How alcohol might be affecting your waistline
If you’ve chosen to try and lose weight, the hidden calories in alcohol could be sabotaging your efforts. But don’t worry, here’s all you need to know about calories and alcohol.
We often overlook what we’re drinking when we’re trying to lose weight. But a nightly tipple or regular drinks in the pub could be affecting your waistline more than you imagine. Over the last couple of years, repeated lockdowns have led to many of us drinking more than usual – and putting weight on as a result. In fact, Drinkaware research found that more than four in 10 people classed as ‘high-risk drinkers’ reported putting on weight during the pandemic.1
But why does alcohol make you put on weight so easily? And how can you take steps to reduce your alcohol intake, as well as your waistline?
Calories and alcohol
We put on weight when we take in more calories than we burn. You probably have a good idea already of what foods can be high in calories. But you may be surprised by how much that glass of wine or bottle of beer in the evening can add to your calorie intake too.
Alcohol is formed from natural sugars, through a process called fermentation. So, all alcoholic drinks tend to be high in sugar by their very nature. In fact, recent research from the Alcohol Health Alliance revealed just two glasses of wine can contain almost an entire day’s recommended sugar intake.2
The high sugar content in alcohol means that it’s high in calories too. A standard (175ml) glass of wine or small (330ml) bottle of beer can have between 140 and 160 calories. That’s around the same as a small chocolate bar or a couple of digestive biscuits. What’s worse, the calories from beer, wine or other alcoholic drinks are known as ‘empty calories’. This means they don’t give you any added nutritional value – there’s no goodness from protein, fibre, vitamins or minerals in alcohol.3
How many calories are in a drink?
The calorie content in your drink will depend on exactly what you’re drinking, the size of your drink and whether you’re adding anything else – like mixers or flavourings.
Here are some examples of estimated calories in some popular drinks – from the worst offenders to the least. You can also find out more on our Unit and calorie calculator.
- Large bottle of 4.5% cider (660ml) = around 290 calories
- Pint of 5% ale or stout = can contain over 250 calories
- Pint of 4.5% cider = around 245 calories
- Large (250ml) glass of 13% red wine = around 225 calories
- 50 ml glass of Irish liqueur = around 175 calories
- Bottle of 4% Alcopop (275ml) = around 170 calories
- Small (330ml) bottle of 5% beer = around 142 calories
- Rum and coke (single measure of rum, with 150ml Coca-Cola) = around 119 calories
- Glass of 12% prosecco (125ml) = around 108 calories
- Gin and tonic (single measure of gin, with 150ml tonic) = around 87 calories
- Single measure of whiskey = around 56 calories
For comparison, a chocolate digestive is about 80 calories, while a jam donut is around 289 calories.
Other reasons alcohol can cause weight gain
It’s worth remembering that it’s not just the alcohol itself that adds to your calorie intake. If you’re adding in sugary syrups and flavourings, or high-sugar mixers, like soft drinks, orange juice or tonic, your calorie intake will rocket even further. Alcoholic cocktails also tend to be highly calorific, so swapping to a mocktail could be a tasty alternative. If you’re prone to a bag of salty nuts or crisps whenever you have a drink, you’ll know how easy it is to snack when you’re drinking.
We’re more likely to eat unhealthy foods when we’re drinking too. It’s easy to be tempted by a kebab or burger on the way home from a night out. Or to skip dinner if you’ve been to the pub and get a portion of chips or a takeaway instead. If you’re suffering from a hangover the day after drinking, you might also be more likely to comfort eat. And to top it off, you’re probably less likely to exercise or be active the following day.
Ways to reduce your alcohol intake and cut calories
By cutting back on alcohol, you’ll instantly be reducing your calorie intake as well as gaining numerous other health benefits. Here are just some quick ways to get started.
- Downsize. Go for smaller measures of your favourite drinks. The difference between a large glass of wine (225 calories) and a medium one (159 calories) can be more than 60 calories. Dropping from a double measure of gin to a single one could also save you 55 calories.
- Alternate drinks. Try alternating every alcoholic drink with a glass or water or a low-calorie soft drink, such as lime and soda. Cutting out just a couple of alcoholic drinks could save yourself hundreds of calories over the course of an evening.
- Drink-free days. Taking several drink-free days every week is a great way to cut down. Not only will it help you to keep within low-risk drinking guidelines, it will reduce your calorie intake across the week too. Win win.
- Make it last. The trouble with liquid calories like alcohol is that you can consume a lot, very quickly. Pace yourself and try to make your drink last for longer. Watering down your drink – adding soda or ice, for instance – will help too.
- Try non-alcoholic, alcohol-free and lower alcohol strength alternatives. Swapping a regular alcoholic wine or beer with an alcohol-free or lower alcohol version could reduce your alcohol intake and save you some calories. A medium-sized glass of low alcohol wine is around 50 calories for instance, compared to 159 for a standard alcohol wine. While a 500ml bottle of low-alcohol ale is 85 calories, compared to 160 for a standard alcoholic version.
- Keep track. Using the MyDrinkaware App can help you keep track of your drinking. It can also tell you how many calories you might be consuming from alcohol.
Find out more
 Pearson A., & Slater, E. (2021, October). Drinking through the pandemic. Drinkaware Monitor 2021. PS Research and Drinkaware. https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/media/c5fjnwjo/drinkaware-monitor-2021-research-report-final.pdf
 Sugar content in wine revealed: Health experts deem alcohol labelling ‘woefully inadequate’. Alcohol Health Alliance, 16 February 2022. https://ahauk.org/news/sugar-content-in-wine-revealed-health-experts-deem-alcohol-labelling-woefully-inadequate/ [Accessed 18 February 2022]
 Alcohol facts: Food fact sheet. BDA – the Association of UK Dietitians, April 2019 https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/alcohol-facts.html [Accessed 18 February 2022]
*Please note that all drink and food calories used in this article, including soft drinks, are estimated calculations only and are from a variety of sources, including the NHS, Drinkaware Unit & Calorie Counter and Tesco. Calorie calculations given for alcoholic drinks can also vary by brand and ABV.