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Of course, alcohol has calories, 7 per gram. But there are many substances which have internal energy but are not digestible by humans. For example, if I burn beeswax, I'll release lots of energy, but if I eat it, I think it won't count towards my caloric intake.

I've seen diet information sources which warn about the calories present in alcohol, but I have never seen a nutrition label which lists the calories from alcohol. It is also not considered a macronutrient in the classic "proteins, fats, carbohydrates" list. While I get it why nobody would suggest that alcohol becomes a regular energy source in the diet, I had the impression that those three are an exclusive list of compounds the body can use to gain energy. I find these contradictions confusing.

So in the end, are the calories from alcohol utilized by the body, or not?

3
  • Calories by definition, is everything that human body can use to get energy, if your body could not use alcohol, then it would have 0 calories, just like cellulose for example.
    – Freedo
    Commented Jun 20, 2015 at 19:46
  • The existence of the "beer belly" is a fine example of calories from alcohol being absorbed. (And before anyone comments: the beer belly is not the same as the ascites of liver failure.) Commented Jun 20, 2015 at 23:06
  • @IronPillow But "beer" is not alcohol on a chemical perspective. Composion for 100gr given by "Beer and Health": Water 93, Alcohol 4.4, Carbs 2.9, Protein 0.34. So you can get belly only with the 2.7 carbs (fibre 0.2) if you consume 4 to 5 litres what is common for big beer drinker, given about about 120/130g of carbs per day. And I bid these carbs are not low GI. Commented Jul 2 at 19:07

4 Answers 4

7

There is some agreement that the calories and other nutrition data, except the percent of alcohol, do not need to be shown on the labels of alcoholic beverages.

But these nutrition facts are listed in the USDA.gov nutrients database (search for beer, wine, vodka, gin...)

For example, 1 jigger or 1.5 oz of 80 proof vodka has 97 Calories. These calories represent "metabolic energy," which is energy that can be actually used by your body.

A source that claims that alcohol provides metabolic energy:

2
  • That's what I am missing in this whole discussion (not only in this question, but the same topic found anywhere on the Internet): an authoritative source that confirms that the calories listed for alcohol are metabolic energy and not simply combustible energy.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 11:09
  • @rumtscho, I added one source above. Also, I know for a fact that the USDA.gov uses "metabolic energy" for their calorie values - this claim is somewhere on USDA.gov, but I just can't find the link now.
    – Jan
    Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 11:48
4

I have seen many lists of macro-nutrients that exclude alcohol but this is often due to the fact that alcohol is not essential to our survival. Alcohol is the only other substance that provides the body energy in addition to the three main macro-nutrients.

In short, alcohol definitely can be absorbed by the body (as evidenced by the behaviors exhibited by many after consuming large quantities of it) and the body is able to utilize the energy from alcohol. Therefore you should definitely include it in your Calorie counting.

This site has a list of various alcoholic beverages and their energy contents for you to peruse at your leisure:

http://www.weightlossresources.co.uk/calories-in-food/alcoholic-drinks.htm

1

Alcohol metabolism has evolved in most living beings as a vital part of digesting fermenting food. This is a process that happens naturally in the gut even if you don't drink alcohol. The digestive system has evolved to not waste such a valuable source of energy many millions of years ago. There is a complete enzyme chain in place to break down and use alcohol as a source of energy. Please note that naturally occurring fermentation yields only small amounts of alcohol and that our digestive system is not geared to deal long term with the large amounts of alcohol that some people ingest. Liver damage occurs when the enzymes available to break down alcohol safely get overwhelmed and leave toxic metabolites behind which then in turn damage liver cells. So the answer is : yes - alcohol will definitely make you gain weight, roughly to the tune of 7 calories per gram.

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  • 1
    Welcome to health SE :-). We require all answers to be supported by reliable references on Health, since references are the only way for the community to assess the merit of an answer regardless of the reader's background. You can always edit your answer to add some. Thanks!
    – Lucky
    Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 16:06
-2

In many countries Alcohol means Alcoholic beverages. It's not the case in countries with a traditional wine culture, where Alcohols, Wines, Beers are separated in the general speaking. In France for instance we say: "Vins et Spiritueux", separating Wines (Vins) from Distilled products (Spiritueux).

This different vision on beverages, let me think than we can be facing in the question to 1) a semantic issue, 2) a proxy issue, and also the way to answer it.

  1. When we talk of Alcohol do we mean Ethanol or a beverage containing Ethanol.

  2. When we talk about Energy we're talking about Calorie and when it turns to talk Calorie we mean: Burning & Storing/Un-storing.

So we must reformulate the question either way.

« Is drinking beverage containing Alcohol (or Ethanol) can lead to fat storage »

Studies you referenced stressed out the fact that Ethanol is 7kcal/g. They also show that there is a difference with the nature of beverage consumption & habits.

From my perspective I think we must consider this:

For the 1) Beverage is a bunch of nutrients including mainly high carbs, less and less as the Ethanol concentration increases.

For the 2) So we must take into account the quantity and the « kind of calorie » to evaluate effect on the body, rather than consider a kind of global approach of Alcoholic beverage

Let have a look at some alcoholic beverage composition facts.

Table for common alcoholic beverage, mainly raw one (brewing, fermenting, distilling)

As we can see there are a lot of case where Carbs are significant, even very high for Liquors.

Like showed in the studies you referenced and some others I reference at the end of my contribution, there is an hormonal factor involved in ethanol intake mainly characterised by a "late-phase insulin secretion and induced late hypoglycaemia". This mech has been shown in different survey situations.

So the conjunction of carbs intake on one side plus the increase of insulin secretion must lead to storage, either as glycogen if the person is depleted or adipocytes if not depleted.

Refs:

  • Impact of Alcohol on Glycemic Control and Insulin Action - Jennifer L. Steiner & al. - 2015
  • Ethanol Acutely Stimulates Islet Blood Flow, Amplifies Insulin Secretion, and Induces Hypoglycemia via Nitric Oxide and Vagally Mediated Mechanisms — Zhen Huang & al - 2008
  • Alcohol Contribution to Total Energy Intake and Its Association with Nutritional Status and Diet Quality in Eight Latina American Countries — Juan Carlos Brenes & al. - 2021
2
  • Glycerol? I don't think so. Did you mean glycogen?
    – Carey Gregory
    Commented Jul 5 at 0:27
  • @CareyGregory You're right :D. Corrected Commented Jul 5 at 12:07

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