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Thursday, November 3, 2016

Does alcohol turn into sugar? Well, not really. But there are calories. Metabolic pathway explained.

The Christmas party/New Year festivities and the silly season is here, and it usually involves a few drinks.  You might find it interesting to know how your body processes alcohol, and why it might pack on a few extra kilos.

– Alcohol (ethanol) is a toxin and is given metabolic preference by the body, to be broken down before other foods and drinks.  The liver can break down, on average, a standard drink an hour.  Any more than this, we get a little tipsy, and then drunk.  This is because the liver can’t keep up with the intake, and the alcohol starts making its way through our body.–

– Food eaten with booze takes second place. The body will break down the alcohol first and then the food.

– If there is a lot of booze consumed with food, the body will breakdown the food you have eaten into fat and store it in your body – common storage areas are tummy and hips!

– That “beer belly” is not really beer causing the bulge.  It’s the food that the body hasn’t needed to use for immediate energy, as it was too busy breaking down the alcohol.



Alcohol, at no stage of being broken down, turns into sugar!
This is in reference to pure alcohol.  Wine and beer do contain small amounts of sugar from the fermentation process of the raw ingredients used to make it. I.e, wine is made with grapes that contain fruit sugars.

Keep in mind too, that soft-drinks added to liquors for long drinks, do contain high levels of sugar, as well as undesirable chemicals.


Below is the main chemical pathway for breaking down alcohol.

Ethanol (alcohol)  -> Acetaldehyde  -> Acetate  -> water and CO2

  • Acetaldehyde is a toxic by-product and known carcinogen. Thankfully this by-product is short lived

image source :

At each stage of the reaction, bonds are broken and energy released.  Alcohol does provide calories, which is probably why it dulls the appetite.  For example you may have come home starving for dinner, had a beer and then not felt it was so urgent about eating after that.

Energy value of:

Alcohol (ethanol):            29 kilojoules/gram

Fats / Lipids:                    37 kilojoules/gram

Carbohydrates:                 17 kilojoules/gram

Protein:                             17 kilojoules/gram


Alcohol is often referred to as “empty calories”.  Meaning, it has no micro-nutrients in it.  Micro- nutrients are things like vitamins and essential amino acids.  Alcohol does provide energy, however, on its own it is not enough to sustain life for any length of time.  Too much alcohol will damage the body in a number of ways, as well as not providing the basic nutritional needs.

Everything in moderation.  Good food and good drink.  Just not too much.
Except fun and laughter; it’s priceless and calorie-free!


“One martini is just right; two is too many, three is not enough.”    James Thurber

“Moderation in all things, especially moderation.”   Ralph Waldo Emerson