Sunday, 27 December 2009

Alcohol helps you lose weight...

There is some debate about the effect of alcohol in weight loss on a low-carbohydrate diet.

Dry drinks like vodka and dry wines contain no carbohydrates, but they do contain alcohol. This provides energy at 7 calories per gram and, as alcohol is absorbed rapidly by the body, this source of energy can be used as a source of fuel by the body in place of carbs. The late Dr Albert Pennington, who had considerable experience of high-fat, low-carb diets in the treatment of obesity in the middle third of the 20th Century, says that alcohol checks the combustion of fat in the body.

This is probably true. We know that alcohol does not raise insulin levels, it is not stored as fat and, thus, will not itself make us fat. However, it can stop weight loss. If the calories provided by alcohol are used preferentially, that will mean calories from both glucose and body fat will not be used until the energy supplied by the alcohol is used up. This must have an effect on weight loss. (Note that here I am talking about the alcohol in a drink, NOT the carbohydrate content of that drink. That will contribute to weight gain.)

On the other hand, there is Banting's evidence. He took six glasses of claret a day and a glass of rum or something like that most nights when he went to bed, and still he lost weight.

Another researcher working with low-carb diets, Dr Gaston Pawan, of the Middlesex Hospital, London, mentioned the intriguing possibility that alcoholic drinks, by dilating the blood vessels in the skin and making it work harder, may step up metabolism to an extent which more than compensated for the calories taken in as alcohol. This increased metabolism, coupled with increased loss of water from the skin and in the urine, he opined, could then result in weight loss. There is experimental evidence for this.

Pawan's colleague, Professor Alan Kekwick found that obese patients who were losing weight satisfactorily on a high-fat, low-calorie diet, would still continued to lose if alcohol was added in amounts up to as much as 500 calories a day — which is equivalent to about a seven fluid ounces (190ml) of 37.5% gin or vodka. But if that extra 500 calories were given as a carbohydrate-rich food such as chocolate or bread, they stopped losing weight and started to gain. It seems probable that all alcoholic drinks except those such as beer or sweet wines and liqueurs which contain large amounts of carbohydrate, are not fattening.

It might be wise to consider, however, that the stimulation of appetite and the removal of inhibitions by alcohol may mask the slimming effect by tempting you to overeat the fattening, carbohydrate foods which are so often provided with drinks.