Alcohol Weighs In

Apr 082004
Authors: Christiana Nelson

Three beers, two wine coolers and a McDonald’s Big Mac have one

thing in common.

They all contain about 450 calories.

“First thing people think is, ‘It’s a liquid’,” said Dawn

Clifford, a registered dietician at Hartshorn Health Service. “They

think of it like water, so sometimes people just don’t realize that

alcohol has calories.”

Whether students choose to drink to escape a stressful week or

just as a social gesture, they could be packing on additional body


“Alcohol calories can get inverted into fat easily,” Clifford

said. “Alcohol is metabolized in the body similar to the way fat


While alcohol differs from a Big Mac in that it does not contain

fat, it is calorie dense.

Fat is the most calorie-dense substance, consisting of nine

calories per gram, while alcohol follows with seven calories per

gram and carbohydrates and protein only include four calories per


Still, Thomas McGinley said he drinks to relax and has never

worried about the calories in each gram of alcohol.

When McGinley drinks with his friends he consumes four to eight

regular beers, adding up to 600 to 1,200 calories.

“I’ve been an athlete for a super long time and I know that as

long as you stay fairly active you’ll burn off anything that you

take in, beer included,” said McGinley, a junior natural resources

management major.

Conversely, the calories in alcohol give Krista Kolesar one more

reason not to drink.

“Where do you think the term ‘beer belly’ comes from? It’s all

those calories that you’re not really thinking about when you

consume it,” said Kolesar, a sophomore human development major. “If

you’re trying to workout and stay slim it doesn’t help to


While the potential for substantial weight gain because of

moderate alcohol consumption is debated among experts, Clifford

said that increased calories do inhibit an increase in weight.

“If the total number of calories consumed during a day is more

calories than you’re burning off, you’re going to gain weight – it

doesn’t matter if you get it from alcohol or food,” Clifford


Yet, for students like Jon Slinger, drinking sometimes replaces


“If I miss dinner and I’m drinking I just drink more to make up

for the calories I miss at dinner,” said Slinger, a graduate

student studying mathematics.

Alcoholic beverages are categorized as “empty calories,” meaning

they have no nutritional value. Therefore, problems may occur when

alcohol is consistently substituted for meals, said Pam McCracken,

the director for CSU’s Center for Drug and Alcohol Education.

“The more alcohol-dependent, students are not going to be as

healthy,” McCracken said. “They will get more colds and be more

susceptible, their body will not be able to fight things off.”

McCracken also said that when people who are trying to lose

weight drink alcohol, calories may be more easily consumed.

“Once we drink we tend to take more risks,” McCracken said.

“We’d be more apt to not stick to the goals we have for ourselves,

more apt to throw them out the window.”

Even drinkers who consume “light” alcoholic beverages are not

exempt from increased calorie consumption.

A regular 12-ounce beer has about 150 calories, while a light

12-ounce beer is reduced to about 100 calories.

Still, a light beer contains less alcohol than a regular beer,

so drinkers would need to increase their consumption of the light

beer to obtain the alcohol amount in the regular beer, thus

increasing calories.

“I don’t see the advantages to (light) beverages except for a

marketing scheme,” Clifford said. “Calories add up, but mostly

people should drink what they enjoy and do so in moderation.”

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