Although it is known that moderate alcohol consumption does have some health benefits, it will contribute to belly fat. In fact, alcohol affects the body in several different ways that contribute to general fat, as well as extra fat around the midsection. Below are four well-documented ways that alcohol adds to belly fat, along with some advice for moderate drinkers trying to trim some of those stubborn pounds around the waist.
The most obvious reason that alcohol contributes to belly fat, as well as other fat, is that it contains calories. Alcohol contains seven calories per gram, more than both carbohydrates and protein. Even worse, the calories in alcohol are devoid of nutrition. Therefore, they are all stored as fat, contributing to that midsection.
The liver is responsible for metabolizing alcohol and for metabolizing fat. However, perhaps because of alcohol's toxicity, the liver prioritizes alcohol. This means that while the liver is processing alcohol it is losing time and energy that it could use to metabolize fat. In addition, a 2009 study in the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity suggests that, at least in adolescent women, alcohol consumption increases visceral adipose tissue, or fatty deposits around the internal organs, many of which are located at the midsection.
While men have higher levels of the hormone testosterone than women, both genders naturally produce it. Testosterone is the primary metabolic hormone. In fact, in a 1998 study published in the Obesity Research journal, lower testosterone levels in men correlated with greater amounts of belly fat. And alcohol directly suppresses testosterone production, and not just while intoxicated, but for up to 24 hours following consumption. So not only does alcohol delay your liver's ability to break down fat, but it also obstructs your body's access to the hormones it needs to break down fat once it gets started again.
Alcohol also increases appetite. A 2002 study conducted in Denmark and published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders found that men consuming alcohol with a meal ate more than men who were not. Wine increased the appetite more than beer. The difference in consumption may not have been huge, but consuming alcohol with a meal, or with meals daily, will add up over time in belly fat.
Studies show that moderate alcohol intake, especially red wine, does have health benefits, including reducing the risk of certain heart conditions and reversing some effects of aging. It is possible to drink moderately and avoid excess belly fat. But, if you're going to drink, some types of alcohol are better than others. Nutrition author Ori Hofmekler said red wine is your best choice. Beer is your worst choice, partly because the hops used to make it encourage estrogen production to the detriment of testosterone.