Jun. 2. 2016
Written By:
McKel (Hill) Kooienga
McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Founder of Nutrition Stripped® and the Mindful Nutrition Method™


As we approach summer, holidays, and vacations, questions about alcohol have been trending in my inbox from you guys and clients. So where does alcohol fit in the Nutrition Stripped lifestyle, your life, and healthy living in general…or does it at all? Today I break down the nutrition of alcohol and explain what it does in our body, what it’s made of, how to make the best choices, how to beat a hangover, and what to make if you don’t drink alcohol in the first place. Bookmark this one for later and be sure to share this with friends!


First things first, let’s start by understanding how alcohol impacts our body, our health, and what to keep in mind when drinking. Alcohol gets a bad rap in the health community, but you can have a healthy relationship with alcohol if you choose by paying attention to your motivation and intention behind drinking, knowing your limits, knowing your current health status (i.e. stressors, illness, burnout, etc.), and overall just being smart about the choices. I hope this post helps you navigate the next time you ask yourself “is alcohol unhealthy?”.

It all starts with how alcohol is digested and absorbed in our bodies and ladies, the men beat us on this one. Men actually have a biochemical advantage at breaking down alcohol over women (because of enzymes and typically larger physiques with a higher % of water), plus our hormonal cycles can change how our bodies react to alcohol. When we drink alcohol, it’s absorbed very quickly through the lining of our stomach and goes directly into our bloodstream (1). Alcohol is broken down into carbon dioxide and water and is high priority for the body to get rid off – meaning it’ll delay everything else until it’s cleared. This can impact our blood sugar levels from the liver working hard to clear the alcohol. Both women and men process alcohol at a rate of about 1 drink/hour, and again the rate will depend on many factors but this is a guideline to keep in mind. For example, if you eat before you drink, which I highly recommend you DO, it’ll decrease the rate of alcohol absorption. Especially those foods with fat and protein which are ideal picks in my book. Keep in mind that carbonation increases the absorption of alcohol (i.e. club soda or any sodas) as well as caffeine which can be a common ingredient in cocktails. Caffeine actually masks the depressant qualities of alcohol which can lead to more drinking, so be mindful of this.

Another factor we ladies need to consider is our hormones. If you’re battling a hormonal imbalance, drinking alcohol isn’t going to be the best option for you. Alcohol can throw our delicate hormonal balance off by increasing cortisol and estrogen while decreasing progesterone (The Hormone Cure is a great resource that dives into this). Drinking alcohol also depletes key nutrients such as B vitamins, A, C, and zinc – you should be mindful of replenishing these, but it’s a more serious health issue to consider if alcoholism is present.

What about calories and weight gain with alcohol?

The nutrition information you’ll find online for alcohol is often incorrect and largely dependent on who is making the drink, what’s put in it, and how much. As a general rule of thumb, keep these measurements in mind:

  • 1, 12 ounce beer = 140-220 (depending on lite or heavy) / 10-30g carbohydrate
  • 1, 5 ounce glass of wine = 80-120 calories / 5-11g carbohydrate
  • 1, 1 ounce of liquor = 90-100 calories / 0g carbohydrate

In a nutshell, calories from drinks can add up very quickly! The best choices when drinking alcohol include vodka, gin, or tequila or clear liquors with club soda, fresh herbs, fresh citrus, bitters, and other aromatics that don’t contribute to the sugar content or calorie content. My favorite go-to drinks are club soda with vodka and lime or fresh lime juice with tequila on the rocks and a pinch of salt (what I call a truly simple margarita). If you want to optimize your cocktail, avoid simple syrups, sugary juice mixes, fruit juices, concentrates, and mixing many alcohols at once.

[image source: A Beautiful Mess]

A note on allergens lurking in alcohol… If you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivities, be wary of beer (only a select few are gluten free), liquors, and wines that can be made using rye, barley, yeast, hops, etc. that may cause food sensitivities in some individuals. For me, you guys know migraines were part of my health challenges in high school and will pop up in my adult life if I’m not careful. Wine is a migraine trigger for me, so I typically opt for (preferably organic) white wines, which tend to have fewer histamines and tannins than red varieties (2). Also since I have a gluten sensitivity, if I drink beer I immediately get a stuffy nose, congestion, skin rashes, and itchy eyes (it’s not fun!). So the take home here is if you do have any food sensitivities, be mindful that these will also carry over into drinks.


  1. Drink 10 ounces of filtered water (ideally with lemon) for each 1 ounce of liquor/4 ounces wine/ 8 ounces beer. Especially before you go to sleep! Alcohol is a diuretic and will dehydrate you.
  2. Pace yourself. Know your limits, pay attention, and respect those limits.
  3. For an optimal “healthy” cocktail, avoid all simple syrups, juice mixes, juice, etc.
  4. Eat mindfully, before, during, and after.
  5. Reach for a Matcha Tea Latte, Coffee Elevated, or Turmeric Milk Latte the following morning with a Stripped Green Smoothie, followed by an Avocado Asparagus Gazpacho Soup for lunch since it’s loaded with healthful fats, fiber, and B vitamins to replenish those lost during drinking. Added bonus – asparagus is a natural diuretic that helps your body and liver get rid of any excess alcohol hanging around. Also be sure to drink plenty of water and follow the guide to beating a hangover naturally.

I have a hunch you’ll like reading up on these…

Not into alcohol? No worries, you can still enjoy a mocktail (alcohol-free) drink with friends. Try these recipes:

  1. Club soda + juice of 1 lime + 3 mint leaves + 1 teaspoon coconut sugar + pinch of sea salt
  2. Simply Infused Waters made with sparkling water or flat

xx McKel

(1): http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh294/245-255.pdf

(2): http://winefolly.com/review/what-are-tannins-in-wine/


Looking for more nutrition information? I’ve written several eBooks where I go in even more detail about nutrition topics and how to live whole, eat well and feel amazing!