Alcohol & Atkins: A Good Mix?

It's that time of year again -- barbecue season! A lot of us will crave a can of beer with our barbecue fare or a glass of wine with our light summer meals. But is alcohol consumption compatible with the Atkins lifestyle? The answer is yes... and no. No, if you are still in the Induction phase. Yes, if you have moved to Ongoing Weight Loss or beyond.

Reviewing the research on alcohol consumption can be confusing. A number of studies have shown the beneficial aspects of moderate alcohol consumption on both heart disease and cancer, but there is no question that excessive drinking can affect your body in a number of serious ways. They include liver damage; depletion of many nutrients, particularly zinc and magnesium; and an increase in the production of free radicals, which are known to be the fertile ground from which cancer springs.

Of course, it you are pregnant, your doctor may advise to refrain from consuming alcohol (excessive consumption can result in a baby with a low birth weight and a lower IQ). But then, if you are pregnant, you should not be attempting to lose weight with Atkins or any other program.

Likewise, if you are diabetic and have trouble controlling how much you drink, you should abstain. However, a number of recent studies have shown that drinking one glass of alcohol, particularly wine with a meal, diminishes the impact of the carbohydrate on blood sugar.

But how will moderate alcohol consumption, perhaps a glass of wine with dinner, affect your weight loss progress, your cravings and your well-being? Those are the questions that a conscientious Atkins follower needs to understand.

In the Beginning Just Say No

During the Induction phase, you should not consume any alcohol. The reason is that your body will burn alcohol before it turns to burning fat for energy, slowing weight loss and interfering with the process of kick-starting weight loss for which Induction was designed. In Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution, Dr. Atkins wrote: "The body burns alcohol for fuel when alcohol is available. So when it is burning alcohol, your body will not burn fat. This does not stop weight loss; it simply postpones it."

Later Moderation Is the Key

Once you are out of Induction, if it does not slow your weight loss, an occasional glass of wine is acceptable so long as you count the carbohydrate content in your daily tally of carb grams. As with other foods, you are limited by your daily carbohydrate maximum intake. A 3 1/2-ounce glass of dry white wine contains less than I gram of Net Carbs, a glass of red wine is closer to 2 grams of Net Carbs. Spirits such as Scotch, rye, vodka and gin, which contain virtually no carbohydrates, are also acceptable, but do not mix with juice, tonic water or non-diet soda, all of which contain sugar. Seltzer, diet tonic and non-aspartame diet soda mixers are permitted

Regular beer is considerably higher in carbohydrates, about 12.5 grams of Net Carbs for a 12-ounce bottle or can; lite beer trims that number down to about 5 grams and a few beers that promote themselves as low carb dip lower.

Know Yourself

Before you buy a six-pack or a bottle of wine, understand that there are some real problems with moderate drinking and eating the controlled carb way. Ask yourself these questions to decide what your approach will be:

  • Have you had an alcohol-abuse problem in the past? If so, it is better to stay away from it altogether.
  • Can you stop with just one or two? Not only is excessive consumption unhealthy, it can weaken your resolve to stay away from nutrient-empty carbohydrate foods like pretzels, potato chips and the like.
  • Does drinking wine, beer or spirits increase your cravings for such snack foods or other high carb items?
  • Are you cutting back on nutritious foods such as vegetables, nuts and sees, berries and other low glycemic fruits so that you can have a drink?
  • Does your sense of well-being and vitality diminish when you consume alcohol?

The Sobering Bottom Line

If you are trying to be as healthy as you can be, don't abuse alcohol. The beneficial effects of the antioxidants, polyphenols and other substances are negated by over-consumption. And if you decide to swear off wine altogether, don't worry that it is only source of antioxidants and other nutrients. Fruits, vegetables, garlic, spices, herbs and supplements can give you just as much benefit. Red wine polyphenols are also readily available in supplement form.

So, can you drink alcohol every now and then and still be healthy? YES! An occasional glass of red wine is not going to do that much damage, and it does offer some benefits. If it gives you pleasure and is an important part of the way you enjoy life, it may be unhealthier for you to abstain.