Can you drink alcohol on the keto diet and other diets?
People are always going on diets to lose weight, to avoid allergens, to take in more nutrients, and other reasons. They sometimes adopt diets based on their observations about their health and biology. Others will try diets that are popular or that have been endorsed by a source, personality, or expert that they find to be trustworthy.
One of the most common questions about certain diets is whether alcohol will affect the success of a particular diet. This is a reasonable question that takes some examination and resources to develop a meaningful answer.
The reason people may ask whether alcohol is compatible with the ketogenic (keto) diet is usually that they understand that alcohol is converted into sugar in the liver, and sugar is the primary culprit in weight gain.
Sugar is not the only thing that can trigger weight gain. Any number of toxins, allergens, and other substances can cause weight gain as well. Any time the body detects a toxin or foreign invader, it can eliminate it in one of a handful of ways.
Systems of the body can pass foreign substances through the liver to be converted into another less harmful substance. The body can sequester the substances within fat cells. It can sequester a substance inside of a knot of tissue that often appears just beneath the skin, or it can try to push it out of the body through the skin in the form of sweat or as pimples.
Typically, the body tends to want to store sugar as fat rather than eliminating it in some other way, possibly because it can be used as a source of energy later should the need arise.
One interesting thing about sugar is that because fat cells tend to store it, once a person begins to lose weight, the body releases the sugar and has to cope with its toxicity a second time. This is one of the reasons why health professionals recommend losing weight slowly.
Sugar also imposes a particularly heavy burden on the liver. Therefore, those who are dieting as an attempt to reduce a fatty liver or otherwise improve their liver health are correct in their concerns about alcohol use while dieting.
Another interesting question is how alcohol could affect those attempting to adhere to the ketogenic diet. The purpose of the ketogenic diet is to trigger the body’s production of ketones. These chemicals are believed to support tissue regeneration, aid in muscle development, improve cardiovascular function, and even boost brain health.
The similarity of alcohol and sugar in addiction and dependency
All of these are attractive benefits, and it’s no wonder why a diet such as a keto diet that has been shown in many studies to offer these advantages would be quite popular. What’s important to understand is the fact that alcohol and sugar can be used by the body in similar ways and impose dependency and addictive processes that are similar.
While both sugar and alcohol can be toxic, alcohol is the more toxic of the two. Where the similarities between alcohol and sugar become interesting is how the body uses these substances in the dependency or addiction process.
When the body becomes accustomed to using sugar as fuel, the glucose becomes encrusted around the mitochondria of our cells. When this happens, other more powerful and more efficient fuel sources (such as ketones) become locked out.
This is why people who are just starting the keto diet experience sugar withdrawals. Many reports that these withdrawals feel like having a bad case of the flu, so the symptoms are sometimes known as the keto flu. Alcohol, in the dependency stage, produces very similar results. In the stage of physical dependency, the cells are reconfigured so that only alcohol can be used as fuel.
Since the body is so reliant on alcohol, people with severe alcohol dependencies cannot stop drinking without risking death. For them, alcohol has become a necessary nutrient. These unfortunate individuals should consider undergoing medically supervised detoxification at a properly equipped and certified rehabilitation center.
Of course, not every person’s body and metabolism respond to alcohol in the same way. One way to determine if you are at risk for alcoholism is to observe if drinking alcohol noticeably energizes you much the same way as drinking strong caffeine beverages energizes you. This could tell you if your body is rapidly converting the alcohol to sugar for use as fuel.
Another telltale sign of alcohol is waking up much earlier than you normally would after drinking a considerable amount of alcohol. This tells you that the liver has produced a large amount of alcohol-derived sugar during the night and created a considerable amount of nervous energy.
Anyone who responds to alcohol consumption this way should consider avoiding alcohol completely. Such people are many times more likely to engage in dangerous behavior while drinking.
So, for anyone who meets these conditions, the answer to our question is quite easy. It’s a solid “No, you should not consume alcohol on the keto diet, and you should consider not consuming it at all because you are at high risk of developing a dependency on alcohol and even an addiction.”
If you fall into that category, please consider seeking help. But, is mixing alcohol and the keto diet safe for everyone else?
Can Someone Who Is Not at Risk of Alcoholism Use Alcohol on the Keto Diet?
People who do not metabolize alcohol in ways that put them at a high level of risk of dependency or addiction are fortunate. But that does not mean that they don’t face risks associated with drinking. More importantly, for our purposes, it does not mean that you can use alcohol without risk. Because alcohol metabolizes as sugar, it can end or prevent your body from going into ketone production.
Researchers now believe that sugar is responsible for things that we have blamed on animal fat and cholesterol for many years. Sugar can be toxic to our cells and the body’s primary defense mechanism against it is to store it inside fat cells.
It’s interesting to note that when people begin losing weight, they are releasing toxins stored as fat back into their systems. Their bodies then have to cope with those toxins a second time. This can trigger a stress response that can cause diet attempts to fail.
Limiting alcohol consumption is a good recommendation for those who insist on drinking and practicing a keto diet. You may have to experiment with different alcohol consumption levels to learn how much you can drink before falling out of ketosis.
It’s helpful to accept the fact that drinking can stop ketosis. If this happens to you, you may want to drink less and try the diet again. This means that you will have to start over, which means that you might experience the symptoms known as the keto flu multiple times.
Keep in mind that the less alcohol and sugar you consume, the more likely you are to stay in ketosis. It’s a matter of how badly you want to produce ketones.
The overall effects of sugar, and especially alcohol, on your diet, will depend on your health, any particular health issues you are experiencing, as well as the type of diet you are practicing. Your expectations are also important factors to consider.
Using alcohol is likely to make any diet less effective and less likely to succeed. Here, we will briefly cover what you can expect from three major diets if you intend to continue to consume alcohol.
Drinking on a fatty liver diet
Sugar is toxic to the liver, as is alcohol, and alcohol metabolizes as sugar in the liver. In response to excessive sugar or alcohol intake, the liver develops fatty tissue which it uses to trap and sequester the sugar. This is what is called fatty liver syndrome and it’s dangerous.
A fatty liver is larger, less healthy, and less able to perform its job, which is working as a metabolic filter. If you are dieting to reduce your fatty liver, we strongly recommend avoiding all alcohol entirely because it could stop or slow your progress toward a healthy liver. It may be possible to curtail your drinking enough to reduce your fatty liver. However, it is best to avoid alcohol altogether if you have a fatty liver.
If you enjoy drinking so much that you are still considering continuing to do so even with a fatty liver or another dangerous condition, it is worth considering the possibility that your drinking has become problematic.
For people with problematic drinking habits, professionals at alcohol rehab centers may be able to create healthier diet programs. Thus, even people who metabolize alcohol normally are still at risk of developing a drinking problem.
Drinking on a Weight Loss Diet
Like drinking on a fatty liver diet, drinking on a weight loss diet can be expected to slow your progress. Any alcohol you consume will be converted to sugar that will be stored as fat. So, you may be able to cut your consumption down enough to lose weight, but you cannot expect to enjoy rapid weight loss if you continue to drink.
If you do choose to drink in moderation while dieting, consider eliminating all other sources of simple carbohydrates, such as candy and desserts. Consider avoiding beer and wine. Some say a high-quality vodka is the best alcoholic beverage for those who are on a diet. But of course, this is a very alcohol-dense beverage and it comes with high alcohol content.
Drinking on a Ketogenic Diet
Taking in sugars or anything that converts to sugar is a bit more tricky if you intend to enjoy the benefits of the keto diet. The reasons are similar to those related to sugar intake on a weight loss diet but are somewhat more complex.
The purpose of the ketogenic diet is to get the body to stop using sugars as fuel and to start producing ketones as fuel instead. As soon as you reintroduce even moderate amounts of sugar into your system, your body can kick you out of ketosis, ending the beneficial effects of the ketogenic diet. The research is not as strong on the ability of alcohol to shut down the ketogenic process. But many practitioners of the keto diet say alcohol does at least hinder ketogenesis.
It’s also important to consider alcohol’s effect on your willpower. Our ability to shirk temptation and make healthy choices represents a physiological resource within the brain – a resource sometimes known as the executive function. This resource can be developed like muscle strength and also can be depleted.
Experts in the field of addiction medicine understand these interactions. Drinking alcohol imposes stress on the body, and stress takes a toll on our executive function. That means drinking alcohol in any amount can reduce your ability to make healthy choices, which in turn means you could be more likely to give in to the temptation to consume sugary food.
Moderation is always better than excess when it comes to drinking alcohol. However, there’s no escaping the fact that using alcohol can hinder just about any diet.
Alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs in the world. It causes dangerous behaviors and triggers innumerable health-damaging effects, so it’s safe to say that drinking alcohol might threaten any efforts you take to improve your health.
healthline.com – Keto Diet and Alcohol: The Best and Worst Drinks to Choose
healthtian.com – Dangers of Toxins in the Body
health.qld.gov.au – My Nutrition: Nutrition in Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
diabetes.co.uk – The Harm of Sugar: Why Health Risks Should Be Compared to Alcohol
livescience.com – What Are Mitochondria?
fattyliverfocus.com – Fatty Liver — What to Drink?
healthline.com – Do Diet Drinks Hinder Weight Loss and Contribute to Belly Fat?
insider.com – Yes, You Can You Drink Alcohol on the Keto Diet — But There’s a Catch
ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Effects of Heavy Drinking on Executive Cognitive Functioning in a Community Sample