Are These Hidden Calories Causing Weight Gain?

We hear a lot about reducing added sugar, but there's another source of empty calories that's often overlooked. Learn more about the hidden calories that could be causing your weight gain.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #392

We hear a lot from nutrition experts about limiting our intake of added sugars. And, to our credit, our added sugar consumption has ever so slowly begun to decline. But there’s another very common source of empty calories in our diets that doesn’t receive nearly as much as attention. And the average number of calories we take in from this other, overlooked source has more than doubled over the last twenty years.

What is this stealthy diet wrecker? Alcohol.

In 1991, Americans consumed about 350 calories per week per person in the form of beer, wine, liquor, or mixed drinks. By 2012, it was more than 700 calories per week per person. But perhaps per capita consumption figures aren’t the best way to look at it, because those calories are being averaged across the entire adult population, including those who don’t drink at all.

Although the percentage of adults that drink alcohol has increased slightly, the numbers also show that those who drink are drinking more and more frequently than they used to. The proportion of adults who have a drink on any given day has doubled, from 1 in 8 to 1 in 4. Drinkers now take in an average of 3,000 calories per week in 2012, up from just over 2000 calories per week two decades ago. That means that for regular drinkers, alcoholic beverages may now contribute 15 to 20% of their total calorie intake. 

See also: How Many Calories Do You Need?

I’ve talked before about healthy limits for alcohol consumption. One to two drinks per day may confer some mild benefits in terms of reducing inflammation and cardiovascular disease risk. Drinking more than that, however, has no benefits and variety of increased risks. But even for those who are within those guidelines, the extra calories that alcohol contributes may be a separate issue.


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.