Yes, there are calories in alcohol. But how many and are they the same as calories in food?

Tray of food and a glass of beer

ndemello / Pixabay

Most people seem to understand that carbohydrates, protein and fat in foods and beverages are sources of calories. But what about that bottle of beer or glass of wine you’re having with your meal? Will that add lots of calories, too? If so, will they count as much?

I asked registered dietitian nutritionist Eileen Molloy for the answers.

Yes, alcohol contributes calories — and it’s a pretty dense source.

To compare all four calories sources:

  • carbohydrate and protein have about 4 calories per gram
  • fat has about 9
  • and alcohol has 7 calories per gram.

Without even knowing what a gram is, you can get the idea that alcohol is a denser source of calories than carbohydrate and protein and close to fat.

To put that in more practical terms, alcoholic beverages can put a dent in your calorie budget, depending on what you drink and how much.

Here is an example for a defined drink (these have about the same amount of alcohol):

  • 12 oz beer: @ 150 calories
  • 5 oz wine: @ 120 calories
  • 1.5 oz spirits @ 100 calories

Then there is the issue of how much is actually drunk. How much rum was actually in that rum and coke? The smallest wine glass you can buy today is 10 oz, and many hold 20 oz.

Obviously, adding a mixer such as soda, orange juice or milk also affects the calories in the drink.

Are calories in alcohol like calories in food?

As to the second part of the question, alcohol is metabolized through different pathways in the body, using different enzymes than carbohydrate, protein or fat. Amounts more than what the body needs in terms of total calories can be stored as fat from any of these sources.

The answers to this week’s Catching Health Q&A were provided by Eileen Molloy MS, RDN, CDE. She is a certified diabetes educator and on the board of the Maine Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (MAND).

If you have a health-related related question (nothing personal, please) send me an email or use the comment box below.

Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. Now she writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.