It's not called a beer belly for nothing: Alcohol is a common culprit behind abdominal fat. Abdominal fat can be dangerous, increasing your risk for weight-related problems ranging from cardiovascular disease to high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea and some types of cancer. The bigger your waist measurement, the higher the risk, and a measurement of 40 inches or more usually means it's time to do something about it. If you drink a lot of beer — or any alcohol — cutting back on that habit may be a good place to start.
Blame the beer?
Since alcohol is toxic to the liver, the body eliminates it as quickly as possible and burns those calories off first, ahead of calories obtained from other foods. But that doesn't mean you can drink more! Calories consumed in excess, no matter what the source, will be stored as fat. If your intake is too high and/or you're not expending enough energy through physical activity, you're sure to pile on the pounds.
Men are especially at risk for abdominal weight gain — and not just because they may drink more beer. In nutrition-speak, males are typically "apple-shaped," meaning fat tends to concentrate around their waists. Women tend to be "pears," with more fat around their hips and thighs. The good news for "apples" is that upper-body fat usually gets burned before the more stubborn lower-body fat of "pears" (which is meant to see women through pregnancy). And you don't have to be a teetotaler to bust that gut.
Enjoy beer without the gut
You can enjoy alcohol in moderation and still drop the excess. It helps to follow our gut-be-gone guide:
1. Choose light beer over the full-strength brew: It's lower in calories.
2. To slow your beer consumption, quench your thirst first with water, then alternate beer with nonalcoholic beverages, preferably low-calorie ones like seltzer.
3. Feel like a nice cold beer? Why not go for a walk and then have it? Not only does walking or jogging one mile burn the calories in an average drink, but keeping active has many other health benefits as well. So get moving!
4. Trade calories from alcohol with calories from other foods. For example, if you'd like a drink, pass on that bag of potato chips or other treat (but don't sacrifice healthy choices such as fruits and vegetables in favor of more booze, which is low in nutrients).
While moderate drinking has documented potential benefits, particularly on cardiovascular health, overindulgence is dangerous. Men generally shouldn't drink more than one or two drinks per day; a "drink" is usually defined as an ounce of alcohol, equivalent to that found in a 12-ounce bottle of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits. (It's a good idea to talk with your physician for advice about your own use of alcohol.)
Alcohol stimulates the appetite. And the majority of calories consumed at parties isn't necessarily from the alcohol as much as from the snacks that usually come with it. Instead of nuts, cheese, corn chips or potato chips, try:
- Crunchy vegetable crudités such as carrots, bell peppers, celery, and zucchini. Swap creamy dips for salsa or bean dip.
- Popcorn (but skip the butter).
- Toasted pita bread.
The moderation strategy
Approximately half of U.S. males are overweight, with one in four trying to lose weight at any given time, according to American Medical Association figures. Many give up early because they fear they will have to go hungry and/or give up booze while on a diet. But the key to weight loss is eating smarter, not starving yourself or giving up everything you enjoy. So have the occasional beer, if you like. Moderation is the key!