Low-calorie cocktails may be no better for you than a piña colada.
Since Bethenny Frankel launched Skinnygirl Cocktails in 2009, there has been a booming trend of supposedly guilt-free drinks promising all the fun of alcohol with the weight gain.
It was so successful that Frankel sold off the business for an eye-watering $100 million in 2011, leading to her appointment on the TV show Shark Tank.
However, nutritionists warn readers to do their research before assuming that slim-line liquor is compatible with staying slender or trying to get fit for summer.
Is it really guilt-free fun? Bethenny Frankel’s Skinnygirl Cocktails helped start the ‘diet’ alcohol drink trend in 2009 – but doctors warn they may not be as healthy as consumers think
All alcohol – ‘skinny’ or not – slows down digestion and triggers the appetite, causing people to overeat, studies show.
Ultimately ‘booze is booze’, dietitians told Daily Mail Online, and despite the low calorie count these ‘diet’ cocktails have the same impact on the waistline as your standard gin and tonic as we lead up to the summer slim-down.
While a drink with fewer calories is better alternative to a high caloric drink diluted with milk, ice cream and mixers, alcohol still has the same effect.
‘If you’re going to drink you have to know that booze is booze,’ Adrienne Daly, personal development based nutrition coach, told Daily Mail Online.
A 2015 study found published in the journal Obesity found alcohol makes people’s brain more sensitive to food aromas, making them crave food and devour more than they’d consume while sober. Thus, increasing the risk of weight gain.
Another study published in the 2017 issue of Nature Communications found alcohol boosts the activity of Agrp neurons, which trigger feelings of intense hunger when stimulated. In other words, a cocktail, regardless of how many calories it has, can trick the brain into thinking it’s hungry, causing it to eat more.
‘Low calorie drinks can provide a fraction of the calories of a high-calorie beverage, but they can still stimulate your appetite and light up areas of your brain that make you crave fat and treats like burgers, fries and dessert,’ registered dietitian Julie Upton told Daily Mail Online.
A year after the Skinnygirl brand expanded to include wine and vodkas in 2012, there was a 44 percent increase in restaurants using the phrase ‘skinny’ on their drink menus.
HOW MANY CALORIES ARE IN A SKINNYGIRL DRINK COMPARED TO OTHERS?
- Skinnygirl: 148 calories/ 6 ounces
- Standard: 168 calories/ 6 ounces
- Skinnygirl: 128 calories/ 6 ounces
- Standard: 217 calories/ 6 ounces
- Skinnygirl: 132 calories/ 5 ounces
- Standard: 173 calories/ 5 ounces
Other liquor brands have gave in to the trend. Smirnoff has launched Sorbet Light flavored vodkas with 78 calories per serving, compared to regular vodka’s 100 calories.
Daly said many drinks marketed as skinny are often highly processed, and make up for these lower calories by adding sweeteners and chemicals.
‘People are drinking processed drinks in the name of no sugar, she said. ‘These chemicals cause you to desire more and more flavor.’
The Skinnygirl margaritas are sweetened with agave nectar, a sweetener high in fructose – which a 2013 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has linked to overeating.
Daly isn’t exactly sure which chemicals are in these drinks marketed as ‘skinny’, since listing ingredients or major food allergens on alcohol beverages are optional under the Federal Alcohol Administration Act.
However, it was revealed in 2011 that Frankel’s Skinnygirl Margarita contained low levels of the preservative sodium benzoate, which studies have shown can become toxic when used in products than contain vitamin C, like lemon or lime.
This mixture creates benzene, a chemical that has been linked to leukemia and other cancers, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Daly also said drinking these sort of cocktails will make people feel ‘cheated’ and ‘craving more.’
‘To drink light anything gives you permission to do more,’ she added.
Regardless of the amount of calories it contains, alcohol is metabolized more quickly in the liver because it’s a toxin, Upton added. This slows down the fat burning process.
A 1992 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found alcohol temporarily inhibits lipid oxidation, or makes it more difficult for the body to burn fat that’s already there.
Alcohol isn’t digested like other foods when consumed. In fact, it forgoes the normal digestive process and goes directly into the bloodstream.
On average, about 20 percent of alcohol enters the bloodstream through the stomach and 80 percent is absorbed into the bloodstream through the small intestine, according to Dr Tania Elliot, chief medical officer at EHE International.
Then it goes to the liver where enzymes break it down.
Alcohol, which is more quickly stored as fat than even excess calories from sugar (carbohydrate) or from protein, contributes to weight gain ‘because of the liver’s job in processing it; since the liver considers alcohol a toxin, it will go to work on it first, before fat, protein, or carbohydrate,’ wrote registered dietitian Susan Burke March.
Furthermore, a 2010 study published in the BMJ revealed drinking alcohol can slow digestion.
This process, which occurs regardless of how many calories are in an alcoholic drink, slows down the burning of fat, which leads to weight gain.
‘Your body can’t store calories for alcohol the way that food calories are, so the alcohol metabolism gets prioritized over food, making the food more likely to tuck away into calories for fat storage,’ Dr Elliot told Daily Mail Online.
Daly said there are too many variables, such as digestion issues, stress, and anxiety, to determine how alcohol is going to be processed.
However, experts say lower calorie drinks do have some benefits when consumed in moderation because contain fewer empty calories.
‘The benefits of a lower calorie alcoholic beverage is that it can help you save some calories,’ Upton said. ‘Many mixed drinks can have 400 or more calories per drink, so it’s not uncommon for people to drink more than 1,000 calories worth of alcoholic beverages without even realizing it.’
Daly adds said people should drink in moderation and obsess too much about how many calories a drink have.
‘I go for a glass of champagne, it’s cleaner and has low sugar. It’s such a simple process and there’s no chemicals in it,’ Daly told Daily Mail Online.
‘Enjoy it for what it is, regardless of how many calories it has, but then get right back on track,’ she added.
‘There’s an advantage to incorporating Skinnygirl drinks occasionally – not from the positive health effects, but for enjoyment of having a drink,’ Daly said.
Dr Elliot added that when drinking people should take small sips and ‘switch off with carbonated beverages like seltzer – it helps you feel more full.’