Whether you’re trying to lose weight, build muscle, or just eat a little healthier, your diet-related search history has probably introduced you to the keto diet. Once a niche trend, keto has taken over as one of the most popular diets in America (regardless of whether or not it’s actually safe). But you might have been turned off by a rumor of one particularly restrictive aspect of the keto diet: You can’t drink.
This is a rumor that’s only partly true. Yes, you can drink alcohol on the keto diet. But no, you can’t drink most types. And you should probably be extra wary not to drink too much in one night.
A critical aspect of eating keto is maintaining ketosis, the state your body resorts to when it must use fats for fuel instead of other nutrient groups (i.e., carbs). When in ketosis, your body releases ketones — the substances responsible for the horrid side effect known as “keto breath.” The idea (whether or not it’s actually true) is that when the body must burn fat for fuel, body fat will burn faster, as well.
But in order to maintain this state of ketosis, dieters must restrict their carbohydrate intake to just 5 percent of their overall caloric intake. How many grams of carbs this entails depends on the person, but most recommendations hover around an upper limit 50 grams of carbohydrates per day. Some people have to eat under 10 grams per day.
Many types of alcohol contain carbs — and lots of them. As a consequence, many types of booze are off-limits on keto.
Beer, for example, contains around 13 grams of carbs per can. And that’s just your average beer — some beers, especially those that are dark or sour, contain even more. As for wine, the carb count depends in part on the sweetness of the wine. Your average riesling contains 5.5 grams of carbs per glass.
Other types of alcohol are less carb-heavy. Some types of Champagne, for instance, contains as little as 1 gram of carbs per glass. A shot of tequila contains zero. Drinking these types of alcohol does, however, add calories to your diet. And many people attempting the keto diet typically avoid a calorie excess.
So can you drink alcohol on the keto diet? Absolutely. You just might not want to.
In addition to the calorie consideration, every carb you consume from alcohol must be restricted from the rest of your diet to maintain ketosis. Sure, you might technically be able to fit a beer into your carb limit, depending on how many you personally eat. But that means you can’t eat those carbs in the form of nutritious (and often necessary) food. You’d have to pick your poison: hungry and drunk or sober and nourished. As you can imagine, most people who are attempting the keto diet opt for the latter.
Additionally, drinking on the keto diet can make you feel drunker faster, according to many anecdotal accounts. There’s a reason people advise eating a carb-heavy meal before engaging in any heavy drinking. When your glycogen stores are full (i.e., you’ve eaten lots of carbs) there are more substances in your system that are able to soak up the booze. Studies show that high-carb meals eaten before drinking are effective in reducing blood alcohol content. When your body is in ketosis, you have very little glycogen at your disposal. That means your liver gets access to all that booze more quickly — resulting in a quicker, more intense level of drunkenness from higher blood alcohol content. Your drinking can more quickly become dangerous.
If you do choose to drink while on the keto diet, be careful of your consumption. Keep in mind that if you take one too many carb-free tequila shots, you’re going to be in for a particularly nasty hangover. And if you drink waaaay too many carb-free tequila shots, be aware of these signs of alcohol poisoning to look out for and keep yourself safe.