Monday, September 2, 2019

Retrospective #198: Carbohydrates and Alcoholic Beverages

I drink alcohol – moderately, I’d say, but almost every day. I usually have one or two glasses of wine with supper. I’ll have a cocktail at home, but only when we have company, which isn’t often. In a restaurant, I’ll also have a drink (or two) but we only go out to eat once a week or so. My point: I am neither abstemious nor a bibulous imbiber.
The subject of alcoholic beverages doesn’t get much notice in nutritional circles. The reason is: most alcoholic beverages have very little or no nutritional value. Remember that the three “macronutrients” are fat, protein and carbohydrates. No mention of alcohol because it is not a “nutrient.” But alcohol does contain calories, about 7 calories/gram, actually. Fat, you’ll recall, has about 9kcal/g, and protein and carbohydrate each have about 4kcal/g.
Among alcoholic beverages, only spirits are pure alcohol – ethyl alcohol, to be exact. Spirits include gin, vodka, tequila, rye, scotch, bourbon, rum, etc. They are all ethyl alcohol, and they are all 7kcal/g. “Fortified” spirits, such port, cognac, and liqueurs like Triple Sec, have lots of added sugars. In addition, many popular drinks are made with “mixers” containing “simple syrup” (dissolved sugar) that the bartender usually makes and shakes.
Vermouth is actually “wine,” but whereas table wine is generally 9 to 14% ABV (alcohol by volume), red vermouth is 16 to 18%. Red vermouth has sugar and caramel color added and can be 10-15% sugar, but extra dry vermouth is rarely more than 4% sugar. That’s why I only use extra dry vermouth in my DRY Rob Roy (scotch and dry vermouth).
Both wine and beer are combinations of ethyl alcohol and carbohydrates. As I wrote in Retrospective #2:
The 97 calories in 1½ ounces of spirits (vodka, gin, scotch, etc.) are 100% ethyl alcohol and all “empty calories.” The 119 calories in a 5 oz. glass of white wine are about 90% alcohol and 10% carbs (red wine: 122 calories, 88% alcohol and 12% carbs). The 146 calories in a 12-ounce regular Budweiser are 67% alcohol, 29% carbs and 4% protein, while the 96 calories in a 12-ounce Michelob Ultra are 85% alcohol, 11% carbs and 3% protein.
Of course, most people don’t drink a 5oz glass of wine. Most pours in bars and restaurants are 6 or 7 or even 8oz (if it’s a cheap pour), and who has just one glass of wine? The same goes for beer. Strong drink (spirits) can be limited to one if it’s a good pour, but in most establishments, you have to order a second to get the effect of one “good” one. So, the calories can add up fast. And it’s also pretty common to snack on something while you drink, so it’s very easy to get in trouble, calorie and carb wise, if that is something that concerns you. Personally, I guide myself at home to limit myself to one good drink or two (5 oz.) glasses of wine.
We do pay a price, however, every time we drink. A “good” Dry Rob Roy, such as I make at home, is almost 300 calories (4 oz or 259 kcal for scotch and 1 oz or 32kcal for extra dry vermouth). That’s more than a typical lunch for me – and it’s a meal with no nutrition (and about 0.2 carbohydrate grams in the extra dry vermouth)!
The 2-5 oz glasses of red wine with supper would be 244 calories and 7 grams of carbs, and the two 5 oz. glasses of white wine would be 238 calories and 6 carbs. So, pick your poison.
Thus, from a Very Low Carb perspective, there isn’t much room in the diet for alcoholic beverages. The ethyl alcohols are empty calories and the carbs (in wine) just defeat the purpose of eating Very Low Carb. Given the options, since hard liquor (ethyl alcohol) has no carbs, and extra dry vermouth virtually none, Dry Rob Roys have an advantage for me. At home, however, wine is my 1st choice, and to be sure I get 5 pours per bottle, I mete out a short pour and then fill the 16oz. glass with club soda (no calories and no artificial sweetener).
Beer, if it’s very low carb like Michelob Ultra (95 calories and 2.6 carb grams per 12 oz. bottle), is potentially an alternate beverage for summertime poolside consumption, providing it’s ice-cold.

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