Alcohol Vs. Soft Drinks Which is Worse: The Complete Comparison

Alcohol Vs. Soft Drinks Which is Worse: The Complete Comparison

Everyone knows that alcohol is bad for your body, especially the liver. And everybody knows sugar is bad too. But what’s the difference between drinking a coke vs. a beer? How OK is it to give soft drinks to your child on a daily basis, when compared with having a glass of wine each day?

Alcohol and Soda are very similar, they will both cause the same chronic effects such as heart disease or addiction. Alcohol is considered a toxin, so only 80% of it gets metabolized in the liver while the rest goes mostly to the brain, causing acute effects. 100% of soda gets metabolized in the liver, turning most of it into VLDL fat.

You’re certainly not wondering “should I let my kid have a beer?” very often. Yet, most people don’t think twice about letting them have a coke.

The purpose of this article is to educate people about the danger of soft drinks and sugar in particular.

It is not to diminish the impact alcohol has on health, but to help you understand that if soda doesn’t give you immediate effects, in the long term, it’s effects are very real and very similar to those of alcohol.

On a side note, if you want the quick answer, read on. But if you want a bit more context, start with the penultimate chapter, where I give a bit more insights on the main difference between glucose, fructose, sucrose, and ethanol.

Metabilization Of Alcohol Vs. Soft Drinks

How Is Glucose Metabolized?

I’m going to talk about how alcohol and soda, especially fructose, are metabolized in the body later.

The best way to make you understand how it differs from other substance, is to take a look at how glucose gets metabolized.

When combined with fructose, one molecule of each, glucose becomes sugar. Check out my definition at the end of this article. But on its own glucose is not nearly as bad as fructose!

How is glucose metabolized?

Here’s what happens in your body when you eat rice, pasta or bread:

  1. First off, only 20% of the glucose will hit the liver
  2. 80% of it will get metabolized throughout your body
  3. When glucose hits the liver, the first thing It will do it stimulate the pancreas to produce insulin
  4. Insulin will start by storing the glucose as glycogen in the glycogen stores for later use. Think of as energy tanks in your body
  5. What it won’t turn into glycogen will get metabolized as pyruvate and enter the mitochondria
  6. Mitochondria is responsible to generate most of the chemical energy for the body, it’ll burn the pyruvate as energy
  7. A little bit of the glucose, depending on the amount, will be leftover as citrate
  8. Citrate will be transformed into fat, through a process called de novo lipogenesis: new fat making
  9. This new fat is then transformed into VLDL (very-low-density lipoprotein) and finally stored into fat tissues.

I don’t want you to get alarm about the way glucose gets metabolized and the fact that it ends up in VLDL fat.

VLDL is one of the main factors of heart disease, yes, but it doesn’t come from a bite of white bread. Only a very small part of glucose will turn into VLDL (around 1/40 or 1/50 of it).

You’ll see that, when compared with alcohol and soda, glucose is really harmless.

How Is Alcohol Metabolized?

With the way glucose is metabolized in mind, let’s take a look at how our body actually deals with alcohol consumption.

You might think most of it will go to your brain and mess with it, giving you the usual acute effects, but not exactly:

  1. Only around 20% of it will be split equally between the kidneys, muscles, brain, and the stomach and intestines. We’ll get to that later.
  2. Most of the ethanol, 80% of it, will go straight to the liver since it’ll be considered a toxin by your body
  3. The liver will have to work four times as hard since it won’t have to handle 20% of it like glucose, but 80%
  4. Ethanol will diffuse itself in the cells without the help of insulin and an enzyme will then turn in into acetaldehyde
  5. To give you an idea, pure acetaldehyde is more than 30 times more toxic than ethanol. The goal of this is that a molecule of acetaldehyde is a lot easier to break down for the liver, than a molecule of ethanol
  6. Then a second enzyme, called aldehyde dehydrogenase will break down acetaldehyde. This process will produce acetate, which is basically water and dioxide
  7. Not all of the acetaldehyde will get broken down, living the liver with some reactive oxygen species (ROS) lying around. These ROS can damage the proteins in your body in the long term, resulting in cancer and impacting aging
  8. Acetate will enter the mitochondria. This will produce an overload because acetate cannot be used as energy, it will all turn to citrate
  9. And the citrate will mostly get turned into fat through the process we mentioned earlier: de novo lipogenesis
  10. Most of the fat created from acetate citrate will be stored as visceral fat: fat surrounding your organs
  11. Some of the fat will get exported as free fatty acids in the muscles, leading in the long term to muscle insulin resistance
  12. The combination of Ethanol, ROS, and lipid droplets (excess fat) in the liver, will activate an enzyme called JNK-1. This will create a bridge between metabolism and inflammation which, in the long term, can deactivate certain insulin receptors, causing insulin resistance in the liver.
  13. With this receptor deactivated, the pancreas will pump more insulin than it should, increasing insulin resistance throughout the body
  14. Going back to the other 20%, an enzyme called catalase, combined with other enzymes break down ethanol to acetaldehyde, which will go to the brain when metabolized (around 10%)
  15. This allows acetaldehyde to combine with neurotransmitters, creating tetrahydroisoquinoline (TIQ). And this might contribute a great deal to addiction, but researches are still ongoing on this subject
  16. Lastly, there’s another component used to handle alcohol: glutathione. It’s used to neutralize the poison found in ethanol. Drinking a lot will deplete your glutathione stores, leading to the usual hangover effects

There are key points to consider when taking a look at this process when compared to how non-toxic glucose gets metabolized:

  1. With alcohol, or to be precise, ethanol, around 80% of it gets metabolized in the liver, against only 20% for carbs
  2. None of it is used to refill glycogen stores or burnt as energy
  3. So when compared with glucose, around 80% of the ethanol you drink ends as VLDL (fat) and mainly visceral fat

And all this not taking into account all the other side-effects, both immediate and chronic, I will get to later in this article.

How Are Soft Drinks Metabolized?

Soda mainly contains table sugar, or sucrose, which is composed of one molecule of glucose and one molecule of sucrose.

So we will take a look not exactly at how soda gets metabolized, but more precisely at how fructose, is metabolized.

  1. Fructose is not glucose, none of it gets metabolized throughout the body
  2. And fructose is not ethanol either, no part of it gets to the brain, muscles, intestines
  3. But like ethanol, it is treated as a foreign substance and almost 100% of it ends up going to the liver
  4. At first, fructose will get turned into fructose-1-phosphate. During this process, it will produce uric acid, which will then raise your blood pressure, leading to hypertension
  5. Fructose, unlike glucose, cannot be used as energy for the body, so it won’t be refilling glycogen stores
  6. Before turning into pyruvate, fructose will form something called xylulose-5-phosphate, which will further stimulate the de novo lipogenesis enzymes, promoting even more fat making
  7. It will be turned into pyruvate and enter the mitochondria
  8. But then, since it cannot be used as energy, none of it gets burnt off
  9. Instead, it will overload the mitochondria, much like ethanol
  10. In the mitochondria, it will get exported as citrate and turned into VLDL fat through de novo lipogenesis. Like alcohol, mostly visceral fat
  11. Some leftovers VLDL will stay in the liver, causing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in the long term
  12. And like ethanol, it will then deactivate insulin the same insulin receptor through the same process in the long term, leading to insulin resistance in the liver

When compared with alcohol, since 0% of fructose is metabolized in the brain, muscles, or other organs, it will end up in more VLDL fat.

And through other chemical processes, it will even promote more fat making than ethanol and lead to hypertension through the production of uric acid.

The Effects Of Alcohol On Health Vs. Soft Drinks

What Effects Alcohol Has On Health?

Accute Effects

The immediate effects of alcohol on the body and mind are a lot more important than any of the effects soft drinks may get you.

Of course, it all depends on how used to drinking alcohol you are, but the acute effects will include:

  • Central Nervous System (CNS) Depression, leading to trouble concentrating, loss of coordination, slowed or slurred speech
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Mood swings
  • Loss of critical judgment
  • Slowed pupil response, dulled and blurred vision
  • Decreased body temperature, also called hypothermia
  • Blood vessel dilation leading to high blood pressure
  • Increased urination, also called diuresis
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Passing out

Overall, you’ll be less inhibited when drinking alcohol, because it is thought to raise levels of GABA in the brain. It’s one of the neurotransmitters that help to feel relaxed.

It’s known to lower anxiety and stress, and high levels of GABA will result in lowered core body temperature and heart rate.

Alcohol will also raise levels of dopamine, the pleasure hormone, giving some kind of a high, by sending pleasure signals to the brain.

With alcohol, some activity in your prefrontal cortex is decreased. This part of the brain helps you think rationally. It’s also involved in the decision-making process.

This can lead to doing things without thinking about them clearly, without a critic view on it and without thinking about the consequences.

It’s also the prefrontal cortex part of the brain that helps keep control of your emotions and behaviors, impacting willpower and aggressive thoughts and actions.

Chronic Effects

Drinking alcohol chronically can cause severe mental and physical health issues, such as liver damage, cardiovascular disease, and different types of cancer.

Long-term chronic effects of alcohol include:

  • Blood disorder
  • Electrolytes abnormalities
  • Hypertension
  • Cardiac dilation
  • Heart disease
  • High blood triglycerides
  • Pancreatitis
  • Malnutrition
  • Obesity
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
  • Addiction
  • Memory loss

Chronic drinking can lead to many serious health problems. One of the organs that’ll be impacted by drinking the most is the liver.

Over time, the liver can become inflamed or even scarred. This will lead to fatty liver disease, fibrosis, cirrhosis, alcoholic hepatitis, and liver cancer.

Alcohol will also cause pancreatic production of dangerous substances, leading to pancreatitis. This is an inflammation of the pancreas, impairing digestion.

Too much alcohol can also contribute to ulcers, by wearing down the lining of the stomach and intestines, and increased production of stomach acid.

Alcohol can also impair reproductive health, including irregular menstruation and erectile dysfunction. It can also lead to miscarriage for a pregnant woman, stillbirth, or fetal alcohol syndrome.

Too much alcohol will also diminish gray and white matter in the brain. Alcohol can also hinder new brain cell growth.

Finally, liver disease can also harm the brain, altering mood, cause depression, anxiety, and impaired concentration.

What Effects Soft Drinks Have On Health?

Acute Effects

The first thing that came to mind when thinking about the acute effects of soda, is the infamous “sugar high” we often attribute to children when they had a coke or too much candy.

This theory seems to have been first mentionned in this medical litterature from 1922.

The logic behind this that sugar intake would spike up insulin, causing adrenaline production and resulting in hyperactivity.

In 1994 this thorough study debunked this theory though. Conducted on around 50 children from 3 to 10 years old, it concluded that sugar intake didn’t directly influence behavior or cognitive function in children.

I was only able to find that study, on seven healthy men randomly consuming an amount of sugar typical to common ingestion, on which they checked the acute effects on appetite and gut-derived hormone.

And its conclusion is that simple sugar consumption did not seem to affect appetite, through ghrelin, or to directly impact triglycerides concentration.

It did have an effect on some specific markers such as lactate concentration (produced from glucose) and differences in the glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide (GIP).

GIP is an inhibiting hormone found in the gut, one of its main roles is to stimulate insulin, even though in this case the difference in GIP didn’t account for much difference in insulin levels when compared to glucose levels.

Fructose is not necessary for the body, so it’s treated as a foreign substance, but it’s not considered toxic like ethanol either, so it doesn’t get metabolized in the brain.

The real effects of fructose will come later, with frequent consumption.

Chronic Effects

To put some emphasis on the chronic effects of daily soda consumption, let’s go back to some of the chronic effects of alcohol I mentioned, and check out if some of these effects are also relevant here:

  • Blood disorder
  • Electrolytes abnormalities
  • Hypertension
  • Cardiac dilation
  • Heart disease
  • High blood triglycerides
  • Pancreatitis
  • Malnutrition
  • Obesity
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
  • Addiction
  • Memory loss

Pretty relevant it would seem! Again, to take the point home, no one would give his kid a beer, but a coke or orange juice is perfectly fine. There isn’t such a big difference though.

On the whole, only four of these chronic effects don’t apply for soft drinks consumption. On the whole, getting fructose will simply replace the infamous beer belly by the less known soda belly.

The fat around your organs will still be visceral and you will still develop certain severe conditions.

And as I said earlier, fructose will also induce insulin resistance in the liver and the rest of the body, leading to metabolic syndrome, meaning :

  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar
  • Insulin resistance
  • Higher risks of cardiovascular diseases
  • Obesity

And eventually, metabolic syndrome can turn into type 2 diabetes if habits don’t change.

Fatty liver disease, usually linked to alcohol, also happens with soda. It’s called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and it comes from the leftovers lipid droplets that fructose leaves lying around in the liver.

Nutritional Value Of Alcohol Vs. Soft Drinks

What’s The Nutritional Value Of Alcohol?

Here is how much calories one gram of ethanol, meaning pure alcohol, contains:

  • Alcohol: 7 calories per gram
  • Carbohydrates: 4 calories per gram
  • Proteins: 4 calories per gram
  • Fat: 9 calories per gram

But as you may already know, especially if you checked out my article on why counting calories is not that relevant for weight loss, a calorie is not necessarily a calorie.

So, I wouldn’t advise you to drink alcohol rather than adding butter to a slice of bread because alcohol contains fewer calories than fat.

Remember here that I’m talking about pure ethanol, determining calories inside of any alcoholic beverage will depend on its alcoholic percentage and come from other content (amount of proteins and carbs).

To determine how much calories from alcohol a drink will have, you would have to take the drink’s Alcohol by Volume (ABV%) multiplied by the ratio of calories in ethanol versus calories in that drink.

Here’s an example to show you how this works, let’s take a pint of Guinness Extra Stout. A pint is around 473,176 ml (16 oz). 12 oz (355 ml) of Guinness contains 153 kcal and has an AVB% of 5% according to this table.

So to get how many calories a pint contains, let’s take 153 kcal divided by 12 oz, multiplied by 16 oz. A pint of Guinness Extra Stout equals 204 kcal.

How many calories are present in 16 oz of pure ethanol? Around 2’540.97 kcal. If we take this number and multiply it by the amount of alcohol in a Guinness (because it’s only part ethanol), we get 5% x 2’540.97 = 127.05 kcal.

This means a Guinness Extra Stout contains 204 kcal and 127.05 of these kilocalories come from alcohol, the remaining 76.95 kcal come from proteins and carbs.

The amount of proteins and carbs will widely depend on the amount of alcohol in your drink, but also added sugar.

Beers can have from 2 (pretty rare) to 15 carbs per serving depending on the brand, and white wine, red wine, or champagne around 2 carbs per serving.

Pure Gin, Whiskey, Martini, Tequila, Vodka, etc. have zero carbs. When drunk neat, if there’s no added sugar (check the bottle) hard liquors are very-low carbs.

Proteins tend to be pretty close to carbs when it comes to which alcohol contains the most. One glass of beer contains from 0.85 to 2 grams of proteins, against 0.10 gram for wines.

Again, hard liquor has zero proteins, as well as zero-carbs.

To give you a better idea, here’s a table with the number of calories, carbs, and proteins in several different types of alcohol.

Nutritional values of alcohol for 100ml (3.38 oz)

Bud Light31 kcal1.8 g0.9 g
Budweiser41 kcal3 g1.3 g
Coors Light29 kcal1.4 g0.3 g
Corona Extra42 kcal4 g0.3 g
Guinness37 kcal3 g0.3 g
Heineken42 kcal3 g0 g
Miller Light27 kcal0.9 g0.3 g
White wine62 kcal0.6 g> 0.1 g
Red wine68 kcal2.5 g> 0.1 g
Gin206 kal0 g0 g
Whiskey206 kcal0 g0 g
Vodka206 kal0 g0 g

What’s The Nutritional Value Of Soft Drinks?

Evidently, most of the nutritional value of soft drinks comes from added sugar, thus carbohydrates.

What’s interesting is that, since they’re packed with sugar and especially fructose, they’re even more efficient at making people fat.

As I mentioned when talking about how fructose gets metabolized, through by-products of fructose such as xylulose-5-phosphate, fructose will further stimulate fat making hormones.

In the 2014 Australian movie That Sugar Film, the filmmaker Damon Gameau experimented by changing his no sugar diet, to a ‘health-conscious’ diet.

Meaning he started eating only low-fat, but high sugar manufactured products. So-called ‘healthy’ and ‘diet’ products. He was getting around 160 grams (40 tsp) of sugar a day.

In 60 days, without changing how many calories he ate during this time, around 2’300 calories a day, Gameau witnessed an 8.5 kg weight gain, 7% more body fat.

That’s not all, he also developed insulin resistance and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease after only eighteen days.

That Sugar Film is a great documentary on the dangers of sugar, you should definitely give it a watch

My point with this is that fructose metabolism will promote fat making and, again, a calorie is not a calorie. A calorie from an orange juice is not the same as a calorie from a whole orange.

Because when eating a whole orange, you’ll actually get fibers and this will slow down the rate of intestinal absorption. This means the liver will easily be able to handle natural fructose found in fruits.

But when squeezed into a juice, that’s a whole other story. And I’m even talking about industrial orange juice!

Nutritional values of soft drinks for 100ml (3.38 oz)

Coca-Cola42 kcal10.6 g0 g
Pepsi42 kcal11.5 g0 g
Mountain Dew48 kcal13 g0 g
Dr Pepper42 kcal11.2 g0 g
Fanta48 kcal13 g0 g
Sprite42 kcal10.3 g0 g
Canada Dry39 kcal10.2 g0 g
Minute Maid Orange Juice47 kcal11.4 g0 g
Fresh Orange Juice46 kcal10.6 g0.8 g

What About Diet Soda?

A quick diversion here to mention diet soda.

Many of you may think when reading how bad fructose can be for your health, that since you’re drinking diet soda, you should be fine.

But you might also know artificial sweeteners are not all that good since they’re still heavily refined products, that might be causing other health problems.

And you would be right. Here’s a list of chronic effects you might get from getting diet soda on a daily basis:

  • Risks of cardiovascular events such as strokes or heart attack
  • High blood sugar
  • High blood pressure
  • Excess visceral fat
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes

Since the initial goal of diet soda is not to gain weight and stay healthy, this list can seem pretty odd. But those effects are real, here are a few studies on the matter to prove my point:

  • Conducted in 1986, this one year study analyzed weight change in almost 80 000 women. Women getting artificial sweeteners where more likely to gain weight (not much though, around 2 more pounds a year, but still)
  • This 2007 study states that regular diet soda consumers had a 50 percent higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome
  • This other study conducted in 2008 on more than 5 000 adults, over eight years, concluded diet soda increased the risks of obesity by 47 percent
  • Another study conducted by the University of Miami in 2012 found that diet soda increased risks of strokes and heart attacks by 43 percent
  • This last study in 2014, followed almost 60 000 women over an 8.7 years period. They concluded that drinking two or more supposedly “diet drinks” a day increased risks of cardiovascular events by 30 percent

Ultimately, this is not the subject of this article, but I still wanted to mention in order to give you the biggest overview possible on this matter.

If you’re interested in diet soda and artificial sweeteners, I already did a full article on it, especially when combined with fasting. In this article, I mention this and a lot more. Check it out!

What Is the nutritional value of non-alcoholic beer or wine ?

You might be wondering if removing the alcohol from alcohol could have an impact on its nutritional value.

To clarify, non-alcoholic beer or wine, are made out of actual beer or wine, containing alcohol. Most commonly, alcohol is removed through two processes :

  • Vacuum distillation
  • Reverse osmosis

The process of vacuum distillation will heat the beverage to a temperature high enough to make the alcohol evaporate. This is a pretty efficient and cheap method, but you might end up with a product lacking its original flavor.

That’s where reverse osmosis is used. It’s basically removing the phenolic compounds before distillation, and then returning them to the beer or whine afterwards.

Phenolic compounds are responsible for aroma, they play a big part in the taste of wine, not so much in the taste of beers, but it depends on the product.

What about nutritional value ? Well, while being alcohol-free, those beverages will not have a far greater nutritional value.

On the contrary, they will even have higher carbs count, because many manufacturers will simply add sugar in order to improve the taste, hindered by removing alcohol.

When it comes to non-alcoholic drinks, I didn’t do a full research, since it’s not the subject of this article.

But I’ve stumbled on a great and thorough article about the 10 best keto friendly non-alcoholic beers.

You might be surprised how low-carb some of them actually are, they could be a great alternative to actual beer if you’re worried about weight loss and / or alcohol.

The Addictive Effects of Alcohol Vs. Soft Drinks

When talking about addiction, drugs and alcohol are always rightly mentioned, but sugar rarely is.

While the impact sugar addiction will have on your life won’t be as devastating as alcohol, it is a very real thing.

Inside our brain is a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which is the most important part of the reward center in the brain. Any type of drug is associated with dopamine.

A drug will give you a strong sense of reward, because it’ll most often release a large amount of dopamine, making you feel a highly pleasurable high. This feeling can be so strong, you’ll want to experience it again.

When repeating the experience, your brain learns and releases less and less dopamine based on the amount of drug you consume.

Leading you to repeat, but each time with a greater amount to relive the original high, or at least, get close to it.

This, roughly put, is how you can become addicted to a substance. And alcohol works exactly that way.

As I mentioned earlier, the way Tetrahydroisoquinolines (THQ) is overproduced when ethanol is metabolized in the brain, is also believed to have an effect on addiction, through increased synthesis of morphine and codeine.

But it’s also been known for a while that sugar, and fructose, in particular, works exactly the same way. Activating the opiate receptors in the brain and affecting the reward center.

Like any other drug, sugar will reinforce those neuropathways each time you get soft drinks or sweets, building up increased tolerance to sugar with each sip or bite.

A crazy study was conducted on rat labs, where they took a look at the neurons activated in the pleasure center, associated with Oreo vs. Cocaine consumption.

What they found is that more neurons where activated in the particular part of the brain with Oreo, sweets, than with cocaine.

They even state that, just like humans, rats will start eating the middle of the cookie (the filling), first!

This 2008 study from Princeton also found that rats were becoming addicted to sugar, leading to cravings, binging, and withdrawal.

Lastly, this review from 2013, concludes that the reward experienced in the brain when eating sugar is even more rewarding and attractive than cocaine.

And like a drug, sugar will also cause heavy side effects on withdrawal, depending on how addicted you are in the first place. They include:

  • Depression
  • Cravings
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Problem focusing and other cognitive impairments

I’m not talking much about alcohol here because we all know the addictive effects of it. Sure, people know they can get addicted to sugar, but it’s often treated as a “funny” thing.

The “funny” thing is that most of us already are addicted to sugar at one level or the other. And while in many cases it cannot be compared to alcoholism, in the long term, if not treated its damage on health can become quite similar.

Some Clarifications On The Subject

The Difference Between Glucose, Fructose, And Sucrose

Glucose, fructose, and sucrose are natural sugars that can be found in vegetables and fruits, but their composition differs quite a bit from one another.

Glucose is a monosaccharide, also called simple sugar. It’s the basic, single most important carbohydrate in biology. It’s used by cells as a source of energy.

Glucose is also on the main products of photosynthesis, through water and carbon dioxide, found in surrounding air, a plant will convert into glucose and oxygen.

The sugar from glucose feeds the plant, which helps plants growing, flowers forming, developing fruits and seeds.

Fructose is more specifically fruit sugar. It’s also a monosaccharide, found in most plants but mainly in fruit as you might expect.

It can also be found in honey and it’s mainly used commercially through high fructose corn syrup. It’s been found to be the sweetest carbohydrates as well as the one with the highest glycemic index.

Sucrose is not a monosaccharide, it’s a combination of both glucose and fructose. It’s also commonly referred to as table sugar or saccharose.

A sucrose molecule is a disaccharide composed of one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose.

All three are natural and organics forms of carbohydrates, but they differ by their glycemic index and the way they’re metabolized in the body.

The idea in this article is not to confuse simple glucose you can find in your everyday healthy food, organic fructose and sucrose you can find in fresh fruits and even some vegetables, and their refined, highly concentrated counter-parts.

You might think those are the bad guys, that fructose is really bad but combined with enough fibers and when found in whole foods, it’s really not.

The bad guy here is the way those carbs are being refined, concentrated, and turned into literal poison for the body. And I’m not only talking about alcohol.

How Sugar Differs From Ethanol

A big question I had when writing this article was that alcohol fermentation comes from sugar, how comes certain alcohol can be low carbs, and what happens to glucose, fructose, and sucrose during this process.

Alcoholic fermentation always needs some type of sugar to take place. Sugars, when combined with yeast, induce fermentation.

The type of sugar depends on the type of alcohol:

  • Beer, whiskey, vodka are produced by fermenting grain starches or potatoes. They are converted to sugar through an enzyme called amylase, which is present in malted grain
  • Wine is produced by fermenting grapes, which naturally contain sugar
  • Rum by fermenting sugarcane
  • Mead by the natural sugar present in honey
  • etc.

Each and every alcohol has it’s own source of glucose and fructose. During the process of fermentation, yeast will eat at the sugar and convert it into ethanol.

This biological process converts sugars into cellular energy, converting to ethanol and carbon dioxyde as byproducts.

When alcohol is not only fermented but also distilled, this will get rid of any left-over sugar, also called residual sugars, in alcohol.

That’s why beers and wines will have some carbs, through residual sugars, and whisky, gin or vodka will not.

Residual sugars in wine come from natural grape sugar leftovers after the alcoholic fermentation is finished. It’s measured in gram per liter and it will define how dry wine will be.

Certain wine makers will stop fermentation earlier in order to intensify the sugar naturally present in wine.

The dryer the wine, the more low-carb it will be.

This is exactly what happens with beer too. There will always be some residual sugar, some carbs, at the end of the fermentation. This sugar will mostly come from malted barley.

But this will depend on the beer and what was added to the fermentation mix (fruit extracts, honey, rice, etc.).

Some brewers even use sugars that they’re sure yeast will not be able to consume, such as lactose.

They can also adjust the conditions during fermentation in order to influence how much of sugars will be fermentable.


The aim of this article is not to say that you should be getting low-carb vodka everyday to replace your usual coke.

It’s to point at the danger of soft-drinks and manufactured fructose in particular, which, when compared thoroughly to the dangers of alcohol, end up being pretty similar.

Alcoholism can destroy your life in ways sugar cannot, because of the way alcohol is metabolized in the brain. You can lose the ability to function properly, it’ll greatly impact your decision and your behavior in a way sugar clearly won’t.

But if you’re a regular, but moderate, alcohol drinker, this can easily be compared with regular soft-drinks consumption.

Their chronic impacts on health don’t differ that much, they’re metabolized in a very similar way in the body and their addictive nature is very real and very documented.

I don’t want to guilt you into getting a Fanta with lunch or giving your kid fruit juice in the morning. But the real, devastating impact fructose can have on our health is not known enough.

And while alcohol is, rightfully, demonized, sugar, which is pretty much everything, is not and often considered a minor threat to your health. “Sure, you should try and reduce sugar, that might help with your diabetes”.

To go back to my original analogy of giving a child a beer, when you rid alcohol of its immediate acute effects, you end up with a substance pretty close to any other soft drink.

Recent Posts