Sunday, November 20, 2011

Alcohol's Big Fat Secret

Here in college, I am near large amounts of alcohol in every direction.  Each night I hear those stumble in who've had a little too much, or get the pleasure of seeing someone's roommate completely plastered, laying in bed, face covered in marker and flour.  Usually I just sigh and go on about my way, as there isn't much I could say that would stop such occurrences,  It's just a way of life around here, books and booze.

We all have heard alcohol is dangerous.  We've all heard the forboding statistics echoing off the walls of every educated establishment to every person of relative youth.  "Don't drink, you'll die, one way or another."  Of course alcohol is dangerous!  It's a poison!  Your body doesn't really enjoy poison too much, and works very hard to filter it out of your system.  That's what your liver is for, and without it you wouldn't be walking around today, that's for sure.  People who drink work their livers extremely hard, hence they are more at risk for liver disease, sclerosis, and all that other fun stuff.  Not to mention all the impairment risks, which I bet you've heard before a million times.  I don't plan on rattling them all off again to you, that's not what I intended to do with this article.

In reality, there's another little caveat related to alcohol consumption that is rarely discussed.  In fact, if this fact was more widely known, I bet drinking in excess would most likely decrease as a whole.  The truth is, ALCOHOL IS FATTENING!!!!  In fact, the calories in alcohol add up quite quickly, especially on party night.  Let's examine the nutrition of several alcoholic drinks, and discuss why each one could easily take your carefully planned diet and flip it on its head.  

Beer:  Of any alcohol, I think this drink is most commonly associated with those who are overweight.  I mean come on, have you seen some of the "beer bellies" out there these days?  Ridiculous!  The average beer has between 100-200 calories per drink (12 fl.oz), and in any sort of drinking game that can add up fast.  After 3 or 4 beers, you're could be almost a third of your way to a new pound of fat on your midsection (one pound of fat is approximately 3500 calories.)  And many people with heavy alcohol tolerances don't stop there.  I regularly hear of 10 beer sessions.  What's the record I've heard of?  it was somewhere between 22 and 28 in one night, I don't remember exactly.  But even on the low end of the spectrum, if they were average 150 calorie beers, that's 3300 calories.  Amazing.  

Beer can also have large amounts of simple carbohydrates (killers in the fat gain department), with some containing up to 15 grams of carbs per beer.  It varies greatly though, and some beer can have as little as 3 grams per 12 fl.oz.  Read that nutritional label!

Wine:  This drink is one that you can usually drink a good bit of, similar to beer.  Its alcohol content usually isn't as "aggressive," and can keep you drinking for quite a few hours.  The calories start to add up though, more than you might initially believe considering how light wine seems to be.  Red Wine has around 130 calories per 5 fl.oz (the average serving size).  White wine is about the same, with about 120 calories per 5 fl.oz.

These figures may not seem like much, but you have to remember that alcohol goes on top of everything else.  You have wine with dinner, and usually a fancy dinner at that.  Fancy dinners contain foods covered in fancy sauces, which are usually very delicious due to the high saturated fat content (our bodies love the taste of fat.  Just think about peanut butter, isn't it great how smooth and delicious it tastes?  That's the fat!)  Another 300 calories on top of an already unhealthy meal will only throw you from the frying pan into the fire.  Watch those calories!

Shots:  These little suckers are dangerous.  Not only do they contain about the same amount of alcohol as an entire beer, they also have quite a few calories per serving.  70 proof liquor has about 85 calories per shot.  80 proof is around 100 calories per shot.  90 proof is 115 calories per shot.  And 100 proof has a whopping 130 calories per shot!  And honestly, who drinks just one shot?  

After 4 or 5 shots (By the way that's a LOT of alcohol), you've consumed around 400-500 calories.  Add that on top of a day of eating, and you can kiss those weight loss goals goodbye.  Many people don't consider shots to have that many calories because, well look at them, they're tiny!  How could there possibly be any sort of real caloric value to that little bit of happy juice?  Believe me, those calories are there, and in a night of partying, they will add up quickly.

Mixed Drinks:  These drinks are a little harder to judge in terms of nutritional information because well, they're MIXED!  But I can give you a few figures just to get your mind working a little:

Margarita: 150-210 calories
Pinacolada: 250-300 calories
Long Island Iced Tea: 200-230 calories
Country Cocktail (with JD): 150-200 calories

Chances are, the "foofier" and more grandeur that drink of yours is, the more calories it will contain (not to mention all that salt on the rim of a margarita glass).  These drinks aren't generally meant to get you drunk in one straight shot either (although there are exceptions), so more than likely you'll be able to go back and buy another.  That's what bars and restaurants are best at, keeping you drinking, so they get to take as much of your money as possible.  After 4 mixed drinks, you could have taken in as many as 1000 calories.  And that's on top of that veal or goose that's taking such a long time in the kitchen!  Talk about a fat happy meal.

And here's one more little fact that you should take into account when drinking alcohol.  IT STIMULATES YOUR APPETITE!  That's right, when you drink alcohol, you're very likely to eat much more than you would have initially.  That's another reason most restaurants love to sell you alcohol with dinner.  Have you ever heard of the munchies?  You associate with pot right?  Well it can just as easily be applied to alcohol.  Believe me I see plenty of the "drunk munchies" around here every single weekend.

Bottom Line: So there you have it.  Not only can alcohol be dangerous, but even in small amounts it is VERY calorie significant.  I'm not saying you can't enjoy alcohol (responsibly), but just make sure you know what you're consuming.  It's not water, and can really throw a diet into the garbage if not taken into account.

Know your limits, count your calories, and as always, good luck! (and stay safe, my fellow college students.) 

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