Alcohol, Calories and Weight: Very Surprising Facts

The subject of alcohol, calories and weight is an ironic one. Alcohol contains calories. Yet moderate alcohol drinking doesn’t lead to weight gain. And some studies report a small weight loss for women who drink.1      

The medical evidence of this is based on a large number of studies of thousands of people around the world. Many of these studies are very large.

It’s not clear why moderate drinking doesn’t increase weight. Some research suggests that alcohol energy is not efficiently used.2 Alcohol also appears to increase metabolic rate greatly. This causes more calories to be burned rather than stored as fat.3 Other research has found that the consumption of sugar decreases as the consumption of alcohol increases.4 Yet the puzzle remains about alcohol, calories, and weight.


I.   Calories, Carbs & Fat.

II.  Research Summaries.

III. Summary

IV.  Resources

I. Calories, Carbs & Fat

Calories, carbs, fat and protein found in standard drinks of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages:
Source: U.S. Dept Ag (USDA). Food Composition Databases.
BEVERAGECaloriesCarbs (grams)Fat (grams)
Beer (regular)15313.00
Beer (lite)1036.00
All Distilled Spirits (rum, vodka, whiskey, gin, tequila,
bourbon, etc.)
Wine (red)1253.5.00
Wine (white)1203.5.00
Apple juice (unsweetened)11428.32
Apricot juice14136.23
Carbonated cola13735.07
Grape juice (unsweetened)15237.33
Grapefruit juice (unsweetened)9623.25
Milk (2% fat)122124.83
Orange juice (unsweetened)11226.5
Prune juice18245.08
Tangerine juice (unsweetened)12530.50
Tomato juice4110.12

Moderate drinking is linked with better health and longer life. Thats compared to either abstaining from alcohol or abusing it. On the other hand, heavy drinking is linked with cirrhosis of the liver, breast cancer, and other health problems. The key is moderation.

II. Research Summaries for Alcohol, Calories and Weight

Drinking Alcohol and Risk of Obesity

People who have one or two drinks of alcohol regularly are less likely to be obese. That’s compared to either people who don’t drink or those who drink heavily.

The study of 8,236 non-smokers found that current drinkers had a 27% lower chance of being obese than abstainers. Heavy drinkers were those who had four of more drinks per day. They were 46% more likely to obese than non-drinkers.5

Drinking Reduces Weight Gain

Women who daily have one to two drinks were at least 30% less likely to gain weight than non-drinkers. This was the finding of a study of over 19,000 women for a period of nearly 13 years.6

Drinking Alcohol and Weight, Obesity and BMI

alcohol, calories and weight A study was made of over 37,000 non-smoking men and women. It found that those who had one drink per day often were the leanest. “Often” was three to seven days per week. Lean was defined as low body mass index (BMI).7

BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. It is the most widely used tool to measure weight problems.

Alcohol, Diabetes, Obesity and Heart Disease in Women

Researchers have found that drinking alcohol after a meal increased the number of calories burned. This was true after both high and low carb meals. This may help explain why that moderate drinkers have less body fat than abstainers.8

Drinkers Less Likely to Gain Weight than Abstainers

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) examined the link between alcohol intake and body weight. They did this in 7,230 U.S. adults 25–74 years of age. They were weighed and then reweighed ten years later.

Analyses were adjusted for age, race, height, education, and health, Also smoking, diet, physical activity, and total nonalcoholic caloric intake.

Both men and women who drank alcohol were much less likely to gain weight than were nondrinkers.9

Drinkers Have More Weight Loss

A study followed 79,236 healthy adults in the U.S. for for ten years. Over that time, women’s  body mass index declined greatly with drinking alcohol regularly. Among men, the weight reduction was less pronounced.10

Drinkers Less Likely to Gain Weight

Researchers made a study of 19,220 women in the U.S. aged 38.9 years or older. They were free of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. They also had a baseline BMI in the normal range. The researchers found that “Compared with nondrinkers, initially normal-weight women who consumed a light to moderate amount of alcohol gained less weight and had a lower risk of becoming overweight and/or obese during 12.9 years of follow-up.” The same was found among subgroups of age, smoking status, physical activity and baseline BMI.11

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Frequent Drinkers Less Likely to Gain Waist Circumference

A study of 43,543 men and women for an average period of five years. It examined drinking and changes in waist circumference. Researchers found that drinking frequency was inversely linked with major waist gain. That is, the more frequently they drank alcohol, the less likely they were to gain waist circumference.12

Alcohol Quantity and Frequency had Opposite Effects

alcohol, calories and weightResearchers at the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) did a study. They analyzed data from 45,896 adult never smokers who were current drinkers.

They found that alcohol quantity and frequency had opposite effects with BMI. As quantity increased from one drink per drinking day to four or more drinks per drinking day BMI increased. But as the frequency of drinking alcohol increased  BMI greatly decreased. (Frequency was the number of days per year that drinking occurred.)

Then they analyzed of frequency trends within quantity categories. BMI declines were greater in women than in men. But all were significant. This is consistent with other research. It shows the importance of drinking frequently to get the greatest health benefits from alcohol.13

Moderate Alcohol Consumption Best for Having Normal Weight

A study of 24,604 men and women in Finland age 25–64 was completed. It had four surveys done at five-year intervals. The researchers found this. “A physically active lifestyle with abstention from smoking, moderate alcohol consumption, and consumption of healthy foods maximizes the chances of having a normal weight.”14

Two Drinks with Dinner = No Weight Gain

Fourteen males (mean age = 32.1 years) were in a 12-week study. They drank red wine daily for six weeks. Then abstained for the next six weeks or vice-versa. (The wine was two glasses of 13% alcohol.)

The researchers found that whether wine was consumed or not. There was no difference in body weight, body fat percentage, skinfold thickness, resting metabolic rate, or caloric intake.

They concluded that “In free-living subjects over a 6-week period, the addition of two glasses of red wine to the evening meal does not appear to influence any measured variable which may adversely affect body weight or promote the development of obesity during this time period.”15

Drinkers not Heavier than Abstainers

Researchers analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (HANES I). They found this. “Among drinkers, the intakes of nonalcoholic calories decreased as alcohol intakes increased. It was estimated that between 15% and 41% of the alcoholic calories replaced nonalcoholic calories.

“Despite their higher caloric intakes, drinkers were not more obese than nondrinkers. This suggests that alcoholic calories may be less efficiently utilized than nonalcoholic calories. Or they may interfere with utilization of nonalcoholic calories. The most salient difference in nutrient intake between drinkers and nondrinkers was the substantially lower carbohydrate intake of drinkers.” 16

Same Body Weight of Drinkers and Abstainers

Researchers assessed the cigarette smoking habits, alcohol consumption and body weight of 5,757 male and female smokers. They were age 35-60. They found that “There were no significant differences in BMI between alcohol drinkers and abstainers in either men or women.”17

Alcohol Drinkers Leaner than Abstainers

Researchers analyzed the dietary habits of a survey in Finland. They studied data from 1,848 men and women age 25-64. The study found that caloric intake from drinking alcohol largely substituted that from other foods. And “Alcohol consumers were leaner than abstainers.” 18

III. Summary: Alcohol, Calories and Weight

Many people are interested in the subject of alcohol, calories and weight. As a result, researchers widely study it. They use different methods, populations and alcoholic beverages. Yet they find the same results. Moderate drinking of alcohol does not cause weight gain. Quite to the contrary.

Also, moderate drinking is linked to better health. That’s compared to either abstaining or abusing alcohol. And this applies to drinking beer, wine or distilled spirits (liquor).

IV. Resources for Alcohol, Calories and Weight

Popular Books
Footnotes: Alcohol, Calories, and Weight

1. For example, Kahn, H., et al. Stable behaviors associated with adults’ 10-year change in body mass index. Am J Pub Health, 87(5), 747-754.

3. Klesges, R., et al. Effects of alcohol intake on resting energy expenditure. Am J Clin Nut, 59, 805-809.

4. Colditz, G., et al. Alcohol intake in relation to diet and obesity. Am J Clin Nut, 54, 49-55.

5. Arif, A., and Rohrer, J. Patterns of alcohol drinking and its association with obesity. BMC Pub Health, 5, 126.

6. Wang, L, et al. Alcohol consumption, weight gain, and risk of becoming overweight. Arch Intern Med, 170(5), 453-461.

7. Breslow, R., and Smothers, B. Drinking pattern and body mass index. Am J Epid, 161(4), 368-376.

8. Greenfield, J., et al. Beneficial effect of a small amount of alcohol on diabetes and cardiovascular risk factors. J Clin Endo Metab, 90, 661-672.

9. Liu, S., et al. Alcohol intake and change in body weight. Am J Epid, 140(10), 912-920.

10. Kahn, H., et al. Stable behaviors associated with adults’ 10-year change in body mass index. J Pub Health, 87(5), 747-754.

11. Wang, L., et al., op cit.

12. Tolstrup, J., et al. Alcohol drinking frequency in relation to subsequent changes in waist circumference. Am J Clin Nut, 87(4), 957-963.

13. Breslow, R., and Smothers, B., op cit.

14. Lahti-Koski, M., et al. Associations of body mass index and obesity with physical activity, food choices, alcohol intake, and smoking. Am J Clin Nut, 75(5), 809-817.

15. Cordain, L., et al. Influence of moderate daily wine consumption on body weight. J Am Coll Nurs, 16(2), 134-139.

16. Gruchow, H.W., et al. Alcohol consumption, nutrient intake and relative body weight. Am J Clin Nut, 42, 289-295.

17  Istvan, J., et al. Patterns of alcohol consumption and body weight. Int J Epid, 24(3), 543-546.

18  Mannisto, S., et al. Alcohol beverage drinking, diet and body mass index. Euro J Clin Nut, 51(5), 326-332.

Note for Alcohol, Calories, and Weight
    • This site gives no advice. Please see your doctor about alcohol, calories and weight.