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 Why alcohol calories are more important than you think...

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PostSubject: Why alcohol calories are more important than you think...   Sun Aug 10, 2008 10:34 am

Why alcohol calories are more important than you think...

Successful weight loss is all about oxidizing (or burning), more calories than you eat. When they go on a diet, many people choose low-calorie alcoholic drinks, mainly because they contain fewer alcohol calories than their regular counterparts.

However, drinking too much has a far more damaging effect than you can predict simply by looking at the number of alcohol calories in a drink. Not only does it reduce the number of fat calories you burn, alcohol can increase your appetite and lower your testosterone levels for up to 24 hours after you finish drinking.
Alcohol calories

According to conventional wisdom, the infamous "beer belly" is caused by excess alcohol calories being stored as fat. Yet, less than five percent of the alcohol calories you drink are turned into fat. Rather, the main effect of alcohol is to reduce the amount of fat your body burns for energy.

Some evidence for this comes from research carried in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition [4]. Eight men were given two drinks of vodka and sugar-free lemonade separated by 30 minutes. Each drink contained just under 90 calories. Fat metabolism was measured before and after consumption of the drink. For several hours after drinking the vodka, whole body lipid oxidation (a measure of how much fat your body is burning) dropped by a massive 73%.

Rather than getting stored as fat, the main fate of alcohol is conversion into a substance called acetate. In fact, blood levels of acetate after drinking the vodka were 2.5 times higher than normal. And it appears this sharp rise in acetate puts the brakes on fat loss.

A car engine typically uses only one source of fuel. Your body, on the other hand, draws from a number of different energy sources, such as carbohydrate, fat, and protein. To a certain extent, the source of fuel your body uses is dictated by its availability.

In other words, your body tends to use whatever you feed it. Consequently, when acetate levels rise, your body simply burns more acetate, and less fat. In essence, acetate pushes fat to the back of the queue.

So, to summarize and review, here's what happens to fat metabolism after the odd drink or two.

. A small portion of the alcohol is converted into fat.

. Your liver then converts most of the alcohol into acetate.

. The acetate is then released into your bloodstream, and replaces fat as a source of fuel.

The way your body responds to alcohol is very similar to the way it deals with excess carbohydrate. Although carbohydrate can be converted directly into fat, one of the main effects of overfeeding with carbohydrate is that it simply replaces fat as a source of energy. That's why any type of diet, whether it's high-fat, high-protein, or high-carbohydrate, can lead to a gain in weight.
Appetite

The combination of alcohol and a high-calorie meal is especially fattening, mainly because alcohol acts as a potent appetizer. A Canadian study shows that an aperitif (an alcoholic drink taken before a meal to increase the appetite) increased calorie intake to a greater extent than a carbohydrate-based drink [5].

Researchers from Denmark's Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University report similar results [8]. When a group of men was given a meal and allowed to eat as much as they wanted, they ate more when the meal was served with beer or wine rather than a soft drink.

Not only does too much alcohol put the brakes on fat loss, it's also one of the most effective ways to slash your testosterone levels. Just a single bout of heavy drinking raises levels of the muscle-wasting hormone cortisol and increases the breakdown of testosterone for up to 24 hours [6]. The damaging effects of alcohol on testosterone are made even worse when you exercise before drinking [1].

The effect of alcohol on testosterone could be one reason that people who drink a lot carry less muscle. In fact, a 1993 study shows that alcoholic men have bigger waists and smaller muscles than teetotalers [2].

This doesn't mean you need to avoid alcohol completely.

A recent study, published in the November 2004 issue of the International Journal of Obesity, compared the effect of two different diets over a three-month period [7]. Both diets contained 1500 calories daily, one with 150 calories from white wine and one with 150 calories from grape juice.

Weight loss in the grape juice group and white wine group was 8.3 pounds and 10.4 pounds, respectively.
So, what's the bottom line?

Although an alcohol-rich meal does increase your metabolic rate, it also suppresses the number of fat calories your body burns for energy far more so than meals rich in protein, carbohydrate, or fat [3]. While the odd drink now and again isn't going to hurt, the bottom line is that alcohol and a leaner, stronger body just doesn't mix.


References
1. Heikkonen, E., Ylikahri, R., Roine, R., Valimaki, M., Harkonen, M., & Salaspuro, M. (1996). The combined effect of alcohol and physical exercise on serum testosterone, luteinizing hormone, and cortisol in males. Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research, 20, 711-716
2. Kvist, H., Hallgren, P., Jonsson, L., Pettersson, P., Sjoberg, C., Sjostrom, L., & Bjorntorp, P. (1993). Distribution of adipose tissue and muscle mass in alcoholic men. Metabolism, 42, 569-573
3. Raben A, Agerholm-Larsen L, Flint A, Holst JJ, Astrup A. (2003). Meals with similar energy densities but rich in protein, fat, carbohydrate, or alcohol have different effects on energy expenditure and substrate metabolism but not on appetite and energy intake. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 77, 91-100
4. Siler, S.Q., Neese, R.A., & Hellerstein, M.K. (1999). De novo lipogenesis, lipid kinetics, and whole-body lipid balances in humans after acute alcohol consumption. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 70, 928-936
5. Tremblay, A., & St-Pierre, S. (1996). The hyperphagic effect of a high-fat diet and alcohol intake persists after control for energy density. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 63, 479-482
6. Valimaki, M.J., Harkonen, M., Eriksson, C.J., & Ylikahri, R.H. (1984). Sex hormones and adrenocortical steroids in men acutely intoxicated with ethanol. Alcohol, 1, 89-93
7. Flechtner-Mors, M., Biesalski, H.K., Jenkinson, C.P., Adler, G., & Ditschuneit, H.H. (2004). Effects of moderate consumption of white wine on weight loss in overweight and obese subjects. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 28, 1420-1426
8. Buemann, B., Toubro, S., & Astrup, A. (2002). The effect of wine or beer versus a carbonated soft drink, served at a meal, on ad libitum energy intake. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 26, 1367-1372
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