Alcohol may not be a health food, but it’s an important part of many people’s social lives and religious and cultural traditions. But what if you follow a keto diet? Can alcohol fit into this very low-carb way of eating?
Fortunately, the answer is yes! Not being able to enjoy alcohol would be a deal breaker for some folks. But you may still want to be selective with what you drink.
So what alcohol can you have on keto and still get the results you want?
Before we look at the types of alcohol you can have, let’s get some basic principles down so you don’t run into any problems.
When you follow a low-carb or keto diet, your alcohol tolerance will be lower than it was when you ate more carbs. This means alcohol will hit you harder and more quickly than you’re accustomed to, and it’ll take less to give you a buzz.
It’s a good idea to pace yourself. Don’t drink too quickly or on an empty stomach. If you plan to have more than one drink, consider alternating with a few sips of water. If you’re drinking somewhere other than at home, always make sure you have a plan for safe transportation and that you trust the people you’re with.
Alcohol on keto
With those caveats out of the way, which alcohols are most keto-friendly?
Most distilled spirits (vodka, rum, tequila, gin, bourbon, whiskey, etc.) are zero carb. What you mix them with is where you need to be careful. Common mixers like orange juice and cranberry juice are off the menu, so stick to sugar-free versions of:
- fruit-flavored mixes
- tonic water
- cocktail syrups (increasingly available in stores and online)
And don’t be afraid to get creative! If you have a favorite sugar-free drink mix (e.g. Crystal Light and MiO), prepare one as you normally would and add a shot of your preferred spirit. Add a splash of lemon or lime juice to brighten things up. (Rum and diet cola with a splash of lime makes a great keto drink.)
Stick to light beer. (Beer is “liquid bread,” so you will probably want to steer clear of the full-carb stuff!)
Don’t worry about looking for “keto wine.” Many wine companies are capitalizing on the popularity of keto in their marketing, but the truth is, most wine is very low-carb. (Stay away from wines that are always sweet, though, like dessert wines, ice wines, sweet riesling, Moscato, etc.)
People often assume red wine is always drier than white, but both reds and whites can vary from bone-dry to a bit sweeter. The drier the wine, the less residual sugar is left after the fermentation of the grape juice. If you feel paralyzed by the possibilities in the wine aisle, consider going to a wine shop where the staff will be knowledgeable and can point you toward the lowest in residual sugar.
(Pro tip: champagne is super low-carb—about 2 grams per glass.)
Beyond the buzz
What else do you need to know about consuming alcohol on keto? It depends on your situation.
Not everyone follows a keto diet for weight loss, but that’s the most common reason, so remember that the alcohol and mixers you choose might be low or zero carb, but that doesn’t mean they’re zero calorie. The “c-word” makes us cringe in the keto world, but if you want to lose body fat, the amount of energy you’re taking in still matters.
If your weight loss is stalled or especially slow, liquid calories should be the first thing you ditch from your diet—and that includes alcohol.
Metabolic effects of alcohol
In terms of the amount of energy they provide, it’s true that “a calorie is a calorie.” But even though they’re the same energetically, they’re not the same hormonally or biochemically. Alcohol is metabolized uniquely compared to fat and carbohydrate.
When you consume alcohol, your body will process it first, leaving fat and carbs on the back burner. In other words, higher alcohol consumption deprioritizes fat burning more often.
Alcohol also affects your body’s insulin response. This shouldn’t be a big problem on a keto diet, but your body may need substantially more insulin to bring your blood sugar back down if you combine alcohol and carbs.
The way your body metabolizes alcohol also affects the production of body fat—starting in your liver. Alcohol puts the brakes on burning fat and presses the gas pedal for making new fat in the liver. (This is the origin of fatty liver disease associated with alcohol, which can be made worse by combining excessive alcohol intake with a high-carb diet.)
What about blood sugar and ketones?
Most people don’t need to measure their ketone levels, but if you choose to, don’t be surprised if your ketones are higher after drinking alcohol, even into the next day. But this isn’t necessarily something to celebrate. Ketones tend to be higher because your body isn’t fully burning fat, and when fat isn’t fully metabolized, it gets converted into ketones.
Plus, alcohol inhibits the metabolism of fat, carbs, and ketones, so your ketone level could be higher because they’re building up in your blood since they’re not being used as quickly.
It’s also important to know that hypoglycemia can occur after drinking. Alcohol slows the release of stored glucose from your liver, so it makes sense that your blood sugar would be lower after drinking—especially on a keto diet. (On keto, your liver is your body’s main source of glucose—and you do need some in your blood! In fact, too little glucose in your blood can be even more dangerous than too much.)
If you choose to consume alcohol, remember to do so safely, in a reasonable quantity and frequency. And even though it can fit into a keto lifestyle, you may see more progress if you abstain altogether.
Looking for a nonalcoholic low carb drink?
Then check out Keto Chow! Keto Chow is a meal replacement shake with 1/3 of your daily recommended nutrients, including fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals! Choose from over 30 delicious flavors that make keto easy.