Keto alcohol – the best and the worst drinks

What are the best and the worst alcoholic drinks on a keto diet?

First, the obvious: alcohol is not a weight-loss aid. The more alcohol you drink, the more weight loss may slow down, since the body tends to burn alcohol before anything else.1 Drinking alcohol can also make you want to eat more.2

With that said, there is a huge difference between different kinds of drinks when it comes to how many carbs they contain.  Some are ok, yet others are disasters.

The short version: wine is much lower in carbs than beer, so most people who eat keto choose wine. Pure spirits like whiskey and vodka contain zero carbs. But watch out for sweet mixed drinks – they may have massive amounts of sugar.

For more detail, check out the visual guide below. The lower-carb (keto-friendly) options 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 keto diet you might need significantly less alcohol to get intoxicated. Women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy.

Wine and beer

Keto alcohol, wine, champagne, beer

The numbers represent grams of carbs in a typical serving – for example, one glass of wine or one draft beer. Note that sweet brands of wine or sparkling wine may contain more carbs, while other types may contain a bit less.3

Wine

Even on a keto diet (below 20 grams per day) you can probably have a glass of wine fairly regularly. And on a moderate low carb diet, wine is not a problem.

Dry wines usually contain less than 0.5 grams of sugar per glass.4 Fermentation byproducts in wine, like glycerol, should have a minimal effect on blood sugar or insulin levels.5 Using 2 grams as an estimate of carbs per glass of dry wine is conservative. Fortunately, all dry wines fit well within a keto diet.6

Sweet dessert wines, however, contain a lot more sugar.

Beer

Beer is a problem on keto. There’s a reason people talk about “beer bellies.” Beer is made from grains, which provide a lot of rapidly digestible carbs. It’s even been called “liquid bread.”7 For this reason, unfortunately, most beers are a disaster for weight control and should be avoided on keto.

Note that the amount of carbs in beer varies depending on the brand. There are a few possible low-carb options for keto. Check out our keto beer guide below for details.

Spirits

Keto alcoholic drinks

The numbers represent grams of carbs per drink, or the amount you’ll get if you order one in a bar.

When it comes to drinks, it’s pretty straightforward. Pure spirits like whiskey, brandy, cognac, vodka, gin, and tequila contain zero carbs and are all fine on keto.

Avoid sugar-sweetened drinks, though. Don’t add juice, soft drinks, or sweet flavorings to spirits. Adding tonic to zero-carb gin boosts its carb count to 16 grams per serving! Have vodka, soda water and a twist of lime instead for a refreshing carb-free drink.

The worst option of all is to mix alcohol with soda or juice. This is a sugar bomb.

Alcopops / wine coolers

Keto alcopops / winecoolers

The numbers represent grams of carbs (sugar) per bottle.

So, what about alcopops or wine coolers? They’re just like regular soda with added alcohol, and should be avoided by everyone who wants to avoid drinking large amounts of sugar.

Keto-friendly beers

Keto beers

The numbers above are the grams of carbs in one 12 oz. bottle of beer (355 ml).

Although the carb counts vary among different brands, most are too high for a keto diet. Even on a more liberal low-carb diet it might be wise to keep beer drinking as an occasional thing.

The exception is ultra-lite American beers, which contain very few carbs. So if you like them, you’re in luck. Check out the brands to the left in the graphic above.8

Top 5 keto alcoholic drinks

Top 5 Alcoholic Drinks

On a keto 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 great keto options, with little or no sugar or carbs.

Here’s our list of the top 5 keto alcoholic drinks.

    1. Champagne or sparkling wine (extra dry or brut): one glass contains about 2 grams of net carbs.

Pop the bubbly for a low-carb toast to good health. Whether it’s expensive Champagne from France or more affordable sparkling wines like Cava or Prosecco from other countries, look for the driest versions and enjoy as an aperitif, with food or as a stand-alone drink.

    1. Dry wine, red or white: one glass contains about 2 grams of net carbs.

“Beer is made by man, but wine is made by God,” said Martin Luther. Some have called it the fourth macronutrient, after fat, protein and carbs. It’s been part of human civilization for at least 8,000 years — and no wonder, since it pairs so wonderfully with food and friends. Fortunately, dry wine is fine on a keto diet from time to time.

    1. “Skinny Bitch”: one tall drink contains 0 grams of carbs.

The go-to drink of  “The Real Housewives of” TV franchise, skinny bitch has all the country-club cachet of the classic gin-and-tonic — without the carbs. Sparkling, light and refreshing, it contains only vodka, soda water, and lime. Perfect to sip and dish the dirt.

    1. Whiskey: one drink contains 0 grams of carbs.

“Whiskey is liquid sunshine,” said George Bernard Shaw. Whether you like it neat, on the rocks, or with soda or water, it’s entirely carb free. It’s also gluten free, even though it comes from fermented grains. Scotch, Irish, Canadian, Bourbon, Rye — whatever its name and style, whiskey is fine for a special occasion.

    1. Dry Martini: one cocktail contains 0 grams of carbs.

In books, James Bond always liked his martini with 3 parts Gordon’s gin, 1 part vodka, and a half jigger of Kina Lillet. On the screen, it was a vodka martini with a whisper of vermouth, garnished with a lemon twist. Whether made with gin or vodka and garnished with an olive, lemon twist or pearl onion, martinis remain one of the most popular aperitifs — shaken, not stirred, of course.

Return to the top of the keto alcohol guide

A word of caution

When eating a keto diet, many people might need significantly less alcohol to get intoxicated.9 So be careful the first time you drink alcohol on keto. You may only need half as many drinks as usual to enjoy yourself. So keto may save you money at the bar.

The reasons for this common experience aren’t fully known. Possibly the liver is busy producing ketones or glucose, and thus has less capacity to burn alcohol.

This is great if you’re looking to maximize alcohol’s intoxicating impact. On the other hand, your hangover could be worse.10

Be very careful doing anything where impairment could increase the risk of accidents or injury. Never drink and drive.

Furthermore, if you’re using a keto diet to treat metabolic syndrome and fatty liver disease, be aware that alcohol can have a negative effect on liver health.11 Excessive alcohol acts as a liver toxin.

Finally, it appears that alcohol intake might somewhat reduce ketone production, even in the absence of sugar or carbs.12

Here’s an in-depth article with more details on the above, and other surprising things about alcohol on a keto diet:

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

 

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  1. The Journal of Clinical Investigation 1988: Ethanol causes acute inhibition of carbohydrate, fat, and protein oxidation and insulin resistance [moderate evidence]

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

  2. Studies show that at least in the short term, drinking alcohol tends to increase the amount of food people eat:

    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 [moderate evidence]

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

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

    Physiology & Behavior 2004: Dose-dependent effects of alcohol on appetite and food intake [weak evidence]

    British Journal of Nutrition 2004: Effects of alcohol on food and energy intake in human subjects: evidence for passive and active over-consumption of energy [Overview article]

  3. For example, here are sugar levels in grams per liter (about 7 glasses) of sparkling wine, depending on sweetness ranking:

    Brut nature (no added sugar): 0–3 g
    Extra brut: 0–6 g
    Brut: 0–12 g
    Extra dry, extra sec, extra seco: 12–17 g
    Dry, sec, seco: 17–32 g
    Demi-sec, semi-seco: 32–50 g
    Doux, sweet, dulce: 50+ g

  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 [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

  6. For much more about wine and keto diets, listen to our podcast interview with Todd White, the founder of Dry Farm Wines:

    Diet Doctor podcast #6 – Todd White

  7. Drinking beer can result in a rapid increase in blood glucose and insulin levels:

    Food Chemistry 2014: The effect of different alcoholic beverages on blood alcohol levels, plasma insulin and plasma glucose in humans [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 commonly reported by people who eat keto diets. 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

    Reddit: WARNING: Keto REALLY DOES lower your alcohol tolerance! (embarrassing story inside)

  10. This is based on personal reports [very weak evidence]. More severe hangovers might also be due to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, as the keto diet may increase urination.

  11. Translational Gastroenterology and Hepatology 2019: Effect of alcohol consumption on nonalcoholic fatty liver disease [overview article; ungraded]

    For more on this, read section #5 here:

    7 things you need to know about alcohol and the keto diet

  12. To our knowledge, there is no good scientific evidence for this. It’s based mostly on anecdotal reports and that it makes biochemical sense [very weak evidence].

    However, if you’re in need of high ketone levels for health or performance, it may be worth testing how this is affected when you consume alcohol.