What is the Straight Dope on the calories in alcohol?

I was told by a doctor today that while most alcohol’s (vodka, gin, whiskey, etc.) technically have very few calories, it is metabolized by your liver into sugar thus releasing large amounts of calories.

So, is this true? If so, how many calories are there really in a shot of gin?

It was my understanding that alcohol has an effective 7 calories per gram. For comparison, protein & carbs have 4 calories/gram whereas fat has 9 calories/gram.

So, yes, that shot of gin you’re taken is adding to your beer belly quite considerably.

There’s no “technically” about it. Ethanol has a greater energy content per gram than anything else you eat or drink apart from fat.

Sorry, hit Enter too soon. I meant to add that your doctor is talking nonsense, if that is really what he said. Alcohol is not metabolised into sugar, it is metabolised into acetaldehyde (ethanal), and thence to acetic acid (ethanoic acid, i.e vinegar).

And in any case, sugar provides only 17kJ/g, whereas ethanol provides 29kJ/g.

What the above Dopers said is correct. Vodka, gin, whiskey typically contain 90 - 112 calories per shot all by themselves (60 - 75 calories per ounce * 1.5). When you count the typical mixers that people use to make those tasty mixed drinks, the calorie count goes up even more.

The doctor’s point would seem to be that the alcohol has to be converted to something else before its calories are used. If that’s his point, it’s inane. Most things have to go through some sort of process before the energy available can be obtained from them. That doesn’t mean they have no calories.

It’s not inane, it’s simply complete crap. The calorie content of food was, until relatively recently, calculated by burning it, and measuring the heat given off. In the case of alcohol, simple sugars and fats, that method gave the correct answer. It needed to be adjusted for indigestible things like cellulose (fibre). A simplified system is used now:

P.S. Princhester, I don’t know whether the system compensates for the coldness of the beer. :wink:

Alcohol may burn more effciently in a burner, but research suggest that it doesn’t metabolize so cut and dry. According to several sites I have read on the topic, studies show that drinking alcohol does not lead to weight gain. This site for instance, while mostly talking about moderation, does cite their sources.

Here is another cite from the University of Florida on the same topic:

I don’t know how widely this view is accepted, but then again, when it comes to dietary (and fitness) world, even studies that are backed up by quite a bit of evidence get tossed out in favor of old concepts. Like stretching.

Is then straight hard alcohol “better” for you than beer?

Consumption of alcohol can indirectly contriubute to weight gain. Your body will metabolise the alcohol for energy, and thus other foods will be stored in your body as fat, since they aren’t used for energy. If you just drank alcohol, you wouldn’t get fat – you would, on the other hand, get sick and eventually die of malnutrition.

For example, your body can not use starch in its edible form. Your salivary amylase cracks it into sugar even while you’re chewing, so that it can be used for energy. Still, we say that starch contains about 4 calories per gram. You SURE that’s what the doc said?

Depends on what you mean by “better,” but probably not. Beer contains carbohydrates in addition to alcohol, so will have additional calories for an equivalent amount of alcohol consumed (although most of the calories still come from alcohol). However, beer does contain nutrients and some vitamins, whereas straight alcohol is just “empty” calories. Straight alcohol would only be “better” for you if your only objective were to minimize the number of calories you took in relative to the amount of alcohol consumed.

See here for alcohol vs. other components in various drinks.

True on the last point: however on your other point, anything in excess will cause weight gain, you can gain weight if you eat 20 lbs of broccoli every day too, doesn’t mean broccoli “indirectly” contributes to weight gain. It just means if you consume too much of anything it will cause weight gain.

My cites however don’t argue this point. They say only that while Acohol burns more efficiently than carbohydrates (i.e has more Calories) it doesn’t burn efficiently in the body. The second site says this about it:

I have not read all the studies in my first citation, but they are there if you are interested in the studies- all of them are done in peer reviewed journals. Here they are listed for you:
*Kahn, H. S., et al. Stable behaviors associated with adults’ 10-year change in body mass index and the likelihood of gain at the waist. American Journal of Public Health, 1997, 87(5), 747-754

*Prentice, A. M. Alcohol and obesity. International Journal of Obesity, 1995, 19(Suppl. 5), S44-S50

*Liu, S., et al. A prospective study of alcohol intake and change in body weight among US adults. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1994, 140(10), 912-920

*Hellerstedt, W. L., et al. The association between alcohol intake and adiposity in the general population. American Journal of Epidemiology, 1990, 132(4), 594-611

*Klesges, R. C., et al. Effects of alcohol intake on resting energy expenditure in young women social drinkers. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1994, 59, 805-809

*Colditz, G., et al. Alcohol intake in relation to diet and obesity in women and men. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1991, 54, 49-55.

There are 12 more but for brevity I will stop here. They are listed in my first link in my initial post if you are interested in checking them.

The point is that alcohol isn’t metabolized in the body for energy- or doesn’t seem to according to the many studies listed above. The carbohydrates might, but that is a moot point, don’t you agree?

Hmm, rereading my post makes me think I sound too certain. Studies “suggest” but don’t “prove” anything, as science never proves anything. Provide evidence is probably a better terminology. Like the cites say, drinking is not recommended for weight loss, but for the sake of discussion and theory (science, etc), I bring this up. Drinking also has it’s other problems, though in this case I am not talking about drinking a glass of wine with a meal.

Just thought I would throw that out there for those that think I am convinced of those two cites. Too early to tell, and I don’t really drink much anyhow. So don’t think I am some lush trying to find justification for drinking. :wink:

I feel very strongly both ways. Lesh have another drimk.

Here’s an old thread on alcohol and calories, and differences in the metabolism of alcohol in beer vs. distilled spirits.

It’s also the thread where I had to admit my own ignorance.

Which is more fatning beer or whisky?

Inane: empty, void, silly, senseless (OED).

I have no idea why you made this comment.

I would assume because a cold beverage requires a certain amount of calories to warm up to body temperature in your stomach, and therefore the net caloric value of a cold beer is (very slightly) less than that of a warm beer,

Yes, Cecil even covered this in the article about negative calorie foods.

<minor hijack>
In my nutrition class a few years back we were told that they add cellulose (in the form of very finely ground saw dust!) to lowfat breads because while you can’t digest the cellulose, it’s filling and doesn’t have much taste. So if you can’t digest it, does it have calories?