s it possible to enjoy both a keto lifestyle and alcohol? In a word: Kinda.
Alcohol is often classified as the fourth macronutrient (it has about 7 calories per gram), but it’s not an essential nutrient. You don’t need it to survive — even though after a long, hard day it can almost feel that way. And while drinking on a keto diet won’t necessarily derail all your progress, it will slow things down a bit.
Alcohol — even red wine — isn’t good for you. It speeds up aging and definitely isn’t Bulletproof. If you do drink, choose highly filtered and distilled drinks that are low in toxins (more on that later).
Read on for the definitive guide to drinking while keto; how alcohol affects ketones, how it impacts fat- and weight loss, and the best keto alcohol you can buy.
Does alcohol actually increase ketosis?
If you’ve ever heard the phrase “drinking increases ketosis,” you’re only getting half the story. While a small study from 1970 illustrated how alcohol consumption and a high-fat diet “increased ketonuria” (ketonuria being defined as when “abnormally large amounts of ketone bodies” are found in the urine), the ketonuria itself couldn’t be “attributed to an immediate effect of alcohol.” Instead, researchers theorized the ketonuria was created from “a delayed change in intermediary metabolism,” from alcohol-induced glycogen depletion. Glycogen is the body’s stored form of glucose.
Basically, when you drink on a high-fat diet, your liver metabolism changes due to depleted glycogen. While this may result in a quick burst of ketone activity, as you’ll read below, your liver will eventually start to use the alcohol for immediate energy instead of fat, which means that weight loss eventually slows.
Alcohol and the fat-burning process
While it’s obvious that sweet cocktails and beer are full of sugar and carbs that can immediately bring you out of ketosis, straight liquor and dry wine can also cause issues for some people. Take a drink like a vodka soda: It has very few calories and even fewer grams of sugar. But it’s not the calories in this simple drink that can cause a problem; it’s how the body processes the liquor in the first place.
If you maintain a ketogenic diet, your body uses your stored fat for energy. When alcohol enters your system, your liver will default to using the byproducts of the metabolized alcohol instead of fat, which means fatty acid oxidation (the process of creating ketones) is slowed until all the alcohol has been processed.
If you’re a very occasional spirits drinker, this will probably not cause any long-term issues. But if you find yourself drinking often during the week or every weekend, you could be slowing your fat-burning process down.
Why keto drinkers get drunk fast
Carbs are great for reducing that tipsy feeling because they help reduce blood alcohol levels. This is because the body processes glucose in things like pasta, pizza, and bread quickly, slowing down the metabolization of the alcohol. But when you’re living a ketogenic lifestyle, you have a very small amount of stored glycogen, which means that the alcohol is processed faster.
This leads to feeling tipsy or drunk much quicker, which can lead to a few other issues if you’re not fully prepared for the alcohol to hit.
Willpower, alcohol, and keto
Maintaining a healthy ketogenic lifestyle requires focus and willpower. When you drink, your inhibitions and willpower weaken. This is why it’s so easy to go for a few pieces of pizza at 2am after a night of drinking instead of eating a healthier snack like hard-boiled eggs or a handful of nuts and olives.
So even if you choose your liquor carefully, the choices you make after those drinks (i.e. pizza or fast food) may end up throwing you out of ketosis. This isn’t meant to be a buzzkill! It’s simply something more to consider when opting for a second or third drink. Do you trust yourself not to blow all your hard work as the night wears on?
The best keto alcohol options
Alcohol is not Bulletproof. However, if you want to go out and enjoy a drink or two with friends, it’s still possible to do so on a keto diet. Here is your definitive guide to keto-friendly alcohol.
Most clear liquors that are around 40 percent alcohol (vodka, whiskey, gin, scotch, brandy, rum and tequila) contain zero carbs and sugars on their own, which means they’re keto-friendly (besides the part where alcohol is metabolized in place of fats). The issue arrives if you want to mix your liquor with something to make it more palatable.
Mixing your spirits with straight water or seltzer is perfectly acceptable on keto, but tonic water (which is a bitter soda made from quinine) contains 32 to 33 grams of carbs per 12 ounces. Likewise, when you mix hard liquor with things like fruit juice, sodas, or behind-the-bar “mixers” (which are usually full of sugar), you’re opening yourself up to a lot of liquid carbs.
If you’re really craving a little something more than just plain tequila on the rocks, there are plenty of Bulletproof-inspired cocktail recipes that swap out sugary mixers with more keto-friendly options.
Keep in mind that flavored alcohols (coconut-flavored vodka, for instance) can and often do contain extra sugar. Avoid them whenever possible
While most cheap wine (think the stuff under $10 or that comes in a box), can come with residual sugar, if you stick to very dry red or white wine, you can still have a glass with dinner. Typically, dry wines have about 1g or less of sugar per ounce, and the usual serving is 5 ounces, so pour accordingly.
Keep in mind that while some dry wines might be OK on keto, most are not Bulletproof. Typical wine contains up to 76 different additives that aren’t disclosed on their labels. Think: Artificial coloring, ammonia, defoaming agents, metals, and all kinds of other odd chemicals. They often carry carcinogenic mycotoxins from moldy vats or poor fermentation, too. Organic, biodynamic Dry Farm Wines is clean and tested in labs. Its founders are also keto followers.
A few keto-friendly, dry white wines include:
- Sauvignon blanc (0.6g carbs per ounce)
- Pinot blanc: (0.57g carbs per ounce)
- Italian pinot grigio (0.6g carbs per ounce)
A few keto-friendly, dry red wines include:
- Cabernet sauvignon (0.75g carbs per ounce)
- Pinot noir (0.68g carbs per ounce)
- Merlot (0.74g carbs per ounce)
Because of its ingredient list (barley, hops, yeast, and water), beer is something to be avoided when on a Bulletproof and keto diet. The barley is broken down into sugar maltose, which is what the yeast acts on, creating a much higher carb count than straight liquor.
Beer contains gluten, yeast, ochratoxin A, and other mold toxins. If you’re going to drink beer, know that it’s not Bulletproof, and at least make it gluten-free.