparkling wine clocks in at around 1 gram of net carbs. Again, as long as your drinking unadulterated varieties I give champagne the thumbs up.

Red Wine

Dry red wine contains very little sugar and maintains a low carb count less than one gram per liter according to the New York Times.

  • Pinot Noir (3.4g carbs)
  • Merlot (3.7g carbs)
  • Cabernet Sauvignon (3.8g carbs)

Unfortunately, many winemakers have taken to adding sugar in order to soften their wine and appeal to the general palate. In order to be sure of their exact sugar count you’d have to investigate the particular vintage, vineyard and variety.

Fortunately, people are catching on to this whole low-sugar, low-carb craze and many markets are now offering a small selection of natural wines which promise a cleaner, more enjoyable drinking experience.

White Wine

Semi-dry white wines are a quality option as well.

  • Sauvignon Blanc (2.7g carbs)
  • Pinot Grigio (3.2g carbs)
  • Chardonay (3.7g carbs)

Sweet Wine

The following are not so keto-friendly:

  • Moscato
  • Port/Sherry
  • Ice Wine
  • Sangria
  • White Zinfandel

Craft Cocktails

When selecting mixed drinks you can stay in ketosis by keeping it simple.

  • Vodka and soda
  • Gin and bitters
  • Tequila and fresh lime juice
  • Whiskey and diet (if you must 🤢)

If you’re not in the mood for simple and insist on participating in the joyousness of drinking a hand crafted artisan cocktail, by all means. I’m certainly not advising that you never experience such gloriousness again. I’m simply suggesting that this sort of indulgence be reserved for cheat days as it will likely bump you out of ketosis.

Margaritas

Oh heavens no. Not margaritas! I love me a grandioso Cadillac margarita on a hot summer day. Yes please! That is until I realize just how many donuts I’m sucking down with my tiki-tini. 😫 Again, margaritas are best reserved for the occasional truffle shuffle.

Beer

Unless you’re a fan of flavorless, watered-down varieties, beer is a problem on keto.

Keto-do

  • Bud Special Select 55 (1.9g carbs)
  • Michalob Ultra (2.6g carbs)
  • Miller Lite (3.2g carbs)
  • Coors Lite (5g carbs)

Keto-don’t

  • Budwiser (11g carbs)
  • Hinekin (11g carbs)
  • Stella (13g carbs)
  • New Castle (13g carbs)
  • Corona (14g carbs)
  • Guiness (14g carbs)
  • Lagunitas IPA (20g carbs)

There’s a reason Homer Simpson had a beer belly. There are TONS of rapidly digestible carbs in beer. And if you’re anything like me, and prefer a full-bodied IPA you can expect to kill your entire carb load in one indulgent draft. Womph! 😳

An afterthought…

You should be aware that the ketogenic diet tends to lower the bodies tolerance to alcohol. The reasons aren’t exactly clear, but it has been suggested that because the liver is busy producing ketones is has less capacity for burning alcohol.

One final note…

If drinking is your vice, make a conscious effort to change it up. If you’re unwilling to take on a sobriety challenge while getting started with keto, consider forfeiting your greatest weakness. If it’s beer, commit to limiting your consumption, not keeping it in the house or giving it up for x amount of time. If cocktails are your downfall, consider limiting yourself to special occasions or cleaning them up a bit.

For what it’s worth, I’m of the belief that whether the craving is for sugar or carbs or alcohol, it’s often largely psychological. Often we reach for such treats in order to alleviate stress or to satiate boredom. While it’s true, we’re basically trading one vice for another, a glass of wine or a whiskey on the rocks can be fine way to de-stress or bring a bit of reward without undoing an entire day’s work of clean eating.

Just remember to honor and respect the body, and always drink responsibly. 😉

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