While it's been proven that having a glass of wine can be good for your health, there's also no denying that alcohol in general has a significant impact on your metabolism and can be a key factor in weight gain. We think the more you know about how what you consume affects your body, the more informed your choices will be; this means a happier, healthier you! So let's talk about alcohol and how it affects the metabolism.
Because alcohol cannot be metabolized by the body in the same way a macronutrient (carbohydrate, protein, or fat) can, your organs shift focus to metabolize alcohol first. Here's what happens to organ function as your body tries to remove alcohol from your system.
When you sip that gin and tonic or Moscow mule, it makes its way to your liver, where your body breaks it down. So how does your liver control its workflow? Lisa Eberly, RD, explains that "the liver — which is responsible for metabolism of fat — has a to-do list, and it's very good at prioritizing." The priorities go as follows:
- Chemicals and toxins (processed foods, drugs)
"If 1 or 2 are in your system, the liver will work hard to flush them out, thus not getting to the fat unless the other two are gone," she said. Here's what that means: your liver is constantly working on its day-to-day functions and breaking down fat from your food. When you drink alcohol, you add a new task that goes to the top of the liver's to-do list; your liver can't and won't process fat as quickly or efficiently when it's working to eradicate alcohol, and thus, the metabolism slows.
Another thing to be mindful of: while this doesn't happen to every single person every single time they have a glass of bubbly or Chardonnay, alcohol can inflame the pancreas. This can hinder its ability to control blood sugar, aid the digestive system, and regulate overall metabolism (one of its primary jobs). The pancreas secretes digestive enzymes, as well as insulin and glucagon, two hormones that help regulate metabolism; pancreatic inflammation from alcohol can interfere with this, and — you may have guessed it — slow the metabolism as well.
- What about the stomach? Not too much happens there. The stomach plays a secondary role in alcohol metabolism, and in women, only about 10 percent of alcohol is metabolized in the stomach — meaning the pancreas and the liver take the brunt of it. As such, alcohol can interfere with the body's uptake of nutrients. Keep in mind, this typically refers to alcohol consumed in excess — the occasional drink shouldn't harm you much.
- In general, women have a harder time processing alcohol and are more prone to its complications (awesome, right?).
- One more thing to consider: if you're counting macros, it's also important to note that alcohol has more calories per gram than carbohydrates.
Just as we suggest with all different food groups (like sugar, for instance) and indulgent foods, just be mindful of what you're putting into your body! Before you knock back a few cocktails or polish off another pint, be conscious so you can make the best dietary choices for you and your body's needs.