How Alcohol Impacts Your Appetite

Patio season is here! If you’re going out with friends and attending parties or barbeques this summer, your intake of alcohol might be higher than usual. While data on the health effects of alcohol consumption are mixed, it’s evident that chronic excessive drinking can lead to a multitude of health problems including brain damage, coronary heart disease, and certain cancers. Alcohol can even make you inclined to eat more, thus contributing to weight gain. If you enjoy drinking socially, it’s important to do so in moderation.  

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What does “moderation” mean?

The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) recommends:

  • Reducing weekly alcohol consumption to no more than 10 drinks a week (for women) or 15 drinks a week (for men) with non-drinking days a few times each week

  • Limiting alcohol consumption to a maximum of 3 drinks (for women) or 4 drinks (for men) on special occasions

  • Drinking slowly – meaning no more than 2 drinks in 3 hours or less than one standard drink per hour

  • Hydrating frequently with non-alcoholic beverages like water or mocktails

For more information on low-risk drinking, as well as standard drink sizes, check out the CCSA guidelines.

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Can alcohol affect appetite?

Alcohol contains “empty calories,” void of any nutrients like protein, vitamins or fibre. This means you can easily consume a lot of calories through alcohol without feeling full or satisfied. 

A recently published systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized control trials and crossover studies suggests that drinking alcoholic beverages (compared to those without alcohol) could increase one’s calorie intake from food. While the results of this study aren’t generalizable to everyone, as participants were all between 18 to 37 years of age, another meta-analysis also reported that alcohol increases appetite through altering circulating ghrelin levels (a.k.a. the “hunger hormone”), GABA signalling, and opioid systems, which contribute to the loss of inhibition and feelings of relaxation you might experience while drinking. 

You may notice that you sleep poorly after a night of drinking, and this can also lead to overeating. A systematic review and meta-analysis published in Obesity Reviews found that short sleep duration in young people was significantly associated with future overweight and obesity. Another article reported that increased food intake—beyond the number of calories required to meet energy needs—is a common response to inadequate or disturbed sleep. 

Low-Calorie Drink Ideas

If you choose to drink alcohol, try some of these options at your next summer party:

  • Wine spritzer or vodka with zero-calorie tonic water or seltzer (add mint, berries or lemon and lime slices for a boost of flavour)

  • Light lager or cider between 4-5% alcohol/volume

  • Mojito with a shot of rum, mineral water, a teaspoon of agave, and plenty of fresh lime and mint

  • Kombucha with a shot of vodka, mulled blackberries, and thyme

Ryan Stallard