How Your Body Digests Booze
In the case of food and non-alcoholic beverages, the number of calories listed on the nutrition label takes into account not only the actual amount of caloric stuff in the product, but also how our bodies absorb it. If your bag of almonds says there’s 100 calories in a serving and you eat a serving, you can pretty much assume that your body processed and used all 100 of those calories. But the caloric content in booze is trickier to measure because it’s a toxin and your body doesn’t take kindly to being poisoned—so a good portion of the alcohol you imbibe is expelled in the form of acetic acid. That said, some of the calories in alcohol are absorbed, but it’s difficult to track down exactly how your body makes use of them.
A study by the American Society for Clinical Nutrition from 1999, which looked into liquor’s effects on weight and the energy derived from alcohol, found no clear link between alcohol and weight gain. However, it did find that the human body can metabolize ethanol, implying that some of the booze must be absorbed and burned. Later studies haven’t made much progress on the paradox.
Liquor is metabolized in your liver and kidneys, not in your intestines like most food. According to Serious Eats, the amount of liquor absorbed depends on the speed at which you drink. Drink slower and you give your liver a chance to actually process the booze and turn the calories into energy. Drink faster and you’ll outpace your liver. That said, we at Supercall don’t condone the practice of shots for weight loss purposes.
Vodka’s Sugar and Carb Levels
Distillation converts carbohydrates—usually potatoes or grains, in the case of vodka—into alcohol. In wine and beer, there may be some residual sugar leftover, but in spirits, even liquor distilled from sugar cane, like rum, there is no sugar left after distillation. Some brands do finish their booze with sugar or other sweeteners, but vodka distillers are rarely among them. So, technically, there are no carbs or sugar in vodka.
However, unless you’re a vodka purist, you’re likely drinking vodka in cocktails. Vodka cocktails in particular are notorious for including sweet, sugary liqueurs—think of the creamy White Russian or any number of dessert Martinis. If you’re watching your sugar intake, stick to straight vodka or vodka Martinis.
Vodka’s Other Effects
The real toll booze takes on a diet isn’t due to the caloric makeup of alcohol, but its associated effects. It stimulates the appetite and lowers inhibitions, a potent combo that makes a 3 a.m. bacon burger seem like a great choice. Vodka will also dehydrate you and can leave you with a nasty hangover that makes the choice between the gym and bed an easy one.
That being said, other side effects of drinking vodka can include a great night, bonding with friends, relaxation and delicious drinks. But you should still be aware of how your spirit of choice affects your body so you can balance healthy choices with the fun.
Low-Cal Cocktails Beyond the Vodka Soda
If you are on a diet or just watching your cocktail calories, you should know there are plenty of low-calorie cocktails out there that don’t compromise on flavor (no offense, Vodka Soda diehards). Other Highballs made with spirits and soda, like the quintessential Scotch and Soda or the eternally popular Japanese Highball, work just as well, but there are also other great options when you’re bored of the dry spritz, like an Americano or a Mimosa (both perfect for those who are calorie-conscious at a boozy brunch). Even if you’re sticking with your low-cal standby, there are a few ways you can upgrade the Vodka Soda without breaking the scale, like springing for a more flavorful, high-end vodka or incorporating nearly calorie-neutral herbs.