The new year means new goals, and they include a fresh focus on body weight. People trying to lose weight, or not gain weight, are frequently advised to “lay off the booze.”
The math is simple: The alcohol molecule releases 40 percent more energy than an equal weight of sugar and is devoid of nutritional value. The biochemistry is clear: The alcohol molecule activates the production of appetite stimulants in the brain, promoting poor food choices and excess food ingestion. But do scientific studies support the logic that alcohol consumption can be a significant factor in weight gain?
The type of alcohol may be a factor. A 20-year review of alcohol consumption and body weight reveals that light-to-moderate intake of wine is more protective against weight gain than the identical alcohol content in beer or liquor.
Gender plays a role. Alcohol consumption is about three times higher in men than in women. Men are more likely to drink beer and binge drink. Consistent with this observation is research showing positive associations between beer consumption and measures of abdominal fat (also known as the “beer belly”) in men, less commonly noted in women.
One’s drinking pattern (how often and how much consumed) makes a difference. While heavy drinkers risk gaining weight, light-to-moderate wine consumption, one drink (3 to 4 ounces per day) for women and two drinks (6 to 8 ounces per day) for men, does not seem to be associated with weight gain or changes in waist circumference. However, binge drinking and frequent heavy drinking are linked to obesity and other health risks in both men and women.
Genetics is always a factor. Alcohol intake can be a problem if you are genetically prone to obesity, especially if you consume alcohol when you are overweight.
Age may change risk. A few studies find that, for adolescents and elders, alcohol in any amount might promote weight gain.
In conclusion, everyone is different. The critical ingredient is self-monitoring. Weigh yourself regularly. Keep track of the calories you eat and drink.
For example, you’ll find no significant caloric difference between white and red wines. Yet, 12 ounces of beer, a beverage rich in carbohydrates, can range from 55 to 320 calories!
Lastly, if your personal weight-loss plan includes alcohol, the science leans toward recommending wine — in moderation, of course.
Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renown biochemist and dietitian emerita. She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.” On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally. ν