Your Guide to Keto and Alcohol: Will Drinking Kick You Out of Ketosis?
By: Jessica DiGiacinto
November 11, 2020
- No surprise here: Alcohol isn’t exactly a health food. But you can enjoy the occasional drink on the keto diet if you’re careful about what you drink.
- On the keto diet, your body processes alcohol differently. That means the effects of alcohol might hit you faster. And over time, alcohol can derail your weight loss efforts.
- Clear hard liquor is the most keto alcohol. Just be mindful of sugar-packed mixers. Wine may also work for some people.
Is it possible to enjoy both a keto lifestyle and drink alcohol? In a word: Kinda. Our keto alcohol guide covers the science on what alcohols are keto, and how you can responsibly imbibe without knocking yourself out of ketosis.
Can you have alcohol on keto?
While it’s obvious that sweet mixed drinks 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.
When talking about drinking on the keto diet, you have to consider the processes that go into your body metabolizing alcohol, and how that can interfere with your body being in ketosis.
Your health and body are unique to you, so it’s important to understand that even if you drink a low-carb alcoholic drink, your reaction may not be the same as the person across from you. Listen to your body, and act accordingly.
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.
Alcohol and the fat-burning process
Alcohol has about 7 calories per gram, so it’s sometimes classified as the fourth macronutrient. But unlike carbs, fats and protein, it’s not essential. You don’t need it to survive.
On the keto diet, your body uses fat for energy instead of carbs. In the absence of carbs, your liver turns fat into energy molecules called ketones. When you drink alcohol, your body begins to metabolize the booze — which means it breaks it down.
The thing is, when you’re keto, your liver focuses all of its attention on the metabolized alcohol instead of fat. Until all the alcohol has been processed, your body won’t produce ketones from fat. This slows down the fat-burning process and potentially slows down your weight loss goals.
The bottom line: If you’re a very occasional spirits drinker, alcohol probably won’t derail your keto lifestyle. But if you find yourself drinking high-carb beverages, or drinking often during the week or every weekend, you might be slowing down the fat-burning you want on keto.
Keto alcohol tolerance
Carbs are great for managing that tipsy feeling. Pasta, pizza and bread are full of glucose, which your body burns relatively quickly. This slows down the metabolization of alcohol, which helps reduce blood alcohol levels.
But when you’re living a ketogenic lifestyle, you’re eating very few carbs. That means alcohol is processed faster — which leads to you feeling tipsy or drunk much quicker.
While that could seem like a plus for some, that also means that if you’re new to keto, and have the same amount of alcoholic beverages that you’re used to during a night out (or in), you may feel the effects more quickly and be caught off guard.
So it’s even more important to appoint a sober designated driver and be mindful of how alcohol affects you now, rather than how many drinks you used to be able to drink.
Keto and alcohol can diminish willpower
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 2 a.m. after a night of drinking instead of a handful of pistachios and a glass of water.
So even if you choose your low-carb alcohol 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.
Does alcohol actually increase ketosis?
If you’ve ever heard the phrase “drinking increases ketosis,” you’re only getting half the story.
A small study from 1970 illustrated how alcohol consumption and a high-fat diet increased “ketonuria” — aka more ketones were found in the volunteers’ urine. Here’s the scientific explanation: Researchers theorized the ketonuria was caused by a “delayed change in intermediary metabolism” from alcohol-induced glycogen depletion.
The bottom line: Drinking alcohol on the keto diet might result in a quick burst of ketone activity, but your liver will eventually start to use alcohol for energy instead of fat. That means less fat-burning over time.
Wine and keto
Now that we know the science behind keto and alcohol, what kinds of alcohol go best with a ketogenic diet? Can you drink a glass of wine on keto?
As with all things low-carb, it depends. Some wine, especially dry wines, are perfectly fine in moderation. A glass of wine with dinner or in the evening fits right in with a keto diet.
Wine coolers, of course, tend to contain little actual wine and are usually high in carbs. Be sure to check calorie and carb counts on pre-mixed drinks, so you can make an informed choice about your evening.
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 1 gram or less of sugar per ounce, and the usual serving is 5 ounces, so pour accordingly.
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)
- Chardonnay (0.6g carbs per ounce)
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)
Wines that have a higher carb count include Moscato sparkling wine as well as some riesling wines. Look to brut champagne and dry riesling to replace their sweeter cousins.
There’s also a potential gray area when it comes to counting the carbs in wine. For instance, chardonnay wines can have 3.2 grams of carbs per
If you’re concerned about more than carbohydrates, pay attention to the winery your wine is from. Organic, biodynamic Dry Farm Wines tests their wines in labs to ensure they’re free of mold and additives — and its founders are keto.
What about beer and keto?
Because of its ingredient list (barley, hops, yeast and water), beer is mostly something to be avoided when on a 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 or even wine.
If you’re a beer enthusiast on keto, there is hope, however. Some light beers have a lower carb count than others, and an occasional higher carb brew won’t necessarily throw you out of ketosis. It’s generally a good idea to go in informed and make your keto beer choices from there.
Hard liquor: An easier keto alcohol
Most clear liquors that are around 40 percent alcohol (vodka, whiskey, gin, scotch, brandy, rum and tequila) contain 0 grams of carbs and sugars on their own, which means they’re keto-friendly in moderation.
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) can contain 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 unexpected liquid carbs.
If you’re really craving a little something more than just plain tequila on the rocks, you can still enjoy keto-friendly drinks that swap out sugary mixers, or ask the bartender to make you something using bitters. Some bitters contain as little as 2 grams of carbs per half teaspoon.
That may seem like a lot of carbs in a small amount of bitters, but you usually don’t need more than a half teaspoon (ie two dashes) to flavor a drink and help it taste like a cocktail rather than straight liquor.
Diet soda is also an option, but many on keto choose to avoid artificial sweeteners, so choose what fits your diet journey the best.
Keep in mind that flavored alcohols and liqueurs (coconut schnapps, for instance) can and often do contain extra sugar. Be mindful of how much you consume, and how those fit into your daily macros.
Are there keto cocktails out there?
Of course! In fact, we have some handy keto cocktail recipes for you, all under 5g net carbs per serving.
- Keto Raspberry Thyme Gin Fizz
- Keto White Russian
- Keto Muddled Strawberry Margarita
- Spicy Keto Collagen Margarita
- Unfairly Simple Vodka Cocktail
If none of these keto cocktails pique your interest, you can also make some keto lemonade or even whip up a batch of low-carb matcha soda and pair with the low-carb alcohol of your choice for a homemade keto mixed drink. We’re not going to judge.
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