In an article titled: “Latest Research on the Effects of Alcohol on Your Waistline” in the Wall Street Journal, Samathi Retty writes:
It isn’t just the beer that contributes to beer bellies. It could also be the extra calories, fat and unhealthy eating choices that may come with moderate drinking.
A recent study found that men consume an additional 433 calories (equivalent to a McDonald’s double cheeseburger) on days they drink a moderate amount of alcohol. About 61% of the caloric increase comes from the
alcohol itself. Men also report eating higher amounts of saturated fats and meat, and less fruit and milk, on those days than on days when they aren’t drinking, the study showed.
Women fared a bit better, taking in an extra 300 calories on moderate-drinking days, from the alcohol and eating fattier foods. But women’s increase in calories from additional eating wasn’t statistically significant, the study said.
“Men and women ate less healthily on days they drank alcohol,” said Rosalind Breslow, an epidemiologist with the federal National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and lead author of the study. “Poorer food choices on drinking days have public-health implications,” she said.
The findings dovetail with controlled lab studies in which participants generally eat more food after consuming alcohol. Researchers suggest that alcohol may enhance “the short-term rewarding effects” of consuming food, according to a 2010 report in the journal Physiology & Behavior that reviewed previous studies on alcohol, appetite and obesity.
But other studies have pointed to a different trend. Moderate drinkers gain less weight over time than either heavy drinkers or people who abstain from alcohol, particularly women, this research has shown. Moderate drinking is considered having about two drinks a day for men and one for women.
“People who gain the least weight are moderate drinkers, regardless of [alcoholic] beverage choice,” said Erik Rimm, an associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard Medical School and chairman of the 2010 review of alcohol in the federal dietary guidelines. The weight-gain difference is modest, and “starting to drink is not a weight-loss diet,” he said.
The various research efforts form part of a long-standing debate about how alcohol affects people’s appetites, weight and overall health. Researchers say there aren’t simple answers, and suggest that individuals’ metabolism, drinking patterns and gender may play a role.
Alcohol is “a real wild card when it comes to weight management,” said Karen Miller-Kovach, chief scientific officer of Weight Watchers International. At seven calories per gram, alcohol is closer to fat than to carbohydrate or protein in caloric content, she said. Alcohol tends to lower restraint, she notes, causing a person to become more indulgent with what they’re eating.
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