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Q&A: Beer on a Low-Carb Diet

Maltose, Carbs, and Alcohol in Beer


Updated May 29, 2014

Glass of Beer At Bar
Marianna Massey/Digital Vision/Getty Images
Question: I have heard conflicting things about drinking beer on a low-carb diet. I have heard that the carbs in beer are just like any other carbohydrate. I have also read that the maltose in beer makes it more glycemic and it is bad on a low-carb diet. Then there is the alcohol -– I have heard that it is worse than other carbs, and better than other carbs. Can you help untangle this for me? I’d love to have a beer now and then, but not if it’s going to slow down my progress.

Answer: I’m going to take the questions about the alcohol separately from the carbs in beer.

The Alcohol: Although alcohol is often lumped in with carbohydrate, it acts differently in the body. For one thing, when there is alcohol in the body, its calories are used first for energy, before carbohydrate or fat. It can also have some unpredictable effects on blood sugar. This is because when alcohol is present, the liver goes to work on it immediately. The liver’s job is to get rid of toxins in the body, and alcohol is like a poison in that way. While the liver is working on breaking down the alcohol, it isn’t doing its other jobs as well, including regulating the amount of glucose in the blood. So blood glucose can drop quickly. To minimize this, don’t drink on an empty stomach, and limit alcohol to two drinks per day for a man, or one drink for a woman. (A drink is 12-ounce beer, 4-ounce wine, or a jigger of distilled alcohol.)

The Carbs: There is some confusion about maltose in beer because of things written in some low-carb diet books. Although the malted barley used to make beer produces maltose, a sugar that has a glycemic index higher than glucose, the fermentation process uses up all the maltose in the beer while it is being brewed. The USDA database shows that there is no maltose in beer. However, there is carbohydrate in beer that should be counted as you would count any other carb. The amount varies depending upon the brand of beer. Regular beer averages about 12 grams of carbohydrate per 12 oz can or serving.

Light beer isn’t necessarily low-carb beer -– some light beer has almost as much carbohydrate as regular beer. Most, though, is in the range of 3 to 7 grams of carbohydrate per serving. Read each label when deciding.

Ale generally has somewhat less carbohydrate than regular beer (5-9 grams per serving), whereas stout is the worst kind of beer you can drink on a low-carb diet –- it has around 20 grams of carb per 12-oz serving.

More information about low-carb alcoholic beverages.

About.com's Beer Site
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