Low-carb alcohol – the best and the worst drinks

What alcoholic drinks are low carb? What are the best options on a low-carb diet, and some common mistakes? This guide will tell you what you need to know.

First of all: because of the way it’s processed by your body, too much alcohol may slow down your weight loss and undermine your health gains on a low-carb diet.1

In addition, it can impede weight loss by stimulating appetite and increasing food intake.2

However, if you can drink alcohol in moderation it might not be a major issue as long as it’s low in carbs.3 This may vary from person to person, though. Low-carb options include wine, champagne and pure spirits like whiskey and vodka. High-carb drinks? Beer and sugary cocktails.

Below you’ll find all the details, the options with fewer carbs are to the left.

Disclaimer: Consumption of alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery, and may cause health problems if consumed in excess. Note that on a low-carb diet you might need significantly less alcohol to get intoxicated. Women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy.


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How many carbs?

Low-Carb Wine and Beer

Each of the numbers is the grams of carbs in a typical glass. The lowest-carb option is a flute of champagne with 1 gram of carbs. Dry white and red wine have around 2 grams per serving, though note that sweeter wines can have up to 4 grams or more (see below). A typical beer has 13 grams!

Wine

If you are eating a moderate low carb diet, about 20 to 50 carbs a day, dry wines probably can be enjoyed on a regular basis with little weight-loss impact from the carbs. If you are on a very strict low-carb or keto diet, consuming under 20 grams of carbs a day, a glass of wine on occasion is also fine. If, however, you find you are not losing weight, try cutting back on alcohol.

A glass of dry wine contains about 0.5 grams of sugar as well as small amounts of glycerol and other carbohydrate remains of the wine-making process, which usually amount to less than 2 grams of total carbs.4 It is unlikely that a glass of dry wine will impact blood sugar or insulin levels significantly.5

Sweeter wines, like Rieslings and Gewurztraminers, have about 4 carbs in a typical glass. Even sweeter dessert wines, like Muscato, Tokaj, Ice Wines, or fortified wines like Port, Sherry and Madeira, are all sweeter and contain more fructose, with carb counts per glass of around 5 grams or more.6

Beer

Alas, most beer is a no-go when you’re eating low carb. Its hops and fermented grains are like drinking liquid bread — and the big beer bellies it can produce proof-positive that it contributes to abdominal obesity.7 Not a good choice for weight loss or diabetes reversal.

However, carb counts can vary depending on the brand of beer, and there are a few lower carb options. Find out in our low-carb beer guide below.

Beer: how many carbs?

Low-Carb Beers

The numbers under the brands of beer represent the grams of carbs in a 12 oz. (355ml) bottle of beer.

As you can see, some very light American beers contain the least amount of carbs and can be consumed without derailing a low-carb diet, if you enjoy that type of beer. Check out the brands to the left in the graphic above.8

Other brands of beer are fairly high in carbs and should be consumed with caution or avoided completely, depending on how many carbs you target per day.

Spirits: how many carbs?

Low-Carb Spirits

If you drink hard liquor, this is how many grams of carbs are in a typical drink.

Whiskey, vodka, brandy, gin, tequila and other pure alcohols have zero carbs and so are fine on a low-carb diet. Don’t add juice, soft drinks, or other sweeteners like sweet cream. Adding tonic to zero-carb gin boosts its carbs to 16 grams per serving! Have vodka, soda water and lime instead for a no-carb summer drink.

Alternatively, if you insist, use diet tonic (with artificial sweeteners) for a zero-carb gin & tonic, though we generally recommend to avoid sweeteners.9

Think vodka and orange juice is a healthy choice? That gives you a whopping 28 grams of carbs, almost as bad as a rum & coke for 39 grams.

Coolers

Low-carb wine coolers

The numbers are the amount of carbs (sugar) in a bottle.

Sometimes called alcopops, spirit coolers, wine coolers or hard lemonades, these pre-mixed, packaged drinks are loaded with sugar and carbs. Do not drink if you want to stay low carb — you are drinking sugar.


 

Top 5 low-carb alcoholic drinks

Top 5 Alcoholic Drinks

On a low-carb diet, you can still enjoy a delicious drink or two on special occasions. Even though many alcoholic drinks contain a lot of sugar, there are still some decent low-carb options. Here’s our list of the top 5 low-carb alcoholic drinks.
 

  1. Champagne or sparkling wine (extra dry or brut) – one glass contains about 2 grams of net carbs.
  2. Nothing says celebration like a glass of bubbly! Although Champagne can be very expensive other kinds of sparkling wines or Cava come in a variety of prices and can be enjoyed as an aperitif, with your food or as a stand-alone drink.

  3. Dry wine – red or white – one glass contains about 2 grams of net carbs.
  4. There must be a reason why humans have been drinking wine for thousands of years. One of them is probably that it tastes really good with food. Ben Franklin even called wine “constant proof that God loves us”. Fortunately, drinking an occasional glass of dry wine is fine on a low-carb diet.

  5. “Skinny Bitch” – one long drink contains 0 grams of carbs.
  6. Skinny bitch is the drink for you if you want to skip sugar and artificial sweeteners. This sparkling long drink with vodka, soda, lime and ice tastes way better than it might sound.

  7. Whiskey – one drink contains 0 grams of carbs.
  8. Even though whiskey is made from various forms of grains, it’s zero carb and gluten free. It comes in many different classes and types. Too much ice can kill the flavor but serving it with a little dash of water can actually enhance the flavor.

  9. Dry Martini – one cocktail contains 0 grams of carbs.
  10. The iconic James Bond cocktail is made with gin and vermouth, and garnished with an olive or a lemon twist. It’s still in the top of the most requested drinks. But make sure to order it shaken, not stirred.

 
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Beware: Alcohol packs more punch on low carb

When on a strict low-carb diet, many people might need significantly less alcohol to get intoxicated.10 So be careful the first time you drink alcohol on low carb. Possibly, you may only need half as many drinks as usual to enjoy yourself. Low carb might save you money at the bar.

The reasons for this common experience are still unclear. It could be because the liver is busy producing ketones or glucose, and thus has less capacity to spare for burning alcohol, slowing down the process.

If you’re going to be driving be extra careful. Don’t drink and drive. On low carb this may be even more crucial.

Learn more surprising facts about low-carb diets and alcohol here:

Alcohol and the keto diet: 7 things you need to know

Q&A

Do you have more questions about low carb and alcohol? A few common questions are answered below, for more see our full low-carb FAQ.

Does drinking alcohol slow down weight loss on low carb?

Yes. The alcohol is burned first in the liver, slowing fat burning somewhat.11 Alcohol thus slows down weight loss.

Furthermore, drinking alcohol can remove inhibitions, and this can result in eating things you were not planning to or needing to eat.12 If that happens it further slows weight loss.

For effective weight loss, consume alcohol in moderation (choosing lower-carb options) or not at all.

Can you get a worse hangover on low carb?

Yes. Many people find that their tolerance is reduced on low carb, and that they are more likely to get a hangover.13 To minimize it don’t overconsume alcohol, and make sure to drink enough water.

What are the best alcoholic drinks that are low in carbs?

The top low-carb drinks are wine (dry white or red), champagne and pure zero-carb spirits like whiskey, gin or vodka (avoid cocktails with sugar in them).

 
Full low-carb diet FAQ

 

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  1. The Journal of Clinical Investigation 1988: Ethanol causes acute inhibition of carbohydrate, fat, and protein oxidation and insulin resistance [non-randomized study; weak evidence]

    The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1999: De novo lipogenesis, lipid kinetics, and whole-body lipid balances in humans after acute alcohol consumption [non-randomized study; weak evidence]

  2. In addition to containing calories, alcohol seems to increase the amount of food people consume:

    British Journal of Nutrition 2019: The effect of alcohol consumption on food energy intake: a systematic review and meta-analysis [strong evidence]

    Appetite 2015: Moderate alcohol consumption stimulates food intake and food reward of savoury foods [crossover trial; moderate evidence]

    Appetite 2010: Short term effects of alcohol on appetite in humans. Effects of context and restrained eating [crossover trial; moderate evidence]

    Health Psychology 2016: Alcohol’s acute effect on food intake is mediated by inhibitory control impairments [randomized trial; moderate evidence]

  3. This is based on the clinical experience of low-carb clinicians. [weak evidence]

  4. References:

    Wikipedia: Winemaking process

    Wikipedia: European Union terms for wine

    Wikipedia: European Union terms for sparkling wine

    European Commission Regulation regarding wine products

    European Commission Regulation regarding sparkling wine products

  5. Drinking regular wine does not seem to provoke any noticeable increase in blood glucose or insulin levels:

    Food Chemistry 2014: The effect of different alcoholic beverages on blood alcohol levels, plasma insulin and plasma glucose in humans [non-randomized study; weak evidence]

    “In the United States, however, carbohydrates are taken to be whatever is left once the contents of water, alcohol, fat, protein and minerals in wine are accounted for. In the US, then, tartaric acid, glycerol and other substances that might not immediately be thought of as carbohydrates would be counted as such, and the carbohydrate content declared for a wine in the US could easily be twice the level that would be declared for the same wine in Australia”:

    BIO Web of Conferences 2014: An analysis of ingredient and nutritional labeling for wine [overview article; ungraded]

  6. For example, here are sugar levels in grams per litre (about 8 glasses) in sparkling wine, depending on sweetness ranking:

    Brut Nature (no added sugar) 0–3
    Extra Brut 0–6
    Brut 0–12
    Extra Dry, Extra Sec, Extra seco 12–17
    Dry, Sec, Seco 17–32
    Demi-sec, Semi-seco 32–50
    Doux, Sweet, Dulce 50+

  7. Drinking beer raises both blood sugar and insulin levels much more than wine or spirits:

    Food Chemistry 2014: The effect of different alcoholic beverages on blood alcohol levels, plasma insulin and plasma glucose in humans [non-randomized study; weak evidence]

  8. Diet Doctor will not benefit from your purchases. We do not show ads, use any affiliate links, sell products or take money from industry. Instead, we’re funded by the people, via our optional membership. Learn more

  9. This is because they maintain cravings for sweet foods, may stimulate overconsumption and may potentially have other negative health effects. Learn more

  10. This is commonly reported by people on a keto diet. However, there isn’t much scientific research yet to explain why tolerance seems to be reduced, just theories.

    Low carb and alcohol #6: Lower tolerance, worse hangovers

  11. The Journal of Clinical Investigation 1988: Ethanol causes acute inhibition of carbohydrate, fat, and protein oxidation and insulin resistance [non-randomized study; weak evidence]

    The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1999: De novo lipogenesis, lipid kinetics, and whole-body lipid balances in humans after acute alcohol consumption [non-randomized study; weak evidence]

  12. Health Psychology 2016: Alcohol’s acute effect on food intake is mediated by inhibitory control impairments [randomized trial; moderate evidence]

  13. This is based on anecdotal reports. [very weak evidence]