Drinking Alcohol on the South Beach Diet

Wine glasses with bottle

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Are you considering the South Beach Diet? If you enjoy an occasional glass of wine or beer, you should know that you'll have to change your drinking habits on this diet. Alcohol is restricted in each of the phases. 

Phase 1

Alcoholic beverages are not allowed during Phase 1 of the South Beach Diet. Phase 1 is the first two weeks of the diet when the eating rules are more restrictive. During this time, you will avoid booze altogether and be a complete teetotaler. If you are obese, you may need to extend Phase 1 and that will mean avoiding alcohol for a longer period of time.

The only exception to the ban on alcohol during Phase 1 is the use of wine for cooking. Some recipes call for a small amount of wine (usually a dry white wine or a dry red wine) for cooking vegetables or meat. Dry table wine is nearly carb-free so you can use it while you're cooking without it affecting your dieting success or your blood sugar.

Be careful about the wine you use, though. Dessert wines and liquors should not be used in cooking because of their sugar content. If you are making a sweet recipe, such as a fruit dish or dessert, it may call for a liqueur and even a small amount has too many grams of sugar. Skip it in the recipe or choose to cook a different dish.

Phase 2 and Phase 3

Phase 2 of the South Beach Diet is less restrictive than Phase 1. During this stage of your weight loss process, you begin to add in more healthy carbohydrates. Weight loss usually slows to a steady pace of 1-2 pounds per week. You stay in Phase 2 until you reach your goal weight and then you transition to Phase 3, a less restrictive maintenance phase.

Certain drinks, such as red or white wine can be consumed once you begin Phase 2 of The South Beach Diet. Dr. Agatston recommends dry wines over other alcoholic beverages. Wine isn't necessarily considered a "healthy" carbohydrate, but small amounts of wine consumed in moderation won't necessarily derail your eating plan.

If you're not a wine drinker, some other alcoholic beverages are allowed. Light beers and certain liquors such as bourbon, gin, rum, sake, tequila, vodka can be consumed. And of course, portion size is key.

It is recommended that you limit your consumption to two servings per week. What's a serving?

  • A single serving of wine is four ounces
  • A single serving of light beer is twelve ounces 
  • A single serving of liquor is one and a half ounces (which may be smaller than the size of your shot glass depending on its size)

Mixers should be non-caloric rather than sugared tonic water. Think of mixing with sparkling water or seltzer. High calorie, sweetened mixers are off limits.

Some beverages remain off-limits even during Phase 2 and into Phase 3 of The South Beach Diet. These include full-calorie beer, liqueur such as Kahlua, brandy and wine coolers (due to added sugar). You should avoid sugary cocktails like margaritas and mai tais as well

Last but not least, if you're on the South Beach Diet and you're going to imbibe, make sure it's during or immediately following a meal because doing so will affect the way your blood sugar reacts to the drink.

Why Avoid Alcohol

Alcoholic beverages contain few carbohydrates, which are the chief targets to eliminate on the South Beach Diet. So you may wonder why alcohol is on the "bad" list for this eating plan. The reason is related to the way alcohol is converted by your body. Alcohol turns into sugar when you consume it. This conversion of alcohol to sugar once it is absorbed will cause your blood sugar to spike. Booze is also metabolized by your body before other healthier nutrients are used.

Remember, the purpose of Phase 1 is to level out your blood sugar so cravings for "bad" carbs will subside and you'll begin losing weight. When you avoid alcohol on the South Beach Diet and when you limit booze during Phases 2 and 3, you allow your body to function in a more steady state and help to reduce cravings for less healthy foods.

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