Ketosis and alcohol: can you drink on keto?
As the festive party season fast approaches, a common question raised by my clients is ‘Am I able to have an alcoholic drink whilst on the ketogenic diet?’ So I thought I’d put together all of my thoughts around ketosis and alcohol and share it with the rest of my followers.
For starters, let take a look at what happens to our body when we consume alcohol. When we drink alcohol, it gets absorbed very quickly into our bloodstream via our stomach and small intestine. Alcohol is toxic and as a result, the body tries to get rid of it as quickly as possible by breaking it down into non toxic substances, carbon dioxide and water. This detoxification process takes place in the liver. The liver is unable to process all of the alcohol in the bloodstream at once, so the body has other ways of getting rid of it, via urine, sweat and even the lungs.
Ketosis and alcohol: the effect on weight loss
Alcohol is best avoided on a keto diet because it impacts insulin levels and the whole point of eating a ketogenic diet is to control insulin by lowering blood sugar levels enough to allow use fat for fuel (preferably your own body fat if you’re trying to lean down). Insulin is the hormone that prevents this from happening and essentially locks body fat in, preventing it from being an accessible fuel source. When alcohol is consumed, there’s typically an initial rise in blood sugars. The amount to which is rises depends on how much you’ve drank. This is because the body is trying to rid itself of the toxic alcohol, rather than controlling its blood sugar levels. As the body detoxifies, insulin then spikes to allow blood sugar levels to be controlled. Ketone levels also drop. This locks the body fat in and halts the fat burning process! This is exactly the opposite of what we want to achieve whilst eating ketogenically! It’s also worth mentioning that larger quantities of alcohol may cause blood sugar levels to drop, which has it’s own set of negative health implications, particularly for diabetics.
“Drink clear, colourless alcohols as they contain no carbs”
This statement is one that i hear passed around frequently and is one that is unhelpful for those on a ketogenic diet for all those insulin related reasons above. Yes, most clear, colourless drinks contain no carbs, but they still impact a person’s blood sugar and insulin levels, like any other alcoholic drink, or sugary food for that fact!
The higher the alcohol content, the more impact it tends to have on insulin levels, making spirits, even clear, colourless ones a bad choice for those on a ketogenic diet. Even though most spirits contain no carbs, they will kick you out of ketosis for a few days!
It would be advisable to avoid alcohol completely during the fat adaption phase of a ketogenic diet (typically 12 weeks, depending on the individual). This is advice that I give to all of my clients. Some of them despise me for it! Once you are fully keto adapted, if you really want to drink, opt for dry wines such as Merlot, Red Cabernet Sauvignon, or dry/ extra dry Prosecco/Champagne/Cava as these will have the least impact on your blood sugar and relative insulin levels. With the ‘fizz’, it’s imperative to check the labels carefully. You’re looking for ‘Extra Brut’ as a minimum, if you can get ‘Brut Nature’ or ‘Dosage Zero’ as this means it has no sugar added at all (check out this full guide to styles and sweetness). It is says ‘sec’ anywhere, run a mile!
Where possible, limit yourself to a small glass or two. Some people can actually maintain a level of nutritional ketosis if they limited themselves to 1 or 2 glasses of these low carb wines. Whether you can or not will depend on your insulin response. To figure this out, you’d have to be testing your ketones. In most cases, or if you have another glass or two, be prepared to be kicked out of ketosis for a few days and batten down the hatches in preparation for all the cravings and general feelings of lethargy that may follow!
Alcohol consumption can lead to poor food choices and hangovers that without due care and attention can result in a day long binge! I know this too well from personal experience! Getting right back on track after drinking can be tough going, especially if you’re feeling ropey and hungover. Your body will be craving comfort, and you’ll generally be feeling sorry for yourself, and this can lead to indulging on carb-heavy comfort foods! ARGHHHHHH!!!
I will be testing my own body’s reaction to alcohol in the next few weeks by using the Freestyle Optium Neo Blood glucose and ketone machine to monitor the impact alcohol has on my own bloody sugar and ketone levels. I look forward to reporting my findings back to you in a follow up blog post very soon!
Live and let live
I think the key to sustainably sticking with any kind of nutritional programme is being reasonable with yourself. Unless you abstain, most people will want a drink at certain times of year: birthdays, Christmas etc. If you don’t have any weight to lose, you may want a glass of wine or two to chill out at the weekend after a long, hard week at work. It’s not impossible or forbidden on a ketogenic diet to have a drink. It’s probably fair to say it’s not optimal, but if you’re sensible with how much you drink and are carefully and specific about sticking to those low carb wines – then you can indulge yourself from time-to-time without fully derailing from your ketogenic diet.