Does Drinking Beer Really Make You Fat?

By: Laurie L. Dove  | 

Ever wonder why they call it a beer belly?
Ever wonder why they call it a beer belly?
Michael Greenberg/Digital Vision/Getty Images

It's one of marketing's cruelest notions: A television commercial starring beautiful people -- at the bar, the beach, the rooftop rave -- dancing, flirting, and looking fit and fabulous. And drinking beer.

The idea that a person can drink plenty of beer and maintain a stunning shape is a trope that simply won't die. When a six-pack of beer is involved, the reality is probably more muffin-top or beer-belly than six-pack abs. But is beer really to blame? More precisely, is it the combination of calories and alcohol in beer that's working against your waistline?

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The 150 calories in your average beer may not seem so bad, but most people don't drink just one [source: Zelman]. That single beer can quickly turn into two or three. The influx of alcohol wreaks havoc on your appetite, too. You may have intended to order a salad with dressing on the side, but after your third beer, deep-fried hot wings sound so much better.

If this weren't bad enough, your body stops burning fat when it detects alcohol, creating a worst-case scenario for weight gain. When you drink beer, about 20 percent of the alcohol enters your bloodstream where it's eventually metabolized in your liver. Once your brain realizes acetate and acetaldehyde --byproducts of that metabolism -- are in your system, it stops burning fat and concentrates on ridding the body of these byproducts. Ironically, it also begins producing a different kind of fat that also is a byproduct of alcohol: acetyl CoA.

Because your body can only process a finite amount of alcohol per hour (15 to 30 milliliters or 1/2 to 1 fluid ounce), the more beer you drink, the more fat your body creates from acetyl CoA and the longer it takes to resume burning fat. For example, if a pint of beer contains 4 percent alcohol (or 22.7 milliliters), it will be at least an hour before fat burning starts up again. And, if you drink a six-pack (136 milliliters or 5 fluid ounces of alcohol), you won't burn fat for at least six hours [source: Men's Health].

This is bad news, especially for aging beer drinkers. Flagging hormone levels makes us more prone to storing fat around the waistline as we age, and drinking beer can compound the problem. The same "spare tire" phenomenon is true for those who drink beer and smoke cigarettes as well, and has been linked to a range of health problems, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure [source: Zelman].

The effects of beer on aging could be one reason why most beer commercials seem to cast actors barely older than the legal drinking age: Fewer beer bellies to shoot around.

Originally Published: Sep 5, 2014

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Beer Fat FAQ

How many calories are in a beer?
It really depends on what beer you're drinking. Beer has an average of 150 calories per regular-sized can or bottle (no tallboys here). Light beers have around 70 to 100 calories while darker and richer beers have 170 to 230+ calories.
Does beer make you gain weight?
Yes, it definitely can. One pint doesn't hurt, but very few people ever consume just one beer. Similarly, people tend to crave unhealthy food when drinking, like wings, pizza, and burgers, which are also high in calories and fat. But the biggest reason why drinking beer can cause weight gain is that the human body stops burning fat when it detects alcohol in the system in order to concentrate on getting rid of the liver's byproducts from alcohol consumption.
Can I drink beer and still lose weight?
Yes, but there are a few general rules to follow. Increase the amount of exercise you're doing and monitor the amount and calorie-content of any alcohol you drink. Consider switching to light beer, which tends to have just under 100 calories per serving. Drink a glass of water for every beer you consume and limit the number of drinks you have. Finally, skip the fatty snacks and opt for healthier, protein-rich foods while you're drinking.
What causes a hard beer belly?
If your belly is hard, you may be at risk for some serious health issues. This could be a build up of hard fat or visceral fat. It's packed tightly into the spaces between organs in your abdominal cavity and eventually pushes your abdominal wall outwards, giving the appearance of a gut. If you have this, don't panic. However, it is a serious sign that you need to make a few changes to your lifestyle.
Is a beer a day bad for you?
Not necessarily, as long as you account for the calories in it. In fact, moderate drinking — one to two drinks per day for males and one drink a day for women — may lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and dementia, improve blood sugar, and strengthen bones.

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  • Men's Health. "How Beer Makes You Fat." (July 2, 2014) http://www.menshealth.co.uk/lose-weight/fast-tips/how-beer-makes-you-fat-323945
  • Zelman, Kathleen. "The Truth About Beer and Your Belly." WebMD. 2010. (July 2, 2014) http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/the-truth-about-beer-and-your-belly