Alcohol and weight gain

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Many people don’t realise how many calories are in their drinks, or how easily alcohol can cause weight gain.

Alcohol contains seven calories per gram, which is almost as much as pure fat (nine calories per gram). By contrast, protein and carbohydrates have four calories per gram.

A glass of wine can have as many calories as a slice of cake. A pint of lager is like a slice of pizza. A shot of whisky has more calories than a rasher of fried bacon.

How it adds up

An average wine drinker (a few glasses a week) might get around 2,000 calories per month from booze. Over a year, that’s like eating 184 packets of crisps.

For adults who drink, alcohol makes up around 10 per cent of their total calories.

There are also other factors to bear in mind when looking at calories from alcohol.

The juices and drinks which go with spirits can be loaded with sugar. A shot of tequila, for instance, is 100 calories. But when mixed with the ingredients of a frozen margarita it can hit 500 calories.

Drinking often makes us hungry and leads to poor choices, such as overeating and choosing junk food.

Tips to avoid weight gain from alcohol
  • Try to stay below the recommended limit of 14 units each week (e.g. six pints of average-strength beer)
  • Choose ‘light’ low-alcohol alternatives, with fewer calories
  • Avoid sugary juices, fizzy drinks and mixers (have low-calorie tonic water instead)
  • Don’t drink on an empty stomach, eat a healthy meal before going out
  • Drink water or low-calorie soft drinks between alcoholic drinks
  • Opt out of rounds to avoid drinking more than you want to
  • Pace yourself by taking small sips
  • Spread your units over three or more days of the week
  • Ask for help if you feel your drinking is getting out of control
Key sources and further reading

Alcohol Change: Alcohol and calories

Drinkaware: Alcohol, calories and weight gain

16 March, 2023

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