This was originally a multi-part series from Aug 2016 where I explored the possibility of drinking beer and doing Low Carb.
Remember the food metabolism curve (Only Three Things in What We Eat)? That graph is only missing one thing. Alcohol.
The conventional wisdom (which seems to be repeated from Atkins) I have heard but now question is whether or not the body only burns alcohol if there are choices between alcohol and other things in the body. Alcohol is the best choice of all for the body in terms of ease of access so I wrongly concluded that the body puts off dealing with proteins, carbs and fats until the alcohol is metabolized.
The Atkins site (Q: Can I drink alcohol now following Atkins 40??) puts it this way:
The body burns alcohol for fuel when alcohol is available. So when it is burning alcohol, your body will not burn fat. This does not stop weight loss; it simply postpones it. Since the alcohol does not get stored as glycogen, you immediately get back into fat burning after the alcohol is used up.
Take careful note. They say that the body won’t burn fat but they don’t mention carbs or protein.
The truth is that the body burns all of the sources as best it can in some blended way. Some are more easily accessed than others and burn more quickly. Some are burned slower but all burn at the same time. Alcohol has it’s own curve for blood concentration (implicitly related to metabolism):
Also, Atkins can’t be right with the word “immediately” since this is such a long and smooth drop. What does make sense is that there are overlapping times when the alcohol level has reached a low enough point that the body has to start drawing energy from the stored energy sources. This isn’t a like a flipped switch at all.
Here’s some information on the interaction of Alcohol and other foods (Science here).
The concomitant ingestion of various foods with alcohol resulted in a decreased area under the blood alcohol concentration curve, a lower peak concentration and an increased time to reach peak. Michaelis-Menten kinetics indicated a decreased alcohol metabolism rate after the ingestion of carbohydrates or fats.
I think everyone who drinks realizes this (at least about carbs). If you eat food you get less drunk for both slower and longer. If you drink on an empty stomach you will get drunk faster but sober up more quickly. (PSA: Use those facts to whatever advantage you personally choose as long as you don’t drive. Find another way to stumble home than your car.)
However, that study does implicitly contradict the claim by Atkins. The study demonstrates that alcohol metabolism is reduced after the ingestion of fats. That implies to me that the body processes both at the same time. At least the dietary portion of the fat is still being burned. It’s not like the body puts the fat off into some corner and says that it won’t burn it until the alcohol is done. It does both at the same time. The alcohol acts slower but so do the other sources (Carbs, proteins and fats) just like they would in any other blended situation.
It is true that the body isn’t burning stored fat during that time, but that’s true of anything that a person eats. The body isn’t burning stored fat if it is getting enough energy from what you are digesting.
In fact the real story may be quite different. Take a look at the pathology of Alcoholic Ketoacidosis – a pretty serious condition (What Is Alcoholic Ketoacidosis?).
Cells need glucose (sugar) and insulin to function properly. Glucose comes from the food you eat, and the pancreas produces insulin. When you drink alcohol, your pancreas may stop producing insulin for a short time. Without insulin, your cells will not be able to use the glucose you consume for energy. To get the energy you need, your body will start to burn fat.
This is directly opposite of what Atkins says. At least for the alcoholic he has reached the point where his body is eating itself up by burning its own fat. That’s the exact goal of Atkins – to burn the body’s fat. The downside is that the blood glucose increases during that time. Note that this seems to take a lot of alcohol over an extended period of time but it does suggest that the alcohol itself does not prevent the body from burning fat.
My drink of choice is craft beers. I am particularly fond of the higher octane varieties like Southern Tier’s 2X IPA. The nutritional data for that beer is:
Note that the summary below doesn’t get it right since it doesn’t include the alcohol as part of the calorie count.
This can be shown from the math:
Calories from carbs are 4 cal per gm.
Calories from protein are 4 cal per gm.
Calories from far are 9 cal per gm.
Calories from alcohol are 7 cal per gm.
So 12 ozs * .082 (percent alcohol) * 7 (cals per gram) * 28 (grams per oz) = 165 cals from alcohol. Calories from carbs are 21.4 * 4 = 85.6 cals. Cals from Protein are 2 * 3 = 8. This is 250.6, a bit more than the earlier table but close enough.
How Can I Keep Drinking?
So what’s the best strategy for drinking and losing weight/lowering insulin levels? The best approach is the “cut it out approach” but let’s look at the other choices.
First. seems like it would depend upon the type of alcohol. Craft beers, like the 2X IPA, have a pretty good carb count to begin with. That’s partly why they last longer in the body than say Jack Daniel’s Whiskey. Add to that the sheer volume of downing a 12 oz beer vs a 1.5 oz shot. Eating carbs lowers the metabolism of the alcohol and craft beers would have a slower effect than liquor.
Can it be explained by alcohol amounts? A 12 0z craft beer like the 2X IPA at 8.2% alcohol and 12 ozs has about one oz of alcohol in it. Except a person drinks it over an hour instead of 5 seconds it take to down shot.
If the goal is getting drunk then a few shots are a more effective way to get there. If the goal is to enjoy a few drinks over an evening than craft beer is a good choice.
I am convinced that there’s a dual effect of drinking carbolicious drinks like Craft beer with a meal. The carbs in the beer are one effect and the carbs in the food are another and they do add together. The LC treatment says both of these are bad and just cut them out.
If the goal is decreasing Insulin Resistance then it is believed to be helpful to drop the carb consumption. Carbs increase blood glucose levels requiring a quicker insulin response from the body than other sources of food (protein and fats).
The next question is then is it better to drink Craft Beer with dinner or wait a couple of hours and then drink. Certainly delaying alcohol gives the likelihood of drinking less which means less total carbs. Drinking a craft beer every hour or so from 5-11 would mean 5-6 beers which in this case would be 21 grams of carbs per beer. Basically a pretty decent carb load over an evening.
Delaying drinking until a couple of hours then has the effect of less drinking and less carbs combined with the advantage of letting the meal start to digest. If there are carbs in the meal they are then spread out and less bunched together.
So that is what I tried yesterday with success. I started dinner at 5 and ate for a short time. I then waited till 7 and drank beer at 7, 8, and 9 PM. I went to bed at 10 AM and work up at 5 AM to a fantastic blood sugar number of 111.
One thing I have noticed is that Rye Pale Ales do not blow up my Blood Sugar levels like other IPAs (wheat based Ales) do. Not quite sure why.
The carb levels look comparable. Hard to find anything out there on the difference and I’ve never met a diabetic to share the information with. I do remember that My grandfather had a wheat allergy of some sort and could only eat Rye bread due to some unknown digestion problems.
Is there an analogy to bread? The key may lie in the glycemic index/load. According to (The Glycemic Index of Rye Bread):
One slice of rye bread has a glycemic index of 41 and a glycemic load of 5, according to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. In contrast, one slice of white bread, made from refined grains, has a GI of 73 and a GL of 10. A high glycemic index is considered 70 or more, and low is 54 or less; a high glycemic load is 20 or more, and low is 10 or less.
So if beer is really just liquid bread and the carb/alcohol numbers are the same, then it makes sense that Rye beer has a lower glycemic index and load over other Pale Ales of similar alcohol and carb counts.
I did a completely unscientific study and measured my BG at 111 and then drank a Rye Pale Ale beer. I then waited an hour and measured my BG and got 114. When I drank the beer I did not take a bolus like I normally would have in the past. I did the same thing a beer without a bolus and an hour later measured my BG at 112. The taste in my mouth tells me that I am out of ketosis. An hour and a half later my BG was 116 and I was solidly in ketosis.
This has been a disappointing year to find Rye Pale Ale. I bought one or two 12 packs and have not seen them at all over the year. Last year I could find Rye of the Tiger and other brands in the local beer distributors but not this year.
Beer can be healthy in moderation.