Going on keto = giving up a lot. It’s notoriously pretty restrictive, and especially when it comes to delicious, delicious carbs. Bread, sugar, you name it. (Yes, even some fruit.) And for anyone who enjoys a cocktail or other adult beverage, sadly, this can also include alcohol.
So…can you drink alcohol while doing the keto diet? And what are the lowest-carb, most keto-friendly alcoholic beverages? Here’s everything you need to know.
Does alcohol kick you out of ketosis?
First, you need to know what happens to your body when you’re in ketosis. “The brain uses carbs for fuel. If you do not have enough carbs in your blood to support your brain, your body will start to make back-up fuel from fat: ketones,” says Colleen Tewksbury, PhD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Having higher levels of ketones in the blood puts someone into a state of ketosis.”
And, in general, you want to be mindful of your alcohol intake if you’re trying to lose weight. There are a few reasons why: It’s high in calories, it can stimulate your appetite, and it reduces your inhibitions (so you’re more likely to cave into pizza or cookie cravings after you throw one back).
But let’s say you know you want to imbibe here and there (all good!). While alcohol is not necessarily an approved part of the keto diet, you can definitely still consume certain types and not get kicked out of ketosis. “Alcohol itself does not reduce ketone levels,” says Tewksbury. “Many alcoholic drinks, however, are high in carbs and could lower ketone levels. This includes sugary drinks like mixed drinks and cocktails.”
Adds Julie Upton, RD, co-founder of nutrition website Appetite for Health, ethanol (a.k.a. alcohol) is broken down into your body as a triglyceride (one of the main components of fat), and not glucose (sugar). So, booze alone wouldn’t wreck your keto diet efforts. Therefore, drinking liquor (i.e., vodka, tequila, gin, and whiskey) straight-up or on the rocks is better than that margarita with the sugar on the rim.
If you’re in ketosis, alcohol also may have some additional negative side effects besides possibly kicking you out of it (if you have a sugary, carb-filled drink with mixers and add-ins!). “Studies have shown that alcohol abuse can actually lead to a condition called alcoholic ketosis, another potential concern for those following a ketogenic diet and struggling with alcohol use,” says Tewksbury.
What are the best alcohols to drink on keto?
Since not all alcoholic beverages are created equal when it comes to sugar content, there are definitely some better choices you can make if your goal is to stay in ketosis.
“Steering away from beer and sugary drinks are your best bet. Pure alcohol products like rum, vodka, gin, tequila and whiskey all contain no carbs,” says Jonathan Valdez, RD, owner of Genki Nutrition and spokesperson for New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Even though hard liquor is made from natural sugars (grains, potatoes, and fruits, during the fermentation and distillation process, that sugar is converted into ethyl alcohol instead of glucose, Valdez explains.
These are the best alcohols to drink on keto based on calorie and carb content, according to Valdez:
- Tequila (69 calories, 0 g net carbs)
- Whiskey (70 calories, 0 g net carbs)
- Gin (73 calories, 0 g net carbs)
- Vodka/soda (64 calories, 0 g net carbs)
- Gin and slimline tonic (148 calories, 7.5g net carbs)
- Vodka martini (130 calories, 0 g net carbs)
- Rum (64 calories, 0 g net carbs)
- Red wine (125 calories, 3 g net carbs)
- White wine (120 calories, 3 g net carbs)
- Champagne or sparkling wine (90 calories, 2 g of net carbs)
But it’s not just the alcohol itself you should be paying attention to. Mixers can easily kick you out of ketosis.
According to Valdez, these are the best mixers to use if you’re on keto:
- Seltzer/club soda
- Sugar-free tonic water
- Diet soda
- Unsweetened ice tea
- Crystal Light drink mix
What are the worst alcoholic drinks on keto?
“High sugar drinks are likely best to avoid if someone is trying to stay in a ketogenic state,” says Tewksbury. “This would include drinks mixed with juice or regular soda, frozen drinks, most beers and wines, any cocktails with simple syrup added.”
What else can I drink on keto besides water?
Thankfully, there are still plenty of options for beverages you can enjoy and still remain in ketosis, which are really any low-to-no carb drinks, says Tewksbury, such as:
- Coffee (black or with heavy cream or MCT oil)
- Diet drinks
- Fruit-infused waters
- Unsweetened teas
The bottom line: You can drink alcohol on keto if you do so in moderation and go with unsweetened alcoholic beverages that are low in carbohydrates.