Alcohol’s impact on decision-making derails more diets than its impact on actual caloric intake, says Eric Rimm, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition and director of the cardiovascular epidemiology program at Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health.
“If you’ve had three glasses of wine at a restaurant, you might be more likely to order the slice of cheesecake,” he says. “And the greasy breakfast the next morning.”
A two-year study published in October 2015 in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that moderate intake of wine, particularly red wine, among diabetics as part of a healthy diet actually decreased their cardiometabolic risk, which is a person’s risk for heart disease, diabetes or stroke. Participants in the study who drank alcohol, versus those who didn’t, showed no difference in weight gain.
“The study showed that in some cases, alcohol in moderation could actually increase some people’s metabolism,” Dr. Rimm says. The basic formula for weight loss remains calories-in versus calories-out, he notes.
Everyone’s body reacts differently to alcohol as well as to different foods, and it’s important to be conscious of those reactions. “If you eat white bread or white rice, it often causes the body’s blood glucose to spike,” Dr. Rimm says. “Your body needs to produce a lot of insulin to absorb that glucose and as a result, it’s not unusual to feel hungry a few hours later.”
Keeping a journal of what you eat and how it makes you feel can help lead to the best strategy for maintaining a healthy weight and diet, Dr. Rimm says.