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Why Does Alcohol Have so Little Nutrition?

What defines nutrition?

“The process of providing or obtaining the food necessary for health or growth”

Taking that into account, I think it’s pretty safe to suggest that we don’t specifically drink alcohol for any particular health benefit. It’s certainly not something that anyone would class as essential for our diet.

For most of us we drink alcohol for pleasure or to help us relax, and more seriously for some, because of pure dependency.

So why does alcohol have so little nutrition? Why don’t manufacturers think about putting some goodness into something which has so little nutritional value?

What Goes into an Alcoholic Beverage?

The primary content of your regular alcoholic drink is normally a combination of water, pure alcohol (chemically called ethanol) and sugars. Any other kinds of nutrients like protein, vitamins or minerals are pretty much nonexistent. (source)

According to clinical research the amount of alcohol also varies depending on the type of beverage:

  • 40 to 50 g/L – beer and coolers
  • 120 g/L – wine and pre-packed cocktails
  • 400 to 500 g/L – distilled spirits

Pure alcohol provides approximately 7.1 kilocalories per gram (kcal/g)

For example: A 12oz beer contains 12 to 14 grams of alcohol which equates to approximately 100 calories (source). However, we must remember this will be classed as 100 “empty calories” you will be consuming because alcohol is deemed as not nutritious enough.

Nutrition Depletion

Alcohol causes a double whammy of negative effects:

When we drink alcohol our body can’t store it, so we prioritise the processing of alcohol which actually disrupts digestion and absorption of real nutrients.

This prevents the body from getting any goodness out of the nutrients waiting to be used.

So not only does it not contain anything nutritious, what vital vitamins and minerals you did have waiting to digest and absorb into your body, has now been pushed to the side to make way for alcohol processing.

Kiss Goodbye to Those Nutrients

Drinking alcohol has a very negative effect on pretty much every nutrient you take into the body:

Protein

Clinical studies have proven that consuming alcohol directly impairs muscle protein synthesis. Certain amino acids are classed as essential which means you need to consume them in your diet. The study actually indicated a significant reduction of protein nutrients by between 15 to 20% when alcohol was administered. (source)

Vitamin B Complex & Folic Acid

The vitamin B complex is very important to your health as it plays a big role in cell functions, metabolism and keeping your brain working. A serious deficiency in vitamin b1 (thiamine) is known as wernicke-korsakoff syndrome and it could literally make you lose your mind. Studies have proven that alcohol interferes with absorption, distribution and excretion of all these essential nutrients (source). Alcohol is also a diuretic therefore it causes your body to lose more fluid than it consumes and as consequence of this it also increases folate excretion through the urine. (source) It’s no secret that dehydration is one of those symptoms you experience the morning after the night before when the hangover kicks in.

Vitamin C

The depletion of vitamin C could have a few impacts on your hangover too. Studies suggest that even at a reduced level, vitamin C is of particular importance when you drink alcohol as it speeds up metabolism of alcohol in the liver, which helps get rid of the toxins more effectively. (source)

Vitamin A

You can also say goodbye to the benefits of vitamin A and the potential benefits it has for your vision. The consequences of reduced vitamin A can impair the ability of the eye adjusting to dark conditions (ever wondered why you ended up in the closet instead of the bathroom?)(source)

Adding Nutritional Value

If alcohol is such a nutrient depleting substance, then why aren’t manufacturers jumping on this idea? It would certainly give the industry a whole new spin. Dietary supplements are regulated differently to alcoholic beverages and research into this very question concluded that:

“The labelling of alcoholic beverages as ‘vitamin enriched’ could result in changes in the community’s beliefs about alcohol and in increased alcohol consumption” (source)

Therefore taking this statement and the fact that your body simply wouldn’t absorb the nutrients either, there is your answer.

Final Thoughts

When you look at the cold facts about alcohol it really makes you think twice about why we humans have such an obsession with alcohol. The fact that it does have such little nutritional value and that’s purely down to the fact drinking alcohol really does not have any significant benefits to your health and can actually impair so many helpful nutrients in your body. Drinking in moderation should always be the approach when consuming alcohol, but I am sure for many those famous last words “I’m never drinking again” will be heard again. 

Helen Sanders is chief editor at HealthAmbition.com. Established in 2012, Health Ambition has grown rapidly in recent years. Our goal is to provide easy-to-understand health and nutrition advice that makes a real impact. We pride ourselves on making sure our actionable advice can be followed by regular people with busy lives.

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