Most people are well aware that they will probably gain some weight over the holidays from all the festive dinners and extra treats. They are less conscious of the fact that drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, can contribute just as much if not more to the expansion of their waistline. It’s hard to keep track of the extra calories from liquids because the brain doesn’t receive a “full” signal from the stomach the way it happens with solid food.
The Calorie Content of Beverages
Is Often Drastically Underestimated
Especially drinking alcoholic beverages can significantly increase calorie intake with just a few shots or sips. Many liquors are as caloric as sugary sodas. Alcohol itself is high in calories – 7 calories per gram, more than carbohydrates or protein (4 calories per gram) and almost as much as fat (9 calories per gram). This applies just to straight drinks, like beer, wine and spirits. Cocktails with added ingredients can quickly multiply the calorie content.
“If you drink, even moderately, first you do need to acknowledge the calories. They count,” said Lona Sandon, a nutritionist at the University of Texas Southwestern School of Health Professions and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (ADA).
Keep in mind that calories from alcohol are “empty” calories, meaning they don’t contain any nutrients. The liver processes alcohol first to get rid of toxins, while other nutrients are put on hold. While alcohol is being metabolized, fat burning is suspended. Moreover, an increased alcohol level in your blood stream can make you feel hungry because it lowers your blood sugar. All of these factors combined are the perfect set-up for weight gain.
Another well-known fact is that alcohol diminishes one’s inhibition and self-control. That’s why the holidays are often a time when caution gets thrown to the wind with regrets to follow later.
Of course, not everyone who enjoys a drink or two develops weight problems. Scientists have not been able to consistently tie alcohol consumption to weight gain. Also, a person’s individual genetic make-up can greatly affect his or her body’s ability to process alcohol.
Gender can play a role as well. Researchers found that when men drink, they also tend to eat more food, thereby increasing their overall calorie intake through both. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to compensate for their drinking by eating less.
Naturally, it matters what kind of food or snacks you’re having with your drinks. Beer with pretzels or peanuts, or wine with cheese and crackers are popular combinations, but they can be deadly in terms of weight control.
Coffee drinks and seasonal spirits are not harmless either. Many are loaded with sugar and cream and a few gulps can quickly add up to a calorie count of a full meal. Eggnog, a traditional favorite, is a real heavy weight. A one-cup serving has about 400 calories – and who can just have one?
So, what can you do to avoid these calorie traps without spoiling your holiday spirit? Quite a bit, actually. For starters, don’t get caught off guard when alcoholic beverages are being served. If you like wine or beer, stick with it. Don’t mix with other drinks. If hard liquor is your poison, have it straight up, on the rocks or with club soda but without a lot of other stuff added. Be particularly careful with super-caloric cocktails. They are desserts in disguise. If you have eggnog or fruit punch, I recommend taking them “naked,” meaning no extra toppings like chocolate or whipped cream.
As with everything, moderation is key. If you have been reading my columns regularly, you know one of my favorite mottos: “Nothing is forbidden, but everything counts.” Observing this little piece of wisdom is even more important during the holiday season. Cheers!