You can still enjoy alcohol when living low carb, but by making better choices and in moderation.

Alcohol can be a tonic or toxic – it depends on how much and how often.

Can I drink alcohol on a low-carb or keto diet?

One of the most frequent questions I am asked by newcomers who are contemplating starting a low-carb or keto diet is “can I still drink alcohol?” “How many carbs in alcohol?”

For many readers, it is a deal-breaker whether they will even consider beginning. And readers who have been living low carb for some time want to know why their weight has stalled, could it be their Friday night cocktails?

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The quick and easy answer is always this – you may drink alcohol but just be aware that the body will always metabolise alcohol before metabolising fat and alcohol may lead to alcoholic fatty liver disease (1) and increased appetite (2, 3). So if weight loss has stopped for you, it may be time to cut back on alcohol for a while.

It’s not no forever, it’s just no for now.

How much alcohol can I drink?

Firstly let me say, I love my red wine and I love my bubbles. I love a drink with friends as much as the next person, but I know not to drink to excess, and not to drink too often.

Occasional drinks with friends and family is a wonderful way to celebrate, relax, unwind and socialise. As long as alcohol is consumed in moderation and you choose low carb options, you can still enjoy alcohol.

Do you know how many drinks you have each week? You need to be completely honest with yourself, and if even the thought of cutting back on alcohol is frightening, you need to get serious about how much and how often you drink.

I know plenty of people that could not entertain the idea of having a night with friends without excessive alcohol yet they complain they can’t lose weight or have medical problems that are associated with alcohol use.

They would never associate the two but make no mistake, excessive alcohol is damaging. It is linked to cancer (especially breast, liver and colon), weight gain,  alcoholic liver disease, anaemia and heart disease.

How alcohol affects our body

The health concerns (don’t underestimate these)

  • Alcohol will always be metabolised before anything else in the liver because it is a toxin.
  • Alcohol is not your friend if you are trying to lose belly fat.
  • You may be able to drink in moderation but make no mistake, it will stop weight loss and even cause weight gain.
  • If you want to break through a weight-loss plateau, stop alcohol completely until you see the results you want.
  • Alcohol lowers your self-control when it comes to eating healthy foods.
  • Drinking alcohol will increase your cravings and appetite (you get the ‘munchies’).
  • Alcohol can cause fatty liver disease.

The health benefits (don’t overestimate these)

  • Alcohol may be good for heart health, but only if consumed in moderation (otherwise it may adversely affect heart health).
  • Red wine can be a great source of resveratrol, an antioxidant. But not in excess.
  • Alcohol is a relaxant.

Alcohol charts

“Beer is just liquid bread”

Beer is made from grains (oats, barley, wheat, rye), malt (sugar) and yeast. They don’t call a big gut a “beer belly” for nothing.

Beer was originally brewed to provide nourishment for adults and children alike, especially during periods of fasting. So next time you order a beer, ponder for a moment on whether you are actually ordering a liquid meal.

Don’t confuse low carb beer with low alcohol beer. Many perceive them as healthier so consume more of them.

Cider (sugar, sugar, sugar)

Cider is fermented apple juice, many are incredibly sweet. Cider varies considerably from brand to brand. Let’s take a look at a few examples. Each is per 12 fl oz serving Amber 28g, Bittersweet barrels aged, 21g, Granny Smith 11g, Harpoon 10g, Woodchuck summer cider 25g

Spirits, liqueurs and mixers

Sweet liqueurs, stop buying them  –  amaretto 17g, Baileys 7.4g, Blue curaçao 7g, Cointreau 7g, Creme de menthe 22g, Jaegermeister 27g, Kailua 15g, Peach Schnapps 8g, Samba 18g. carbs per 1 oz/29.5ml serving.

Spirits can be a great low carb alcohol choice, most are zero carb. What you mix them with can be the problem. Whisky on the rocks is a good low carb option but rum and coke (or even worse, Red Bull) is probably the worst choice you can make.

Cocktails can be a total disaster. They are mixed with sugar syrups, high sugar juice or soda, and high sugar liqueurs. Make your own so you know what went into the cocktail or limit yourself to just one then swap onto a lower carb option.

Why not mix your usual spirit with water, diet drinks or soda water? Instead of a single shot in a small tumbler, ask for a single shot in a tall glass so it will last longer through the night. And why not try alternating an alcoholic drink with just the mixer?

Wines to avoid

Avoid the sweet wines and the sticky dessert wines, instead, choose the dry wines and the less sweet varieties.

Red wines – Cabernet sauvignon 3.8g, Merlot 3.7g, Pinot noir 3.4g, Shiraz Syrah 3.8g Zinfandel 4.2g per 5 fl oz/147ml glass

White wines – Chardonnay 3.2g, Dessert wines 20.2g, Muscat 7.8g, Riesling 5.5g, Sauvignon blanc 3g per 5 fl oz/147ml glass

alcohol infographic

[Update] Why Did I Go Alcohol-Free For 1 Year?

I challenged myself to live alcohol-free for 2019, apart from two special days in the calendar where I savoured every single sip from a single glass.

The more I read about the toxicity of alcohol and the role it plays in many disease states lead me to cut back dramatically on my alcohol consumption, to the point where I wanted to be alcohol-free for an entire year.

It was a purely personal and individual choice, but the more I read, there is no getting away from it, alcohol is a toxin and I want to live the healthiest life I can. Yes, there is much debate to whether 1-2 glasses a night or a week is beneficial, but for me, I wanted to see if I could do it.

I felt fabulous, no more foggy mornings, no more lethargy after a few too many the previous night. I thought I was energetic when I started living low-carb but the energy and clarity when living alcohol-free is unbelievable.

It hasn’t hindered me in any way in social situations, but what was surprised by has been the reaction from others fell into either 1) well done, I couldn’t do it but awesome you are trying it for a year OR 2) oh for goodness sake, what on earth is there left?

It has been interesting to understand these reactions. I am very private and only tell those around me that I am alcohol-free if I’m asked. I did not declare it publicly. I am not judging anyone and I am not asking anyone to join me. In fact, I often feel I am being judged then often scorned.

Have you ever gone alcohol-free? What has been your experience?

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  1. sugarfreelondoner says:

    What an interesting read andgreat infographic. It’s handy to have all details about alcohol summed up in one place. I wish I was a Martini on the rocks girl, but honestly prefer a glass of wine. Therefore, I’ m very pleased to see that my favourite, Sauvignon Blanc, is amongst the low carb booze options!

  2. Where is the info on Champaign? The illustration shows Champaign 1and red and white wine 2. How does that relate to the lists of various red and white wines and the carbs.

  3. Erianne Farias says:

    what about champagne?

      1. Does this mean all sparkling varieties (not sweet but dry). I love Jacobs Creek Pinor Grigio (11.2%alcohol)

          1. Delighted thank you:)

  4. Hi Libby – living in Spain we drink Cava Brut which is made in the same way as champagne but just can’t be called that. Can we assume it is also 1 carb?

    1. Brut indicates utmost contain less than 12g sugar per 1000ml, so 1.2g per 100ml. Extra Brut is even less 0-6g per 1000ml). Avoid sec (17-32g) and demi sec (32-60g), they have the most sugar per 1000ml. This is a great little image to see the difference.

    2. Patrick B. Foley says:

      Thank you for the article.
      I was very surprised that the MARGARITA was only listed as 8 Carbs!
      Jose Cuervo Margarita mix (which, IMHO, is great tasting for a home bar),
      is listed as 28 grams of Carbs in 4 fluid ounces!
      Maybe, if you used all fresh ingredients and minimized the sugar
      and/or used synthetic sweetener you could keep it down to 8 grams.

      One thing I like to do, when mixing up a few glasses in a blender/pitcher,
      is add a couple ounces of lime or orange flavored seltzer water to the blender.
      It makes the drink a tad smoother and gives it a little less of that tart-aftertaste bite.
      It also helps the liquor go further and serve more people!

      Patrick B. Foley

  5. The numbers you give for rum and coke, am I safe to assume that’s full sugar coke? Is it ok with diet coke?

  6. Hi Libby, this page is great. I just started this LCHF lifestyle and I’m finding your page incredibly helpful.

    An alcohol – is method cup classic (south africa) sparkling wine allowed?

    1. Be Careful of Wine from Africa as I heard too many people say the natives piss in it

  7. Is it the carbs that come with alcoholic drinks or the alcohol itself that add to belly fat? I want to switch from beer to bourbon on the rocks, to cut carbs and lose weight. After reading this article I am not sure it will matter.

    1. Both 🙁 The body will always metabolise alcohol before anything else, so weight loss will stop. Alcohol contributes to alcoholic fatty liver disease. And finally, the carb content of all food and drink is important. Switching from beer (liquid bread) to Bourbon on the rocks is a superb switch. Just keep an eye on quantity, as the article discusses, alcohol affects metabolism, hunger and will power.

  8. Question on the Insta-Pot. Is it dangerous like the Pressure Cooker was when it was first introduced?
    I remember my mother was so scared of using the pressure cooker; and that transferred to me.
    I heard that the insta-pot is the same thing??

    Thank you for your kind assistance,

    1. I totally understand your hesitation. I had heard these “exploding pressure cooker” nightmares. To be honest, they were the early pressure cookers and it was when people didn’t release the pressure properly or they didn’t ensure the lid was locked in place. The new Instant Pot solves this as it has a safety release valve. You cannot open the lid without releasing the pressure first. I love mine so much, I have actually started a whole new recipe section for Instant Pot and Slow Cooker recipes.

  9. Charlzberg says:

    Please can someone advise the carb content of dark rum, and vodka. I drink both these spirits with a diet cola and would like to know if they are low carb friendly. Thanks

    1. Vodka has zero carbs as long as you avoid any of the sweet flavored types, Dark rums are a little tricky since the often added molasses or other sweeteners. For example the popular brand Kraken has 1 carb and Captain Morgan has about .5, I would recommend sticking to clear Rum and unflavored vodka if you want to be sure.

  10. Hi Libby! Thank you so much for your wonderful website! The recipes are amazing!
    I live in Brazil and the instant pot is not used here. But we use a lot of the pressure cooker. Can you tell me the difference between them? Is it possible to use the pressure cooker for recipes that call for the instant pot? I already thank you! Best regards!

    1. Hi Sam and welcome from Brazil! The Instant Pot os a pressure cooker but it also has a variety of functions such as saute, slow cook, etc. You will be able to use your pressure cooker perfectly with these recipes.

  11. Congratulations on your one year of no alcohol experiment, Libby, and thank you for sharing your journey with us here!! I enjoy 2-3 glasses of red wine each week but have found that when I do cleanses or choose to go for longer periods without it I, too, feel an incredible energy and clarity… and don’t miss it all that much. After a busy June with lots of celebrations and socializing (and a little more drinking!) I’m cutting back on my alcohol intake and can already feel the difference when I wake up in the mornings.

    Really enjoy your site and blog posts here… they are super informative and inspiring!

      1. rita morris says:

        I have stopped drinking alchohol for 4months due to health reasons but have replaced it with alchohol free wine am I still within my Keto limits?

    1. What about Honey Mead as a drink okay or bad

  12. Well done on giving up the alcohol. I too have not touched a drop since 25th Jan 2019, as I went into hospital and found out I had liver disease and asitis, where I had 10 litres of fluid drained from my body, which was my own fault as I started drinking when I was 16 and I’m now 45. I was told if I carried on drinking my organs would shut down within weeks. I vowed I’d never drink again and 18 months on I haven’t touched a drop and don’t miss it one bit. I feel fitter and healthier now than I did 20 years ago, so well done on you for giving up the beer, and to anyone else thinking of giving up, just stay strong minded, I think of my time in hospital with a tube draining fluid out of my belly and that’s what keeps me from even thinking of having just one sip!

  13. Many years ago (probably in the mid-1980s) I went alcohol free because I realized I was drinking way too much wine. Given that I wasn’t often in social situations where there was drinking, it had no real effect on me other than to help me regain control of my life. These days, I will have an occasional glass of wine (usually about 3 oz.) – if we’ve opened a bottle of wine I might do that several days in a row, but then will go for many weeks without any wine. I love beer, but these days rarely drink any, and then usually 12 oz. or less. I appreciate knowing about the carbs in alcohol.

  14. Shannon Saunders says:

    How many carbs are in vodka?
    Love my grape vodka coolers..I drink once a week.what can I substitute?

    1. Vodka has no carbs, the calories come from the alcohol itself. The calories in vodka are dictated by the alcohol content. The higher the percentage of alcohol, the higher the calories. If it is a ready-to-drink vodka drink, it may contain added sugar and syrup so read the label of the brand of vodka cooler you buy. Generally spirits with a zero-calorie mixer are a good option.

  15. I was a little perturbed when you said 1 fluid oz / 37ml serving. That put me in doubt about the measurements that you were using. Please tell me that this was a typo

    1. Hi Noel, whoops that was a typo. I have corrected it now as 1 fluid ounce equates to 29.5ml. Thanks for spotting it and reaching out.

      1. Most of us are guilty of typos sometimes and I am quite a lot.

        I am also a bit unsure about the accuracy of your liqueur counts. problem is that the manufactures rarely reveal the sugar content even when you write and ask. One exception is Baileys. They do give nutritional info on their Canadian website as 7 grams for 35m

        l.have done massive searches over an extended period of time and work on majority rule (but sites often just copy other sites), Some of yours are horrifically high like Ameretto and Creme-de-Menthe. The Jaggermeister is the worst with more sugar in that sugar has.

        Can you reveal your sources? How certain are you that you are correct?

        The calculations are important to me as I create very low carb (dry) cocktails with a few mls of liqueurs.

        BTW Not a criticism but in measuring alcohol nowadays we use 30ml as the ounce measurement internationally. That is what all the measures use.

  16. As a type 2 diabetic, I view all types of alcohol the same as I do soda and juices, as a once in awhile thing, a glass of wine with dinner or an after dinner drinks and never more than 2 or 3 glasses, I enjoy them only a few times a year.

  17. Very helpful info, thank you very much. Can you please advise on the Carbs in Port both Australian and Portuguese styles and other Australian fortified wines, e.g.Topaque (nee Tokay) and Muscat and also for the various styles of Sherry?

    1. Hello, dessert wines like Port and Sherry are higher in carbs and not considered keto-friendly. One glass of Port can have upwards of 20g carbs.

  18. I have noticed when I stop drinking the weight does come off fast. Just like drinking, it comes on fast! It has been 6 days with no drinking and I have lost 6.5 pounds!!! I am giving it another few weeks to see if I can reach my goal weight.

    1. Rum and diet cola. When you’re using diet cola, you can make any simple favorite low-carb. Despite its sweet flavor, rum doesn’t contain any carbs either. Make! Mix your favorite unflavored rum with diet cola and serve over ice. I was told this many years ago.

      1. Thank you for sharing. Diet soda is great alternative to regular soda if a mixer is a must. We love using tall glasses instead of short glasses so the drink lasts longer, just use the same amount of alcohol.

  19. Joyce Smith says:

    Well done without blaming, shaming, or pushing. Congrats