Does Vodka really have Zero Carbs?
January 31, 2004 8:47 PM   Subscribe

Smirnoff is running an ad campaign right now - Zero carbs. How can this be? Seeing how alcohol is converted from sugar, my guess is it has to interact with the body in a way similar (or equal) to carbohydrates. Can anyone shed light on this for me?

Obviously vodka doesn't have fat or protein in it, so where does the caloric content come from? As someone who's toying with the idea of a low-carb diet, but is reluctant to give up alcohol completely, this is important.
posted by rocketman to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Low-carb drinkers around here just avoid beer and instead drink gin, tequila, vodka, and whisky.
posted by gluechunk at 8:54 PM on January 31, 2004

Maybe it doesn't matter, since you're presumably going to drink less of it anyway?

Perhaps they're doing a tricky "serving-size" thing, like when chips say that they're low-calorie until you look at the suggested serving, and it's only five chips?
posted by interrobang at 8:58 PM on January 31, 2004

Vodka, whisky, gin, grappa, cognac, rum or any other distilled alcohol, with no sugar added (all turned into alcohol) have zero carbohydrates.

Beer has lots and so does wine (red more than white, but still a lot.) A good rule-of-thumb is anything even slightly sugary or malty has carbs. Alcohol is sugar in another form (better, I'd say) and not a calorie is lost. You still get the energy. But no carbs, natch. The carbs have all been magically turned into booze.

However, they severely delay weight loss. I guess they keep the liver too busy. All those "empty calories" must bounce about a lot. Atkins died before he'd come to a conclusion on the matter, though I remember him recommending a glass of vodka rather than beer, wine or, supreme sin, fruit juice.

But booze not only delays fat loss; it withholds water and puffs you up.

Distilled alcohol is still a miracle little understood and appreciated. ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:16 PM on January 31, 2004

Distilled alcohol (unlike carb-laden beer or wine) also truly fucks your brain unless you show it some respect. And, Atkins or no Atkins, weight loss be damned, the best way of protecting yourself if you're over-fond of booze is precisely to drink vast quantities of freshly squeezed fruit juice (i.e. natural sugars/carbs) with your poison of choice. I have seen a few drunks well on their way to perdition by drinking pure booze (mineral water or diet drinks add nothing valuable) or mixing it with shitty, sugary calories (coke; ginger ale; tonic water).

So don't abuse booze and don't over-tax your liver. Either drink distilled alcohol with lots of fruit juices (and you won't lose weight) or just forget about it. ;)

posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:55 PM on January 31, 2004

Doesn't the bacteria used in the fermentation consume the sugar in the original grain (producing alcohol)? I'm no expert, and actually pretty unclear on why beer has sugars left over at the end, but this is one way that sugars present at the beginning can be eliminated from the final product.

Oh, and btw, the low-carb craze is fucking out of hand.
posted by scarabic at 10:14 PM on January 31, 2004

pretty unclear on why beer has sugars left over at the end

A there are a few potential reasons I can think of:
(1) Extra sugar is added to carbonate the beer after the alcohol production. Given that at this stage the beer is sealed (bottles, kegs), there might be a critial point where carbon dioxide concentration becomes too great and the yeast stops consuming sugar.
(2) Yeast might die due to alcohol concentration before all the sugar is consumed - although I would have thought this unlikely in the case of beer, because at alcohol percentages on the order of 5% the yeast should still be pretty healthy.
(3) Yeast primarily act on the simple sugars, the larger malts etc. might not be completely consumed, and are retained in the beer.

It's interesting that here, in Australia, "Light Beer" means "Low Alcohol" (around 3% rather than 5+%), while I understand in the US it means "Low Carbs". How does that work exactly? How do they do it?
posted by Jimbob at 12:39 AM on February 1, 2004

In the US it more strictly means "low calories."
posted by kindall at 12:51 AM on February 1, 2004

My partner is a homebrewer and he says: "They're different sugars. Beer contains some complex sugars that the yeast won't digest. Things like distilled spirits... these complex sugars are left behind when you distill them. They're left in the crap that gets thrown away. I mean, vodka and scotch start out as beer, basically."

As for the original question, Miguel had it right. Alcohol isn't carbs, per se, but given the choice your body will burn it for fuel before stored fat. See the Atkisn FAQ.
posted by web-goddess at 12:55 AM on February 1, 2004

just because alcohol isn't a carbohydrate doesn't mean it doesn't contain calories. the chemical structure is almost identical, but one or more of the C-H parts in a carbohydrate is replaced by a C-O-H (although they're structurally similar, that O tends to change things electrostatically, so the chemistry is a bit different, but they can still be metabolised by the body as fuel).

no carbs doesn't mean no calories.

i don't see how drinking lots of fruit juice helps you handle alcohol better, except that you probably won't drink as much alcohol in the process (assuming you have a decent diet otherwise and don't need the fruit juice particularly because of that). in fact, drinking the same amount of alcohol plus more juice is going to give your liver and kidneys more work than the alcohol alone.

according to this information red and white wine have very similar amounts of calories

this page gives the following calories:
* 2.5oz shot of rum/vodka/etc: ~100 - 120 calories
* 5oz Wine: 100 calories
* 5oz "Lite" wine: 80 calories
* 12oz Wine Spritzer: 120 calories
* 12oz Wine Cooler: 215 calories
* 12oz can of beer: 146 calories

and wtf is lite wine?

a related (rather slanted) page at the same site talks about atkins and wine - much of what it says is relevant to vodka, presumably.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:12 AM on February 1, 2004

Matt, this serves no informative AskMe purpose, and you can delete it if you want, but:

Alcohol is sugar in another form (better, I'd say)

posted by Hildago at 11:35 AM on February 1, 2004

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