Trying to eat less sugar? Drink more alcohol

Posted on December 3, 2012

(Last Updated On: December 6, 2017)
Can alcohol help prevent this?

Can alcohol help prevent this?

As I was researching my article Drinking extraordinary amounts of alcohol without becoming extraordinarily overweight, despite the fact my eyes were about to bleed, I saw this one line:

“The consumption of candy and sugar is inversely related to alcohol intake, raising the possibility that it is related to appetite for alcohol.

Which was at the end of this abstract:

“We studied relations between alcohol intake, body mass index, and diet in 89,538 women and 48,493 men in two cohort studies.

Total energy increased with alcohol consumption (partial r = 0.11, P less than 0.001), and carbohydrate intake decreased from 153 g/d in abstainers to 131 g/d in women drinking 2.5.0-49.9 g alcohol/d.

The decrease in carbohydrate intake was due mainly to decreased sugar consumption with higher alcohol intake (partial r = -0.05, P less than 0.001), reflecting decreased energy consumption from sources excluding alcohol.

In men total energy increased with alcohol consumption (partial r = 0.19, P less than 0.001), from 7575.6 (abstainers) to 9821.5 kJ/d (greater than 50 g alcohol/d).

Energy intake excluding alcohol varied little with alcohol intake (partial r = 0.003, P = 0.48) but sucrose intake decreased with higher alcohol intake.

These data suggest that calories from alcohol were added to energy intake from other sources in men, and that in women, energy from alcohol intake displaced sucrose. The consumption of candy and sugar is inversely related to alcohol intake, raising the possibility that it is related to appetite for alcohol.

From: Alcohol intake in relation to diet and obesity in women and men. 

Wait, what?!? Did these authors just suggest humans eat candy or sugar when we’re actually craving alcohol???

Upon reading this I immediately emailed 50 clients and recommended everyone get drunk 7 nights a week to hasten their weight-loss.

Ok, not really. But I had to look into this.

The study

The abstract really details this study well. A ton of people were examined to find patterns between things like how much they drank, how much they weighed, what they ate, etc.

Here are some poignant findings:

1) Women eat more sugar than men. Whether it’s the foods they choose or adding it to their food, they consume more.

I suppose this isn’t too revelatory. Two women I’ve dated immediately come to mind. One girl, no matter what or how much she ate, always finished with “I want something sweet!” She could be 130lbs, with 120lbs just in her stomach, but there was always room for something sugary. And I still remember the death stare another girlfriend gave me upon realizing I paid the bill while she was in the bathroom, but didn’t order dessert.  (Guys, don’t ever ask “Do you want dessert?” Always ask, “What do you want for dessert?” Your man parts will thank me.)

Or how about this. Feeling down; maybe a little emotional? Sex and the City with ice cream! (I’m sure I’ll get shit for that one, but seriously, this has to pop up on my newsfeed at least once a week.)

An interesting side note here, which as you’ll see, will tie into all this. Anecdotally, I always hear women in my life go “Sex and the City and ice cream night.” OR, like my ex-girlfriend just posted on facebook, “Sex and the City and wine night.” (I’m choosing to omit the long quotes that often accompany these status updates as they make me want to vomit.)

I’m assuming the “Sex and the City, wine, AND ice cream night” is quite the rarity. It’s one or the other. Or a person that miserable isn’t admitting to it on facebook.

2) Up until heavy drinking (roughly 4 or more drinks per day) the more you drink, the less you weigh. This effect is much more notable in women than men though, at least for this study. If you’ve read my other drinking article, this isn’t news.

alcohol weight loss

The interesting stuff

The more alcohol people drank, the less carbs and sugar they ate. (Click to enlarge charts.)

Alcohol sugar sugar carb chart

The more people drank, the less sugar they added to their foods as well.

Alcohol sugar prevalence

The more people drank, the less candy / chocolate they ate.

Alcohol sugar candy chart

The three above effects, carbs / sugar / chocolate, were all more pronounced in women. That is, while the men also decreased in these categories, the women decreased more. This makes sense considering women were found to eat more sugar to begin with.

Also, now it makes some sense as to why women have a more pronounced weight-loss effect from drinking: They may be more likely to eat (even) less sugar / carbs than a male.

Back to my Sex and the City example. It seems, especially in women, alcohol consumption blunts the appetite for carbs and sugar. Again, we know Carrie Bradshaw is going to be serenading you, but are you going to be texting your girlfriend (ice cream) or ex-boyfriend (wine)?

Let’s say you go with alcohol, do all your sugar and carb worries disappear?

How much of a difference are we talking

Going back to the charts. Let’s only look at up to 50 grams of alcohol per day, but not above. Remember, above this value is where we start to see people actually gain weight. Looking up to 50 we can see women reduced their sucrose (sugar) intake by about 20 grams a day.

Alcohol sugar sugar carb chart

(Keep in mind this study is old -1991- and was done on very health conscious people (nurses, dentists, etc.). The values of today; on regular people, are much different (more).)

That’s over a 40% reduction in sugar intake! But, you need to look at the overall difference. 46 grams versus 27 grams isn’t that big of a deal.

However, I’m amazed no alcohol company has exploited this in their marketing i.e. Drink Zima and reduce your sugar intake by 40%! (Especially since this is the only reason anyone would ever drink that swill.)

Zomething Awful

Zomething Awful


This is the same for carbs and chocolate. The relative differences are big, 15-50%, but the absolute differences aren’t too noteworthy. Now, as mentioned this study is old, and done on a specific population. Therefore, a 40% reduction in sugar intake nowadays might be a much bigger deal. But I’m assuming the 40% reduction would hold up; no one can say that with certainty.

Other interesting studies

Two more studies I want to tie into this.

The first: Dietary choices and likelihood of abstinence among alcoholic patients in an outpatient clinic. 

Unfortunately, this study is also really old, and I can’t find the full text. But there is one line I want to take out of the abstract:

Those who stayed sober longer chose diets containing twice as much sugar added to beverages and more overall carbohydrates.”

I only want to use this study to bolster the case of a relationship between alcohol and carbohydrate intake.

The authors also make a great point in the abstract. Due to the design of their study, they can’t state whether being sober helped increase carbohydrate consumption or an increase in carbohydrate consumption helped them stay sober.

This is where it’s very important to consider context. If you’re an alcoholic, by definition someone where alcohol is severely negatively impacting your life, some extra carbs in exchange for sobriety is a tradeoff you’re likely willing to take.

The next study: Sweet intake, sweet-liking, urges to eat, and weight change: relationship to alcohol dependence and abstinence.

This one is much more recent.

Quick recap of this study: 3 groups. When wanting alcohol group 1) Eat sweets 2) Eat a balanced diet and 3) Avoid sweets. These (hopeful) abstainers were then compared to a light-drinking group in body weight.

The three different diet groups had no difference in alcohol consumption. Whether they ate sweets or not didn’t affect their desire for alcohol. However, those who abstained from alcohol were more likely to crave sweets and gained more weight than the light-drinking group.

Abstain from sweets = No affect on alcohol; Abstain from alcohol = An affect on sweets.

This could suggest the study I mentioned before this one saw sober people increase carb consumption because of their sobriety, rather than their carb consumption positively influencing their sobriety.

Oh, and again, drinkers weighed less.

Practical recommendations

From the above it’s pretty clear (to me at least) alcohol has an affect on how many carbs / grams of sugar people eat. How much of an effect is up for debate, but it’s there. What can we do with this information?

Let’s apply this to someone looking to lose weight. Specifically, I’d say this is likely more helpful for a female than male. Reason being women seem more drawn to the carbs / sweets than men.

Two applications quickly come to my mind:

1) While at social gatherings you now have another reason TO drink. There seems to be some good evidence lightly indulging in alcohol can help prevent you from completely indulging in all five different pie options.

2) Say it’s late at night; maybe you’ve had a hell of day. You know, you just walked home to the uninvited gangbang.

Maybe instead of going after the carbs and sugar you have a drink or two?

Comparing the two scenarios: Drinking moderately has an endless amount of health benefits, reduced weight included. However, you can’t say this for carbs / sugar / sweets.

Excluding alcoholics, you’re more likely to only have one or two drinks (on a typical weekday I’m saying here, not out at the bars Saturday night) than you are to live up to your “I’ll just have one cookie” mantra.

We all know that ends up with you in disgrace; observing the carnage of your 3 boxes of emptied Entenmanns.

In other words, if it’s a Sex and the City night, make it a wine night too.



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