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The ketosis diet is all about avoiding sugars and turning to ketones as a source of energy. This leads many to the natural conclusion that any form of sugar whatsoever should be immediately excised from the menu. When it comes to sugars, alcohol is a headliner – so many people assume that it’s out the window as soon as they start the keto diet.
While it is true that you must drink alcohol in moderation if you want to follow this dietary regimen, you might be surprised to learn that you can drink on keto, but you have to do it the right way. Of course, maintaining a moderate approach to alcohol is the key to any good life, so if you have taken care of your health for a while, this won’t represent such a huge change.
There are, however, a few smart rules of thumb to follow. Let’s talk about how alcohol and keto interact, what drinking means for weight loss, which beverages and mixers you ought to opt for, the risks involved and how to get back on track after drinking. That way, you can enjoy an occasional Friday night without feeling like you’ve blown everything.
Ready for the secrets of drinking on keto? Here you go.
How Exactly Does Ketosis Change Your Diet?
Ketosis is a bodily state in which you lack access to the glucose which most normal people use to fuel their everyday activities, both mental and physical. However, when you remove glucose from your diet by cutting out almost all carbohydrates, your body turns to another source of energy: ketones produced in the liver.
These ketones are just as good at fueling our bodily processes as glucose is. However, your body will not start producing them until it lacks almost all carbohydrates. That’s why keto diet meal plans and snack recipes forego traditional carbs such as grains, sweeteners, fruits and some types of vegetables.
The problem with consuming carbohydrates on the keto diet is that your body will stop producing ketones as soon as it receives an influx of carbs. Even a small amount can be enough to disrupt ketosis, so that you lose those weight loss and energy boosting benefits you experienced by sticking to the diet.
So … What About Alcohol?
This causes many people to worry that consuming any alcohol whatsoever will “ruin” their efforts. The truth of the matter is, yes and no. Drinking alcohol does have repercussions for weight loss, which we will discuss below.
However, booze also brings some benefits of its own. When you drink alcohol, your body is less able to produce insulin and metabolize sugars. To make up for this fact, it naturally starts producing ketones in the liver, which can be used as a source of energy even when insulin is not present.
That’s good news for those on the keto diet, for obvious reasons. Because of this, alcohol is not as dangerous a substance as some people may think. It certainly does not have the same repercussions as eating a bowl of fruit salad or a piece of cake. That said, if you want to drink without impacting your efforts, you must understand the consequences for weight loss and drink smart.
Alcohol and Weight Loss
The tendency of alcohol to cause weight gain does not go away simply because you are on the keto diet. Therefore, if you are following this meal plan in order to lose weight, consuming alcohol is counterproductive. Although there are a few medical reasons you might follow the diet, such as controlling seizures from epilepsy (most commonly recommended for children), most people opt for the lifestyle change in order to get trim – in which case, being wary of alcohol is important.
However, you don’t need to follow any keto-specific recommendations in order to watch your alcohol intake. As Elle explains, when you drink, your body uses the resulting acetate (produced by breaking down the alcohol) as a source of energy.
That means it is not using other sources of energy, such as any fat or sugars currently circulating in your body. That in turn makes those fats and sugars more likely to be stored for later, i.e. you gain weight. You are also less likely to use the ketones produced by your liver.
In the end, a moderate intake of alcohol – say, a few drinks on the weekend – may result in a wash. They higher ketone production balanced with the reduced fat burning is likely to result in a net change of zero. If you’re happy with your body weight, that’s great. If your goal is to drop pounds, it’s not the best idea to consume alcohol. Or if you do, keep it to a drink or two per week.
Recommended Alcoholic Beverages for the Keto Adherent
There are better and worse alcoholic beverages for those on the keto diet. Typically, beer is not very good idea. When you feed your system carbohydrates from beverages such as beer, which are very high in them, you work against yourself. The same is true of wine.
Liquor is your best bet. The sugars present in the ingredients needed to make liquor are converted to almost pure ethyl alcohol during the distillation process. That leaves very few carbohydrates left over by the time the liquor gets to your shot glass.
If you’re going to drink, shoot for vodka, gin, tequila, rum and whiskey. Make sure you stay away from any flavored liquors, as these typically contain sugar as well as extracts and aromatics. If you are in doubt, ask the bartender or look for pictures on the label of fruits, spices or other flavorings unrelated to the alcohol itself.
If what you’re truly craving is beer, be sure to take a smart approach. Choose light beers such as Michelob Ultra, Miller 64 or Bud Light.
Wine makes it even easier on you, because those that are not sweet are usually lower in carbohydrates. It’s a pretty simple rubric: stick with stick with dry red and white wines and unflavored sparkling beverages.
Mixers: The Wild Card
Many keto eaters, especially those new to the diet, get so focused on consuming the right type of alcohol that they forget about mixers entirely. While vodka is a smart choice for keto, many of the mixers with which it gets combined are not. Think cranberry juice, orange juice, pineapple juice or lemonade.
This is just one example, but it exemplifies the fact that if you are going to drink you have to keep an eye on more than the liquor itself. Accordingly, here is a short list of mixers that meet keto specifications. Some have no carbohydrates whatsoever, while others are lower in carbs. They include:
- Branch water (a fancy bar name for regular water)
- Club soda
- Seltzer water
- No- or low-carb beverages, such as Crystal Light
- Diet tonic water
- Heavy cream
- Diet soda
If you are going to have mixed drinks, be sure that these are the liquids for which you opt. Avoid all fruit juices and sodas, and again, watch out for other liquors that contain flavorings and sugar. To stretch drinks at a cocktail party or girls’ night, double the amount of mixer per shot of alcohol. Obviously this will work better for some mixers (club soda) than others (cream), but do your best.
Keto and Alcohol: Beware the Risks
Because of your body’s altered chemistry, drinking will likely cause you to feel drunker faster than before. This can take you by surprise, so start out drinking slow. Instead of downing your beverages, take small sips and make each drink last an hour. Drink one glass of water for every mixed drink you have, and don’t forget to eat a normal amount of food.
And although in your pre-keto life you may have enjoyed a drink or two before driving safely, that is no longer a good idea. If you’re going to partake, set up a ride home beforehand.
Foods to Get You Back on Track
Many classic foods with the reputation to cure hangovers are not keto-approved, unfortunately. Think bananas, toast and fruit juice. However, you’re not out in the cold. If you want to kill that hangover quick, you still have options, including:
- Chicken soup
- Miso soup
- No-carb sports drinks
… and, believe it or not, pickle juice. If you’re brave enough to drink it, more power to you. Your best bet, though, is to imbibe moderately enough that you will not experience the hangover at all.
At the end of the day (or night), you don’t have to give up everything to follow the keto diet. In fact, a little alcohol now and again can be good for you. Just make sure you follow the above tips you’ll be alright. Salut!
About the Author Nate Arnold
I started this website because it was hard to find trustworthy, evidence-based information about the ketogenic diet. Information that was published and peer reviewed by respected scientific journals. After years of research, I'm sure you'll achieve great results in a healthy way following my advice. I do my best to translate scientific research jargon into plain English. Remember, it's always a good idea to consult a doctor before starting a new diet!