What's the Skinny on Low-Calorie Booze?

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How do calories in alcohol work? In short, we don’t entirely know yet. Alcohol isn't metabolized like food, so it's much more complicated. Plus, it’s even more difficult to draw conclusions about the effects of alcohol and food on the body since no two people are exactly alike. But with the ever-increasing popularity of low-calorie drink options such as Skinny Girl cocktails and MGD64, it’s a hard subject to ignore.

Burning Off Booze

The human body treats alcohol like a toxin. As such, our bodies try to excrete it in any way possible.

Though most dietitians (and health teachers) treat all alcohol calories as being available to the body, some alcohol is excreted as acetic acid. This excretion would imply that the body absorbs fewer than seven calories from every gram of alcohol.

Another way the body tries to get rid of alcohol is by metabolizing it. By doing so, booze is turned into energy for the body. Unlike food, which is digested mainly in the intestines, alcohol is metabolized mainly in the liver and kidneys. These organs can only process so much before the excess is flushed out of the system as urine.

Moderation, Moderation, Moderation

According to several published studies, enjoying a few drinks will have very little long-term impact on your waistline. When consumed in moderation (one or two drinks daily), test subjects experienced insignificant weight gain due to alcohol. Interestingly, these studies examined beer, wine, and straight spirits—and found no difference in the results.

The Sweet Truth

If moderate drinking isn’t definitively linked to weight gain, the most likely culprit in putting on the pounds is sugar. After alcohol, this substance adds the most calories to drinks, and is considered by many nutritionists to result in a long-term risk of weight-related health problems.

The highest sugar levels are found in sweetened liqueurs and related cocktails. Straight distilled spirits, on the other hand, contain only a tiny amount of residual sugar. If you’re truly looking to avoid sugar and can drink liquor by itself, this option is your best bet.

Dry wines often contain a little sugar, but not much. Beer is more difficult. Sugar in beer can be masked by bitter hops, making it tougher to avoid. They call it "beer belly" for a reason.