How does drinking alcohol affect ketosis? Is it safe to drink while on the ketogenic diet?

Article at a Glance:

There are several important points to remember about alcohol and the ketogenic diet, including:

Ketosis is a state in which carbohydrates are not available, so the body burns fat instead

The liver converts fat into ketones, which the body can use as energy

The ketogenic diet, combined with a caloric deficit, will lead to weight loss

Alcohol interrupts the ketosis state and adds extra calories to the diet

If a caloric deficit is maintained, even after consuming alcohol, weight loss will occur

The ketogenic diet lowers alcohol tolerance due to low glycogen levels

Alcohol and Ketosis

Your diet as well as the kind and amount of alcohol you consume will affect your body’s metabolism and weight. It is possible to drink alcohol and maintain a ketogenic diet, but it’s important to understand how alcohol and the ketogenic diet interact with each other and affect your body.

The ketogenic diet (also known as the keto diet) is a popular low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet meant to induce a state of ketosis in your body. Ketosis is a normal metabolic process that occurs when there are not enough carbohydrates available for your body to burn, so it burns fat. The liver converts stored fat into ketones, which are a buildup of acids that are usable forms of energy for your body. With a ketogenic diet, your body burns fat in the form of ketones rather than carbohydrates.

Weight loss occurs through a caloric deficit, which is when you consume fewer calories than your body requires to maintain your current weight. When the ketogenic diet is used with a caloric deficit, weight loss will occur. However, long-term use of the ketogenic diet has not been shown to be any more effective with weight loss than other diets with similar calorie counts.

Calories from alcohol count toward your total daily calorie intake. Even when alcohol accounts for some of your daily calories, weight loss can still occur with a caloric deficit. While a caloric deficit is essential to weight loss, you may be concerned about how alcohol affects the state of ketosis.

Carbohydrates Contained in Alcoholic Beverages

Many alcoholic beverages like beer, certain wines, and cocktails with mixers are loaded with carbohydrates. Consuming carbohydrates will cause the body to leave the state of ketosis since carbohydrates are present to metabolize.

However, some types of alcohol are low in carbohydrates. These include:

  • Clear liquors like vodka, gin or tequila
  • Some dark liquors like rum, cognac or scotch
  • Dry wines
  • Light beer

While these drinks may not provide carbohydrates for the body to burn, your body can still turn alcohol into usable energy.

Alcohol is unique in that it cannot be stored like carbohydrates, protein or fat. Because alcohol can’t be stored, it essentially halts the metabolism of other types of calories until it is broken down. When in ketosis, alcohol halts the metabolism of fat to metabolize alcohol.

Alcohol is broken down by several enzymes into acetate, which your body uses for energy. When alcohol is consumed during ketosis, your body will convert to using acetate as an energy source rather than fat.

Overall, even if the alcohol consumed is not high in carbs, it does provide energy for the body to burn rather than fat, essentially slowing the ketosis process.

The Ketogenic Diet and Alcohol Tolerance

A ketosis diet can lead to lowered alcohol tolerance. Your body stores carbohydrates as glycogen, and during ketosis, there are very low levels of it. Low levels of glycogen mean that there are fewer substances in your body to absorb alcohol.

Carbohydrates can reduce blood alcohol levels. In ketosis, there is an absence of carbohydrates and other sources of energy, so alcohol reaches your bloodstream quicker and is processed more quickly. This effect reduces your tolerance to alcohol.

If you are struggling with alcohol abuse or alcohol use disorder, help is available. The Recovery Village offers a continuum of care programs for substance use disorders. Reach out today for more information.

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Sources

Masood, Wajeed; Uppaluri, Kalyan. “Ketogenic diet.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2018. Accessed March 29, 2019.

AHA/ACC/TOC Prevention Guideline. “2013 AHA/ACC/TOS Guideline for the Management of Overweight and Obesity in Adults.” Published on November 12, 2019. Accessed March 29, 2019.

Lieber, Charles. “Relationships Between Nutrition, Alcohol Use, and Liver Disease.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2014. Accessed March 29, 2019.

Cedarbaum, Arthur. “Alcohol Metabolism.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, November 2012. Accessed March 29, 2019.

Finnigan, F. “Effects of meal composition on blood alcohol level, psychomotor performance and subjective state after ingestion of alcohol.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1998. Accessed March 29, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.