Yet consuming even moderate amounts of alcohol has detrimental effects on weight loss. The biggest problem with alcohol is not simply its energy density, it’s also how alcohol affects our body’s metabolic processes. Most importantly, its capacity to metabolise fat.
The reason why alcohol impacts our metabolism is linked to the way in which ethanol is processed. Ethanol is a toxic molecule and our body doesn’t have a storage place for it. Unlike fat, which is deposited into fat cells or carbohydrates which are stored as glycogen in our muscles and liver. Essentially the body has no choice but to prioritise the breakdown and removal of alcohol over all other macronutrients.
The major processing site for alcohol in the body is the liver. Up to 98% of alcohol consumed is transported to the liver where the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase converts alcohol to acetaldehyde. This molecule is then transformed into acetate, producing a sudden increase in blood acetate levels.
The body prefers to burn acetate over fat because it is more efficient. Acetate is a very readily available fuel source so the body doesn\'t have to do much metabolic work to use it. Our body suppresses fat oxidation (fat burning), sometimes by up to 73% (!), until the acetate is burned off. This means that for the subsequent hours after drinking, your body is unable to utilise fat stores and any plans you had for fat loss come to a grinding halt.
But wait, there is more bad news…
When we drink heavily for an extended period of time, our body recognises alcohol as a consistent energy source and adapts to use it more efficiently. The body activates a system known as the ‘microsomal ethanol-oxidising system’ in order to redistribute and remove excess alcohol and promote body fat storage. The most common site of fat storage is around your mid-section (hence why lovers of alcohol usually sport a "beer gut").
If you’re a part of our Healthy Lifestyle Challenge, these are just a couple of good reasons why alcohol intake scores so poorly. While for some it may be hard to avoid, it wouldn’t be called a ‘challenge’ if it wasn’t challenging, right? We only have your health at heart. Plus it’s only 30 days out of your whole life – you’ll thank us for it later.
Although they sound the same, one drink doesn’t always equal one standard drink...
An alcoholic drink is not pure alcohol – it is a solution which contains varying amounts of ethanol (pure alcohol) and other ingredients. Some alcoholic drinks are stronger than others because they contain a greater amount of pure alcohol (ethanol) in the same volume. The higher the concentration of ethanol in the drink, the stronger the drink and the more standard drinks it will contain.
For example, mid-strength beer is 3.5% alcohol while spirits are approximately 40% alcohol.
What is a standard drink?
A standard (STD) drink is a unit measure of the amount of pure alcohol (ethanol) in your drink.
In Australia, 1.0 STD drink = 10g Ethanol
Below are some examples of typical drinks and how many standard drinks each contains:
For more information on alcohol and standard drink serves, visit www.alcohol.gov.au and download the standard drinks chart HERE
To further complicate matters, no matter where you go alcohol is served in different glasses, jars, bottles and jugs. Next time you’re out, take note of the size of the glass your drink is served in – don’t assume that a glass holds one standard drink. A standard restaurant pour of wine is, in fact, 150ml, while 1.0 standard drink of wine is 100ml.
When keeping track of alcohol intake it is more reliable to count the number of standard drinks you have had, than the number of glasses.