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2023 Low-Carb Holiday Alcohol Guide
We made it through Thanksgiving! It is now officially party season. There will be Tree trimming parties, cookie-baking parties, Festivus parties, Yuletide celebrations, Hanukkah get-togethers, New Year’s Eve party, and even my sister’s Twelfth Night party. Just general all-out merriment from now until at least January 2nd.
This means it is time for my annual rundown on drinking
Contrary to popular belief, alcohol does not turn to sugar in your bloodstream. However, It is carbohydrate-derived. Alcohol is what yeasts pee out after eating sugars. Doesn’t that sound yummy? Hey, it doesn’t stop me. Alcohol does behave like a carb in one important way.
Your body burns it, preferentially. Just as eating carbohydrates shuts down fat burning, so does drinking alcohol. Or, as a medical journal article I read DONKEYS years ago phrased it, alcohol profoundly inhibits lipolysis. Furthermore, at 7 calories per gram, nearly twice the calorie count of carbs, It can take you longer to burn through the booze.
This is why alcohol, despite some apparent benefits, is always an indulgence when you’re trying to lose weight. Because alcohol is carbohydrate-derived, there are a fair number of alcoholic beverages that contain residual carbohydrates.
Beer is the worst offender
Your average can of beer has in the neighborhood of 15 grams of carbohydrates and dark beers and red beers can run considerably higher.
Do not assume that all light beers are Low-Carb. They vary a lot. Read the labels. Really, the only beers that fit into a low-carb diet are the lightest of light beers, those with 5 grams per 12-ounce serving or less. Miller Lite and Michelob Ultra are probably the best-known of these. Mic Ultra is a teeny bit lower carb than Miller Lite, but I think Miller Lite tastes enough better to be worth the extra half-gram or so.
Milwaukee’s Best Light, a big favorite with the frat boys here in town is made by Miller Brewery has the same carb count as Miller Lite and tastes the same to me. Since it’s cheaper, that would be my choice, but I caution you that beer snobs will make fun of you. However, since they’ll make fun of you for drinking light beer at all, I don’t see why it should make a difference.
If you’re a beer snob, the best-tasting beer I know of for five grams per bottle is Amstel Light. Since I originally wrote this article, I have eliminated gluten from my diet. Thank you, Dr. William Davis. Since beer that was both low-carb and gluten-free eluded me, I went for years without drinking beer, and I like beer.[contentcards url=”https://www.carbsmart.com/3-question-interview-with-dr-william-davis.html” target=”_blank”]
Then I learned that all Corona beers, including Corona Light at 5 grams per bottle and the new Corona Premier with just 2. 6 grams per can, are not only low-carb enough for me, but gluten-free as well. Hooray!
Are Wines Low-Carb?
Wines run the gamut from quite dry to quite sweet. If you only like sweet wines, you’d do better to drink something else.
Sweet wines have a lot of sugar in them. We have an award-winning winery here in town. Yes, the Fine Wines of Indiana. And they’re known especially for their sweet wines. Oliver’s Soft Red tastes for all the world like Welch’s grape juice for grown-ups. Tasty, but very hard on the blood sugar. For my Pagan and Ren Faire friends, I’m sorry to tell you that most mead is also very hard on the blood sugar.
The rule of thumb is, if it tastes sweet, but it isn’t artificially sweetened or sweetened with stevia or monk fruit or the like, It has sugar in it. That said, if you’re new to low-carbing, your taste buds probably aren’t sensitized yet. Wines that would be ploying to me won’t taste particularly sweet to you.
Best is to go into a store where they have a knowledgeable wine staff and ask, is this dry or sweet? If you’re at a bar or a restaurant, a good waiter or bartender should be able to tell you. If you don’t have such a store near you, here’s a short list of wines that can be counted on to be reasonably dry.
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Shiraz or Syrah
- Pinot Noir
- Pinot Grigio
- Sauvignon Blanc
All of these should have in the neighborhood of one to three grams of carbs per six-ounce glass. If you’re a champagne on New Year’s Eve kind of person, it’s good to be aware that the driest champagne will not be labeled dry.
Is Champaign Low-Carb?
Indeed, dry champagne is generally pretty sweet. The driest champagne is extra brute. I find that Champers gives me a hangover before I even catch a buzz. Give me dry red wine or a good tequila, thanks. If, like many, you prefer the trendy Prosecco, go with one labeled Extra Dry. Beware flavored wines, like Arbor Mist – one of the flavors they add is sugar. Likewise, stay away from Alcopops, Hard Lemonade, Smirnoff Ice, etc., etc. They’re all sugary as heck. If you’re a wine cooler fan, have four ounces of dry wine and a tall glass of ice filled with diet lemon-lime soda or possibly club soda. If you’re fond of hard lemonade, try a shot of vodka, the citron vodka would be good here, on the rocks, filled with half sugar-free lemonade, and half lemon sparkling water.
May I insert here, parenthetically, my old lady what’s the matter with the kids these days grousing about the fact that so many young people seem to be unable to drink any alcoholic beverage that isn’t sweet? For my parents’ generation, who drank their coffee black, their whiskey straight, and their martinis made from gin and vermouth, we’ve come to a place where coffee tastes like milkshakes and booze tastes like Kool-Aid.
Just doesn’t seem very grown up to me, she said, sipping her unsweetened black tea. A little sophistication, if you please. Oh, and just because you serve it in a V-shaped glass does not make a drink a martini. Martinis are made of gin and dry vermouth, or possibly vodka and dry vermouth. They come with either an olive or a twist of lemon. They do not involve apples, caramel, chocolate, or any other sweet flavor. This has been a public service announcement.
Are Hard Seltzers Low-Carb?
I am happy to report that most of the new hard seltzers are low-carb, but a few have sugar or juice in them. I repeat, Read the labels. Or you could just put a shot of vodka in a glass and pour in sparkling water in your favorite flavor.
Are Traditional Hard Spirits Low-Carb?
Traditional hard spirits are, for the very most part, sugar- and carb-free.
- Canadian Rye
et cetera, but the past couple of decades have brought a wide assortment of sweetened hard liquors. Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey and Tennessee Apple come to mind, Fireball Whiskey, many others all loaded with sugar.
Once again, I repeat, read the ingredients. If you can’t find the ingredients, email the distillery.
Are Drink Mixers Low-Carb?
You need to be wary of mixers. This is a good argument for a nice scotch on the rocks, or my favorite, good tequila sipped slowly from a rocks glass. Again, if it tastes sweet and isn’t diet, it has sugar in it.
This includes soda, juice, sour mix, and margarita mix of course, but also tonic water, which may not taste sweet to you, but sure tastes sweet to me. Fresh lime juice is quite low in sugar, but the ubiquitous Rose’s lime juice has sugar added.
Ask the bar staff what they’re using and ask for actual fresh lime. Possible low-carb mixers include diet soda, duh, diet tonic water, club soda, flavored but unsweetened sparkling water, LaCroix and the like. Diet cranberry juice cocktail. Go easy, it’s not carb-free, just lower than the regular stuff.
Crystal light and other sugar-free drink mixes. Fresh lemon or lime juice. There are sugar-free daiquiri and margarita mixes on the market, but you’ll want to order them right away. I can’t think of another place to put this, so I’ll insert it here.
Low-Carb Substitution for a Margarita
A nice substitute for a margarita is a shot or two of tequila in a tall glass of ice with a wedge or two of lime, a little sugar-free sweetener, and then filled with chilled orange sparkling water or In reverse, you could use orange flavored liquid stevia for the sweetener and use lime sparkling water oh and sugar-free sweetener works great in mojitos.
Muddle a sprig or two of fresh mint and a squeeze of lime juice with a teaspoon of sugars worth of And a squeeze of lime juice with a teaspoon of sugar’s worth or so of your favorite sugar-free sweetener. Add ice, and if not a rum, go with club soda.
Are Liqueurs and Cordials Low-Carb?
Spirits may be carb-free, but liqueurs and cordials most definitely are not.
Once again, remember our rule, if it tastes sweet, it’s sugary.
- Bailey’s Irish Cream
- Hot Damn
- Butter Shots
- Creme de Cacao
are all syrupy sweet. Jägermeister too, though the heavy herbal flavoring can make you miss it. Sugar-free syrups can help here. Combine a shot each of sugar-free Irish cream syrup, heavy cream, and Irish whiskey, and you have a passable substitute for Irish cream.
I’m betting you could use the chocolate-flavored syrup plus a little vodka in place of creme de cacao and possibly Da Vinci Gourmet’s watermelon syrup plus vodka in place of Midori, although Midori is more honeydew flavored. Still, it would give you a melon note. If you’re fond of fancy mixed drinks, this could be an interesting path to walk.
Oh, and I have a recipe for Makalua in the New 500 Low-Carb Recipes. It’s super easy to make and great mixed with cream. You could instead have coffee and cream with a shot of sugar-free vanilla syrup and a shot of vodka or rum. Similar flavors, you know.
Warding Off Hangovers
One more thought. There was an article in our local paper recently, regarding warding off hangovers. This subject is dear to my heart, since my tendency to feel it the day after seems to have increased with age. There are many supposed hangover preventatives and cures out there. Here are the few that I really think are worth your attention. Eat a good Low-Carb supper before partying, or be sure there are Low-Carb party snacks at hand.[contentcards url=”https://www.carbsmart.com/appetizers001.html” target=”_blank”]
Deviled eggs, chicken wings, cold shrimp, nuts, peas, breadcrumb-free meatballs. Stuffed mushrooms, likewise breadcrumb-free, all are party snacks that will please low-carbers and carbivores alike. The point is to buffer the absorption of alcohol and keep your blood sugar on an even keel. Speaking of blood sugar, keeping your libations low in sugar will also help ward off a hangover again by preventing a blood sugar crash.
Drink a non-alcoholic beverage for every alcoholic point you down. I learned this one the hard way. I’m a thirsty person. I always need to have something to sip on or I’m rapidly, uncomfortably dry. If all there is in front of me is booze, I’ll keep sipping just because I’m thirsty, with predictable and embarrassing results.
What to Drink on the Low-Carb Cruise
I’ve learned to keep a good supply of sparkling water at hand and use that to quench my thirst. It makes a huge difference. When I’ve gone on a Low-Carb Cruise, I always buy the unlimited soda package. I pay a flat fee for the week for all the soft drinks I can swallow, which otherwise run two bucks a can.
I don’t even drink soda. I hate it. I just do this so that I can suck down club soda while we’re all out in the bars and lounges at night. Not only does this help to moderate drinking, but it also prevents dehydration, which is a big contributor to hangovers. Since dehydration does indeed contribute to hangovers, downing a big glass or two of water before hitting the sack is a great idea.
Gulp down a couple of aspirin or ibuprofen with it, and your prospects for a good New Year’s Day become even brighter. Here’s another public service announcement. This one is quite serious. Do not take Tylenol for hangovers. Both alcohol and acetaminophen are rough on the liver. Taking the two together can cause serious liver damage or even liver failure.
Pop a multivitamin with your aspirin to replace the water-soluble vitamins you’ve washed out. And I don’t have to tell you not to drive drunk, right? Many towns have free public transit on New Year’s Eve, so take advantage. Around here, the cabs run free, but it will only take you home, not to another bar.
It’s a huge public service, and I laud them.
So that’s it. Have a fabulous time. Do some dancing and freelance midnight kissing get home safely.
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I’ll see you in January when we’ll talk about resolutions.
© by Dana Carpender. Used by kind permission of the thankful author. What do you think? Please send Dana your comments to Dana Carpender.