Complete Guide to Alcohol for Low-Carb Diets

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In my last article, I discussed alcohol and its positive and negative effects on health. This article will provide nutritional information on various alcoholic beverages, make recommendations for the drinks that are best suited to a keto or low-carb lifestyle, and provide tips for safely achieving your weight loss and other health goals.

How Does Alcohol Affect Fat Burning and Ketosis?

Because it provides calories, alcohol is sometimes referred to as a macronutrient, like protein, carbs, and fat. However, unlike the others, it doesn't provide any nutrients aside from the polyphenols (antioxidants) found in wine and beer.

Additionally, alcohol is processed differently than the macronutrients in food because it cannot be stored in your body and must be processed by your liver and eliminated immediately ( 1). While alcohol is being metabolized, ketosis is temporarily put on hold, and body fat isn't burned for energy.

For this reason, Dr. Atkins prohibited alcohol in the initial Induction phase of his diet, which provides less than 20 grams of net carbs per day. Additionally, although he allowed certain types of alcohol in the more advanced stages of his diet, he preferred that people avoid alcohol indefinitely if their goal was to maximize fat burning.

Whenever you eat, your body will also temporarily stop burning body fat and instead burn the calories from the food you've consumed, whether they come from carbs, fat, protein, or a combination of these.

Although drinking may briefly stop fat burning, most people can still enjoy limited amounts of certain types of alcohol without jeopardizing weight loss or other benefits of a low-carb or keto diet. However, some may find weight loss easier when they avoid alcohol altogether.

Carbs and Calories in Alcohol

Pure alcohol doesn't have any carbs. However, alcohol provides nearly twice as many calories as protein or carbs and slightly fewer calories than fat when compared gram to gram:

Calories per gram:

  • Protein: 4 calories
  • Carbs: 4 calories
  • Alcohol: 7 calories
  • Fat: 9 calories

A “standard drink” contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is roughly 100 calories from alcohol.

Here are the servings sizes for a standard drink:

  • 1.5 fluid ounces (44 ml) of hard liquor
  • 5 fluid ounces (150 ml) of wine
  • 12 ounces (350 ml) of regular beer
  • 8-9 ounces (240-265 ml) of malt liquor

Carb and Calorie Content of Different Alcoholic Beverages

Distilled Beverages

Unflavored distilled beverages (also known as hard alcohol, liquor or spirits) — vodka, gin, tequila, whiskey, brandy, rum and congac — have zero carbs. However, their calorie counts vary depending on the percentage of alcohol they contain.

Complete Guide to Alcohol for Low-Carb Diets

Most liquor contains 40% alcohol by volume (ABV) (also referred to as “80 proof” in the US). However, some liquors have more alcohol and therefore more calories.

For example, 1.5 ounces (44 ml) of gin, rum, vodka, or whiskey with 40% ABV has 97 calories ( 2), whereas the same amount of liquor with 50% ABV (100 proof) has 124 calories ( 3).

Liqueurs

Liqueurs (cordials) are distilled beverages that have been flavored with sugar and fruit, herbs, or spices. Therefore, although their alcohol content is often lower than unflavored liquor, their carb counts are significantly higher.

Popular liqueurs include amaretto, Bailey's Irish cream, Kahlua, and Sambuca. Net carbs in these drinks range from 6 grams (sweet vermouth) to 25.5 grams (amaretto) per 1.5-ounce (44-ml) serving, as shown in this list of 33 types of liquor. Note that their calories span an equally large range of 60 to 170 per serving.

Complete Guide to Alcohol for Low-Carb Diets

Wine

Dry wines provide roughly 3-6 grams of carb and 115-130 calories per 5-ounce (150-ml) serving. Although a few "skinny" brands may contain half of the amount of carbs, always read the labels if your carb tolerance is very low. Some brands may list "1 g sugar" instead of carbs, resulting in a seemingly lower carb count.

Sweet dessert wine and fortified wine may have 20 grams of carb or more (except for extra dry vermouth). In addition, although white wine has a reputation for being higher in carbs than red wine, this isn't always the case.

Complete Guide to Alcohol for Low-Carb Diets

Beer

Most types of beer are higher in carbs and calories than nonflavored hard alcohol and wine. Light beer provides fewer carbs and calories, although its alcohol concentration is slightly lower. Be aware that most types of beer contain gluten and always check the label if you follow a gluten-free diet.

Here are the average carb and calorie counts for a 12-ounce (350-ml) serving of regular and light beer:

  • Regular beer: 12.6 g net carbs, 153 kcal ( 5).
  • Light beer: 5.8 g net carbs, 103 kcal ( 6).
  • Ultra-light or low-carb beer: 2.3 g net carbs, 96 kcal ( 7).

Complete Guide to Alcohol for Low-Carb Diets

Drinking Guidelines for Keto or Low-Carb Dieters

Although drinking in moderation is clearly best, certain alcoholic beverages have an edge over others when it comes to weight management and staying in ketosis. Here are some tips for safely including alcohol in your keto or low-carb lifestyle:

Low-Carb Wine

If you prefer wine over hard alcohol, stick to red or white varieties with less than 5 grams of net carb per serving. Opt for dry wine and Extra-Brut or Brut sparkling wine.

Here are the carb and calorie counts for a 5-ounce (150-ml) glass of several popular red and white wines ( 4).

The average ABV for wine is 11.6%. Alcohol content in wine ranges from 5.5% to 14.5% and depends on several factors (ie not all types of Sauvignon Blanc will have the same alcohol content).

Dry Wine Serving size Net Carbs (grams) Calories (kcal) Average ABV (%)
Champagne, Brut 5 oz (150 ml) 4 110 12
Cava, Brut 5 oz (150 ml) 4 115 13
Champagne, Extra Dry 5 oz (150 ml) 5 113 12
Prosecco, Dry 5 oz (150 ml) 5 108 11
Pinot Blanc 5 oz (150 ml) 2.9 119 12
Sauvignon Blanc 5 oz (150 ml) 3 119 12
Pinot Grigio 5 oz (150 ml) 3 122 12
Chardonnay 5 oz (150 ml) 3.2 123 12
Gewürztraminer 5 oz (150 ml) 3.8 119 12
Semillon 5 oz (150 ml) 4.6 121 12
Chenin Blanc 5 oz (150 ml) 4.9 118 12
Riesling 5 oz (150 ml) 5.6 118 12
Pinot Noir 5 oz (150 ml) 3.4 121 12
Cabernet Sauvignon 5 oz (150 ml) 3.8 122 12
Merlot 5 oz (150 ml) 3.8 125 12
Red Zinfandel 5 oz (150 ml) 4.2 129 12
Claret 5 oz (150 ml) 4.4 122 12
Burgundy 5 oz (150 ml) 5.5 127 12
Rosé 5 oz (150 ml) 5.8 126 12
Vermouth, extra dry 1.5 oz (45 ml) 0.3 38 15


Here's our easy to follow guide to wine. Feel free to pin, share and print it!

Alcohol Guide - Wine Pin itFollow us 125.2k

Low-Carb Beer

At less than 3 grams of carb per can or bottle, ultra light or low-carb beer is the only acceptable choice in the beer category. Some light beers may contain more carbs and calories than others, so make sure to read nutrition labels.

Remember to check for gluten on the label if you're following a gluten-free lifestyle.

Low-Carb Beer Serving size Net Carbs (grams) Calories (kcal) Average ABV
Bud Select 55 12 oz (350 ml) 1.9 55 2.4
DAB Low Carb 12 oz (350 ml) 2 92 4.9
Martens Low Carb 11.2 oz (330 ml) 2.1 96 5
Rock Green Light 12 oz (350 ml) 2.4 85 3.6
Accel 12 oz (350 ml) 2.4 82 4
Rhinebecker Extra 12 oz (350 ml) 2.5 106 5
Michelob Ultra 12 oz (350 ml) 2.6 95 4.2
Busch Light 12 oz (350 ml) 2.6 95 4.1
IC Light 12 oz (350 ml) 2.8 95 4.2
Honey Almond Light 12 oz (350 ml) 2.8 96 4.2
IC Light 12 oz (350 ml) 2.8 95 4.1
Honey Almond Light 12 oz (350 ml) 2.8 96 4.2
Carolina Light 12 oz (350 ml) 3 85 3.5
Skinny Brands Lager 11.2 oz (330 ml) 3 89 4
Bud Select 12 oz (350 ml) 3.1 99 4.3
Miller Lite 12 oz (350 ml) 3.2 96 4.5
Miller 64 12 oz (350 ml) 2.4 64 2.8
Bitburger Light 12 oz (350 ml) 3.5 89 2.8
Corona Light 12 oz (350 ml) 5 99 3.2
Amstel Light 12 oz (350 ml) 5 95 3.5
Keystone Light 12 oz (350 ml) 5 104 4.1
Amstel Light 12 oz (350 ml) 5 102 4.2

Low-Carb Cider & Cider Seltzer Water

Although most ciders are high in carbs, there are some low-carb options you can enjoy in moderation.

Low-Carb Cider Serving size Net Carbs (grams) Calories (kcal) Average ABV
Skinny Brands Cider 16.9 oz (500 ml) 2.5 149 5
Magners Blonde 11.2 oz (330 ml) 2.6 93 4.5
Truly Spiked 12 oz (350 ml) 2 100 5
White Claw 12 oz (350 ml) 2 100 5
Nauti Seltzer 12 oz (350 ml) 5 110 5
Spiked Seltzer 12 oz (350 ml) 5 140 6


Here's our easy to follow guide to beer & cider. Feel free to pin, share and print it!

Alcohol Guide - Beer & Cider

Distilled Beverages

Spirits contain zero carbs, however, they are high in alcohol and therefore calories. Alcohol in spirits ranges from 30% (eg Malibu Island Spiced Rum) to 70% (eg Absinthe), but mostly around 40% ABV. Be aware that some types of brandy (eg Remy Martin) may contain caramel coloring and add extra carbs.

Distilled Beverages Serving size Net Carbs (grams) Calories (kcal) Average ABV
Vodka 1.5 oz (45 ml) 0 96 40
Whiskey & Scotch 1.5 oz (45 ml) 0 96 40
Tequila 1.5 oz (45 ml) 0 96 40
Gin 1.5 oz (45 ml) 0 96-115 40-47
Rum 1.5 oz (45 ml) 0 72-105 30-40
Brandy 1.5 oz (45 ml) 0 103 40
Cognac 1.5 oz (45 ml) 0-3 103 40
Absinthe 1.5 oz (45 ml) 0 108-180 45-74
Slivovitz 1.5 oz (45 ml) 0 96-168 40-70

Popular brands of distilled beverages:

  • Vodka: Stolichnaya, Absolut, Grey Goose, Smirnoff, Chase, Tito's, Burnett’s, Skyy, Ciroc, Svedka, and Russian Standard.
  • Whiskey & Scotch: Jack Daniel's, Crown Royal, Jim Beam, Jameson Irish Whiskey, Maker's Mark, Seagram’s, Wild Turkey, Chivas Regal, Johnnie Walker, Dewar’s, Kessler, Woodford Reserve, Canadian Club, and Johnnie Walker. Avoid flavored whiskey-liqueur such as Southern Comfort and Fireball.
  • Tequila: Tres Agaves, Don Julio, Ocho, Tapatio, Patron, Cabeza, Herradura, Jose Cuervo, Calle 23, El Jimador, Cazadores, Milagro, 1800 Tequila and Sauza.
  • Gin: Gordon's, Bombay Sapphire, Hendrick's, Beefeater, Seagram's, Tanqueray, Larios, Gin Mare, and Seagram’s.
  • Rum: Havana Club, Bacardi, Tanduay, Appleton Estate, Old Port Rum, Ron Medellin, Contessa, McDowell’s No.1 Rum, Castillo, Sailor Jerry, Barceló, The Kraken, Myer’s Original Dark, Captain Morgan, and Malibu Island Spiced (30% ABV).
  • Brandy & Cognac (a type of Brandy): Emperador, Paul Masson Grande Amber, Old Admiral Brandy, Torres Brandy, Old Kenigsberg, Courvoisier, Martell, McDowell’s No. 1 Brandy, Dreher, and Rémy Martin (3 g net carbs per 4-oz serving).
  • Absinthe: Tenneyson Absinthe Royal, St. George Absinthe Verte, Duplais Swiss Absinthe Verte, Leopold Brothers Absinthe Verte, Pernod, REDUX Absinthe, Nouvelle-Orleans Absinthe Superieure, Vieux Pontarlier and La Clandestine.
  • Slivovitz (European Plum Brandy): Rudolf Jelinek, Unicum, Navip, Maraska.

Complete Guide to Alcohol for Low-Carb Diets

Low-Carb Mixers

To keep your carb intake from alcohol as low as possible, choose plain hard liquor mixed with club soda and sparkling water and a twist of lemon or lime. However, avoid using tonic water, which is loaded with carbs. In fact, a gin-and-tonic made with 4 ounces (120 ml) of tonic water contains nearly 11 grams of carb ( 8). If you like tonic water, choose "light" varieties that contain about 5 grams of carb per 4-oz (120 ml) serving.

Some brands offer unsweetened soda (sparkling water) such as lemon, orange or cucumber that are ideal for making cocktails.

To add flavor and sweetness, you can use water enhancers and flavored liquid stevia drop such as SweetLeaf, NuNaturals and Stur which can be mixed in with sparkling water and added to any cocktails instead of fruit juice and sweet syrups.

Another way to add flavor is to use a piece of lemon or orange peel, or add a dash of bitters. Cocktail bitters offer a concentrated variety of flavors by combining herbs, spices and botanicals infused in alcohol. Be aware that some bitters contain added sugar — always check the labels and opt for sugar-free bitters, or make your own without sugar.

In some cocktails such as Low-Carb Lime Batida, you can even use coconut milk and/or unsweetened almond milk. Avoid tropical fruit, syrups and fruit juices.

Low-Carb Mixers Serving size Net Carbs (grams) Calories (kcal)
Sparkling Water (mineral water, seltzer water, club soda) - 0 0
Unsweetened Flavored Water - 0 0
Tonic Water, reduced sugar 4 oz (120 ml) 4.6 18
Lemon Juice 1 tbsp (15 ml) 0.8 3
Lime Juice 1 tbsp (15 ml) 1.2 4
Water Enhancers or Flavored Stevia Drops 16.9 oz (500 ml) 2.5 149
Bitters dash 0-2 5-20

Alcoholic Drinks to Always Avoid

Avoid liqueurs, sweet wine, wine coolers, and cocktails containing sweet mixers or fruit juice (apart from fresh or frozen berries, lemon juice and lime juice).

Complete Guide to Alcohol for Low-Carb Diets

  • Sweet Wine (eg Muscat/Moscato) contains more than 7 g net carbs per serving.
  • Sweet Sparkling Wine such as demi-sec and sweet contains 11 g net carbs and more per serving.
  • Dessert Wines and Fortified Wines (Port, Sherry, Madeira, Sweet Vermouth, etc) contain more than 20 g net carbs.
  • Regular Beer, Non-Alcoholic Beer & Cider. Carb content ranges between 6 and 19 g net carbs per serving (dark beer is highest in carbs).
  • Liqueurs (Baileys, Amaretto, Curacao, Aperol, Campari, Cointreau, Southern Comfort Whiskey, Kahlua, Triple Sec, Jagermeister, Peach Schnapps, Malibu, Chambord, Sambuca, Fireball Cinnamon Whisky, Carolan's, Irish Cream, Anisette, Chartreuse, Grand Marnier, Southern Comfort, Margarita Mix, Drambuie, Midori, Frangelico, etc). Carb content varies. The sweetest types of liqueurs contain over 20 g net carbs per serving.
  • Coolers/Alcopops (Wine Coolers, Smirnoff Ice, WKD, Bacardi Breezer, Woody's, etc). Carb content is 30-40 g net carbs per serving.
  • Most Cocktails, including long and short drinks (Margarita, White Russian, Daiquiri, Cosmopolitan, Pina Colada, Vodka & Juice, etc). A typical Bloody Mary contains about 7 g net carbs, a serving of Rum & Coke contains 40 g net carbs!
  • Hot Alcoholic Drinks (Mulled Wine, Irish Coffee, Hot Toddy, etc). Traditional hot alcoholic beverages are sweetened with sugar. Opt for low-carb alternatives using low-carb sweeteners.

Drinking Out? Best Low-Carb Alcoholic Beverages to Order

Apart from dry wine, sparkling wine, light beer and spirits, you can try some of these cocktails and coolers:

  • "Skinny Bitch" (sparkling water + lemon or lime juice + 1.5 oz vodka + ice): 1 g net carbs, 99 kcal
  • Dry Martini (0.5 oz extra dry vermouth + 2.5 oz gin + olives): 1 g net carbs, 189 kcal
  • Low-Carb/Skinny Cider: 2-5 g net carbs, <150 kcal
  • Wine Spritzer (5 oz dry wine + sparkling water): 2-5 g net carbs, <120 kcal
  • Gin & Tonic (4 oz reduced sugar Tonic + 1.5 oz gin + ice): 5 g net carbs, 114 kcal

Some products such as Skinny Brands (U.K.), Skinny Girl (U.S.) and Thomson & Scott (U.K.) offer a variety of low-carb and low-calorie alcoholic beverages including beer, cider, wine, sparkling wine and even cocktail beverages.

Here's our easy to follow guide to distilled beverages, cocktails and liqueurs. Feel free to pin, share and print it!

Alcohol Guide - Distilled Beverages, Cocktails and Liqueurs

Popular Cocktails Made Low-Carb

Whether you are trowing a party or planning a family gathering, here are low-carb alternatives to popular cocktails and hot alcoholic beverages.

Cocktails Serving size Net Carbs (grams) Calories (kcal)
Gin Fizz 1 cocktail 3.2 139
Strawberry Margarita 1 cocktail 8.2 133
Spicy Margarita 1 cocktail 4.5 145
Daiquiri 1 cocktail 3.6 108
Coquito 1 cocktail 4.9 379
Pina Colada 1 cocktail 8.1 345
Batida de Coco 1 cocktail 6.5 402
Black Widow 1 cocktail 4.7 166
Raspberry & Blackberry Mojitos 1 cocktail 4.7 159
Moscow Mule 1 cocktail 2.8 139
Mulled Wine 1 cocktail 4.3 122
Eggnog 1 cocktail 2.6 275
Ginger Beer (non-alcoholic) 1 cocktail 3.7 16
Baileys Irish Cream 1 drink (1.5 fl oz) 3.7 16
Easy Berry Infused Prosecco 1 cocktail 3.7 16


Complete Guide to Alcohol for Low-Carb Diets Complete Guide to Alcohol for Low-Carb Diets Complete Guide to Alcohol for Low-Carb Diets
Complete Guide to Alcohol for Low-Carb Diets Complete Guide to Alcohol for Low-Carb Diets Complete Guide to Alcohol for Low-Carb Diets

Other Considerations When Drinking Alcohol on a Carb-Restricted Diet

Based on reports from many low-carb and keto dieters, you may find that it takes less alcohol to become intoxicated while following this way of eating. Additionally, hangover symptoms the following day may be more severe. This is another reason why limiting your intake to 1-2 standard drinks within a 24-hour period is advisable. And if you do end up consuming more than this, be sure to drink plenty of water to avoid becoming dehydrated.

Keep in mind that regardless of their carb and calorie contents, alcoholic beverages may stimulate your appetite and loosen inhibitions, leading you to eat more food — or make less healthy choices — than you normally would.

If your weight loss has stalled for more than a month despite staying within your personal carb and calorie limits, consider cutting out alcohol altogether, at the very least until you begin losing again.

Take Home Message

Alcohol can usually be enjoyed in limited amounts by people following keto or low-carb diets.

The liver metabolizes alcohol immediately because it can't be stored in the body. Although ketosis and fat burning stop while alcohol is being processed, the effect is short-lived. However, some people may find that they lose weight more effectively if they abstain from drinking.

The carb and calorie counts of different alcoholic beverages vary greatly. To ensure that your carb intake stays low enough to meet your weight loss or other health-related goals, be sure to choose wisely and limit your intake to 1-2 drinks in any one day.

Finally, make it a point to always practice safe drinking behavior, keeping in mind that when you follow a keto or low-carb diet, alcohol's effects may be stronger.

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Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE
Registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and creator of LowCarbDietitian.com

Franziska Spritzler

Franziska Spritzler, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, is a strong proponent of carbohydrate restriction for people struggling with diabetes, insulin resistance, obesity, and PCOS.

She follows a very-low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet for blood sugar control and has experienced many improvements in her health as a result of making this change.

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This article was written by Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE who is a qualified expert. At KetoDiet we work with a team of health professionals to ensure accurate and up-to-date information. You can find out more on the About us page.

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Comments (2)

Thanks for a great article. I’m wondering about the low cal cocktails listed. Are these made in the traditional way or modified recipe?  Thanks

Reply

Hi T, the listed low-carb cocktails that also work as links will take you to a low-carb recipe (cocktails listed in the table). The ones listed in the infographic, e.g. Gin & Tonic, as as listed with some additional notes (in this case using reduced sugar tonic). I hope this helps!

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