Most of us know this (and only this) about carbohydrates: Putting less of them in our mouths results in weight loss. Now, this is technically true—research shows that low-carb diets are particularly effective for combating obesity and diabetes. We also all know that low-carb diets suuuck, since they exclude almost everything fun in life: Bagels, pasta, cereal, chips, doughnuts, entire buckets of molten chocolate, etc.
But remember how I said “almost”?
That’s right, low-carb dieters, there’s one vice you can still indulge in: Hard liquor.
Strange as it sounds for something literally made out of potatoes, corn, fruit or sugarcane, it’s a fact that vodka, whiskey, gin, rum and tequila contain zero carbohydrates. That’s because the natural sugars within those ingredients are all converted into alcohol during the fermentation and distillation processes. Take rum, for example: First, the sugarcane is crushed into a juice. Then it’s cooked down into molasses. From there, it’s fermented—that is, the sugar is broken down by yeasts—to produce alcohol. And lastly, the fermented liquid is distilled in a heated vessel, where the raw alcohol is extracted, and the carbs are left behind.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t apply to mixed drinks, since they’re usually packed with added sugar (i.e., the dreaded carbs). The four ounces of cranberry juice in that healthy-ish seeming vodka cranberry contain a whopping 17 grams of carbohydrates (for reference, a glazed cake doughnut contains about 23 grams). Since low-carb diets recommend consuming between 50 and 150 grams per day, you’re better off keeping that voddy neat.
Beer and wine, too, while containing fewer carbs than cocktails, still pack a carb-heavy punch: The average merlot has 3.7 grams of carbohydrates, and your average light lager will be hiding 4.9 grams (IPAs and stouts contain upwards of 16 grams), all of which will add up quickly over a night of boozing.
All of this is besides the point, however, unless you’re actually counting macros. That’s because even though hard liquors aren’t stuffed with carbs, they will still make you fat: This is true whether you’re drinking no-carb vodka shots or high-carb IPAs. Here are the three reasons why:
- Drinking in excess can cause intestinal permeability (that is, a leaky gut), which can result in chronic inflammation and increase your ability to gain weight. As dietician and nutritionist David A. Wiss previously explained to us, “Chronic inflammation is linked to weight gain because the fat cells we already have become larger and get filled with more fat.”
- The body can’t store ethanol (the type of alcohol found in booze), so your liver is forced to burn that before performing its regular duties , like processing all the carbs in your vodka cranberry. So rather than being used for energy, those carbs are turned straight into fat.
- Carbs aside, booze is packed full of calories (a single margarita contains as many calories as four McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets).
All of which can be reduced to the following two confusing statements:
- Hooray! No carbs in liquor!
- Booo! It’ll make you fat anyway!