Can you drink alcohol on a ketogenic diet, or are all adult beverages off limits?
You don’t have to stay sober and ditch your social life just because you’re following a keto diet, unless, of course, you want to.
But that doesn’t mean you can choose anything behind the bar and stay in ketosis either. And it also doesn’t mean that alcohol is a health food or a weight loss tool.
As you’ll see in this guide, some drinks can kick you out of ketosis while others may have little to no effect on your weight loss goals.
Read on to find out the best drinks for ketosis, how much you can drink, and how to navigate a social life while still feeling your best.
If you’re going to drink alcohol while on a keto diet, be smart about it and plan to take extra precautions. Here are just a few ways you can stay in ketosis and enjoy a night out on the town.
#1: EAT A KETO-FRIENDLY MEAL BEFORE DRINKING
Carb-loading before a night of drinking is not your best option.
When you eat a meal heavy in carbs before drinking, you’ll kick yourself out of ketosis and jeopardize how your body metabolizes the alcohol. But fat and protein are your friends before a couple of keto cocktails.
Reach for a keto-friendly meal abundant in healthy fats with some protein. This powerful combination helps slow the effects of alcohol so it delivers less of a metabolic strike to your system.
#2: WATCH OUT FOR HEAVY POURS
At the bar, it can be near impossible to know if your whiskey-based cocktail or champagne spritzer is mixed to exact proportions. Is that glass of pinot noir or cabernet an appropriate five ounces, or did the server over-pour and give you eight?
Unless you can watch the bartender make your drink or know the weight of the wine in different glasses, it’s difficult to know if your serving truly is within your macros.
If you enjoy alcoholic beverages at home, don’t let them damage your goals either. Develop a habit of measuring the alcohol as you pour it to keep your portion sizes in check.
This will help you stay on track towards your goals and makes it easier to visualize accurate measurements when you’re at a bar or restaurant.
It’s easy to do this when you have a digital food scale. Place your wine glass or a shot glass on the scale, reset the weight to zero, and pour the alcohol as usual until you reach the proper serving size[*]:
Do this enough and you’ll be able to gauge whether that glass of white wine at your favorite restaurant came with a heavy pour. If it does, adjust the rest of your macros and account for it in your meal plan.
#3: CALORIES MATTER JUST AS MUCH AS CARBS
Counting net carbs is more critical than counting calories on a ketogenic diet, but alcohol is the exception to the rule.
Alcohol contains 100 percent empty calories. You can easily drink a meal’s worth of calories without realizing you’re over your limit with just a few beverages.
Repeat this too often and your weight may start tipping in the wrong direction. Familiarize yourself with low carb, low-calorie options and stick to them.
#4: CHOOSE THE RIGHT ALCOHOL
Quantity isn’t the only factor in choosing alcoholic drinks on a keto diet; the type of alcohol matters just as much.
Since certain types of alcoholic beverages contain more carbs than others, you’ll want to prioritize the best for your bar cart and steer clear of the others.
Here’s how they all compare:
A shot of these unflavored hard liquors contains zero carbs:
Rum and brandy can be tricky, especially for heavy drinkers. While most options don’t have any carbs, specific ones can set you back 0.5g to 3g of carbs per serving (or per shot).
Sip on these hard liquors on their own or combine them with approved keto cocktail mixers (more on this next).
Perfect Keto founder Dr. Anthony Gustin (@dranthonygustin) chooses Mezcal over most drinks because it’s keto-friendly and easy. Follow him for more keto tips:
Wine and Champagne
When it comes to wine, dry wines have fewer carbs than fruity ones. Dry, often noted as “brut”, means there’s very little sugar content left in the alcohol (i.e., carbs) so you get a crisp, light sip versus a heavy, syrupy one.
A glass of dry red wine like cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, or merlot will generally run between 3g and 4g of carbs.
Dry white wine like pinot blanc, pinot grigio, and sauvignon blanc can range anywhere from 2.5g to 3.5g of carbs per glass.
A flute of brut champagne clocks in under 3g of carbs and sparkling wine (typically white) normally contains less than 2g of carbs.
As you can imagine, dessert wines live at the bottom of the approved keto alcohol list as they may pack between 6g and 14g of carbs per small glass — or close to half your carb intake for the day.
Beer can also be just as dangerous.
The average beer won’t fit in your keto macros at 13g of carbs per serving.
The good news is light beers such as Michelob Ultra, Rolling Rock Green Light, and Miller Light only have around 3g of carbs. And specifically advertised low-carb beer like Budweiser Select 55 and Miller 64 have under 2.5g of carbs per bottle.
If you like the convenience of alcohol in a can, you may want to check out the new breed of hard seltzers.
Low-Carb Hard Seltzers
Grocery stores and liquor shop shelves have been bursting with new low carb options in hard seltzer, or alcoholic sparkling water.
Companies including Henry’s, White Claw, Truly, and more are putting out cans of spiked seltzer containing natural flavors and a bit of sugar to create portable, bubbly cocktails you can enjoy anywhere.
Though they’re lower carb (between 2g and 6g of carbs per can), they’re also lower in alcohol content at 4% to 6% ABV.
Since nutrition facts differ between brands and flavors, check the nutrition facts to make sure you’re not loading up on too much sugar or artificial sweeteners to be safe.
It’s sugar that typically makes mixed drinks a no-go on a low carb diet.
#5: THE ROLE OF NON-ALCOHOLIC MIXERS ON A KETO DIET
When it comes to mixed drinks, choosing the right combination is everything.
While vodka has zero net carbs, pairing it with sugary lemonade, soda, or tonic water defeats the purpose of choosing vodka for its low carb content.
The majority of mixed drinks have at least one ingredient that’s not keto friendly, such as fruit, juice, or sour mix.
Here’s the carb count in the most dangerous cocktails on a ketogenic diet[*]:
While it’s best to opt for drinks without mixers, you may not be in love with the taste of specific spirits on their own.
So try combining your favorite hard liquor with a splash of lemon or lime and a carbonated, sugar-free mixer for the ultimate zero carb cocktail.
The best keto drink mixers include:
- Soda water (aka unsweetened club soda or seltzer water)
- Stevia-sweetened soda (like Zevia)
- Unsweetened iced tea
- Diet soda (just be careful of the side effects that come with artificial sweeteners)
Almost every bar stocks diet soda and club soda so you’ll never be totally out of luck. But if you’re craving something special, a few cocktails are low carb and keto friendly[*]:
While you can enjoy low carb alcohol on a keto diet, you still need to practice moderation to hit your goals.
#6: FOLLOW THE “ONE DRINK MAX” RULE
It’s hard for your body to process alcohol and it can disrupt your fat burning potential.
Not at your goal weight yet? Having difficulty reaching or maintaining ketosis? Cut out alcohol entirely for two to four weeks to determine if it’s holding you back.
You can also try practicing the “one drink max” rule. Limit yourself to one drink per sitting and one to three drinks per week.
Once you’ve reached your goal weight, or you’ve been able to reach and maintain ketosis, you can imbibe a bit more to find what works for you.
Until you do, avoid alcohol or practice moderation.
You can certainly drink some types of alcohol on a ketogenic, low-carb diet without guilt. But there are reasons why drinking alcohol can potentially sabotage your goals.
#1: YOU’RE MORE LIKELY TO CRAVE HIGH-CARB FOODS
Alcohol is packed with empty calories. The calories you get from alcohol — 7.1 per gram to be exact — offer no nutritional value.
You won’t feel full, and you’ll be more likely to overeat unhealthy foods since your inhibitions are lowered. This can make your stomach seem like a bottomless pit, scrounging for more calories as soon as you finish your first drink.
And, you’ll imbibe a large number of calories getting there. Alcohol has double the number of calories per gram compared to protein even though it does nothing for your body.
So if you’re following a very strict daily calorie intake to create a deficit and lose weight, alcohol will eat a large portion of this allotment for zero benefits.
For the same amount of calories, you could give your body something much healthier, like a serving of avocado or a collagen protein smoothie.
Those foods will keep you in fat-burning mode whereas alcohol will temporarily shut that process down.
#2: YOU TURN OFF YOUR BODY’S ABILITY TO BURN FAT FOR FUEL
Did you know your body treats alcohol as a toxic substance? When it enters your bloodstream, your body shifts gears and focuses all of its energy on processing the alcohol out of your system.
Everything else hits the pause button in order to take care of the alcohol, including digesting the high carb foods you may have considered a solid base for drinking. When this happens, your body stores that excess energy of sugar and carbs as fat.
Since your body is busy filtering out alcohol, it also stops using fat for energy like it normally does when you are in ketosis. Rather than breaking down fatty acids to create ketones for energy, your body uses the empty calories you drank for fuel. This won’t help you reach or maintain ketosis — it has the opposite effect.
If you’ve been struggling to reach ketosis, start by reducing or eliminating your alcohol intake. This will prevent fat storage and keep ketone production strong so weight loss becomes more likely.
If you can avoid succumbing to high-calorie cravings and you don’t plan on drinking enough to kick yourself out of ketosis, there’s still one more aspect to consider before you order that drink.
#3: YOU’LL GET DRUNK FASTER AND YOUR HANGOVER MAY BE WORSE
Whether you have a glass of red wine or two with your friends after work or plan to drink beer through 18 holes of golf on the weekend, following a keto diet alters alcohol’s effect on your body.
When you’re in ketosis, alcohol hits your system faster and stronger than it did when your body was housing more carbohydrates. Your alcohol tolerance plummets to near zero when you’re in ketosis because your glycogen stores are depleted.
Typically, people have plenty of glycogen stored in their bodies thanks to carb-heavy diets, which serve as a cushion for metabolizing alcohol. Without this buffer, your body processes alcohol much faster and you’ll feel the effects sooner.
In addition to your new lower tolerance, those on a ketogenic diet also report experiencing harsher hangovers compared to when they ate a high carb diet.
While there aren’t definitive studies proving why this happens, dehydration and an imbalance of electrolytes seem to play a part.
Both dehydration and electrolyte imbalance can occur when you drink alcohol and when you’re in ketosis, creating the perfect storm for intense hangovers.
But, can you minimize the downsides of drinking alcoholic beverages on a ketogenic diet?
Now that you have a better idea of how alcoholic beverages affect you in ketosis and know which low carb alcohol choices are better than others, you can decide whether alcohol consumption even has a place in your meal plan.
If you’re new to the keto lifestyle, or you haven’t reached ketosis yet, consider taking a break from alcohol to help you get there. If you decide to imbibe, take it easy. Your keto alcohol tolerance will be much lower once you’re in ketosis.
For seasoned keto veterans — you should have no trouble sipping your favorite adult beverages, provided you account for the carbs in your daily macro budget.
Friendly reminder: Don’t consume too many drinks each week or in one sitting. Always have a designated driver and practice responsible, safe drinking.
Download your free keto-friendly alcohol guidelines e-book!