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Evidence Based

Can Beer Give You a Big Belly?

Drinking beer is often associated with an increase in body fat, particularly around the belly. This is even commonly referred to as a "beer belly." But does beer really cause belly fat? This article takes a look at the evidence.

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2

What Is Beer?

Beer is an alcoholic drink made from grain, such as barley, wheat or rye, that has been fermented with yeast (1).

It's flavored using hops, which make a great flavoring for beer since they're quite bitter, balancing out the sweetness from the sugar in the grains.

Some varieties of beer are also flavored with fruit or herbs and spices.

Beer is brewed in a five-step process:

  1. Malting: The grains are heated, dried and cracked.
  2. Mashing: The grains are soaked in water to release their sugars. This results in a sugary liquid called "wort."
  3. Boiling: The wort is boiled and hops are added to give beer its flavor.
  4. Fermenting: Yeast is added to the mix and the wort is fermented to form alcohol and carbon dioxide.
  5. Bottling: The beer is bottled and left to age.
The strength of a beer depends on the amount of alcohol it contains, which is measured as alcohol by volume (ABV). ABV refers to the amount of alcohol in a 3.4-oz (100-ml) drink, expressed as a percentage.

The alcohol content of beer is usually 4–6%. However, it can range from very weak (0.5%) to exceptionally strong (40%).

The main types of beer include pale ale, stout, mild, wheat beer and the most popular beer, lager. The different brew styles are made when brewers vary the grains, brewing times and flavorings they use.

Summary: Beer is an alcoholic drink made by fermenting grains with yeast. There are many different varieties that vary in strength, color and taste.

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Beer Nutrition Facts

The nutritional value of beer can vary by type. However, below are the amounts for a 12-oz (355-ml) serving of regular beer, with approximately 4% alcohol content (2):

  • Calories: 153
  • Alcohol: 14 grams
  • Carbs: 13 grams
  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Fat: 0 grams
Beer also contains small amounts of micronutrients, including sodium, potassium and magnesium. However, it's not a particularly good source of these nutrients, as you would need to drink massive amounts to satisfy your daily requirements.

It's important to note that beers with a higher alcohol content also contain more calories. This is because alcohol contains about seven calories per gram.

This is higher than carbs and protein (4 calories per gram) but lower than fat (9 calories per gram).

Summary: Beer is high in carbs and alcohol but low in almost all other nutrients. The calorie content of beer depends on its strength — the more alcohol it contains, the more calories it contains.
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3 Ways That Beer May Cause Fat Gain

It's been suggested that beer drinking may increase belly fat in a number of ways.

These include causing excess calorie consumption, preventing your body from burning fat and increasing the phytoestrogen content of your diet.

Here are the three main reasons why beer may be a particularly effective driver of belly fat gain:

1. It Increases Your Calorie Intake

Gram for gram, beer contains as many calories as a soft drink, so it has the potential to add a lot of calories to your diet ( 2, 3).

Some studies have also shown that drinking alcohol can increase your appetite in the short term, causing you to eat more than you otherwise would (4).

Furthermore, it's been shown that people don't always compensate for the calories they consume from alcohol by eating less of other foods instead (5, 6).

This means that drinking beer regularly could contribute a significant number of calories to your diet.

2. Beer May Prevent Fat Burning

Drinking alcohol can prevent your body from burning fat. This is because your body prioritizes the breakdown of alcohol over other sources of fuel, including stored fat.

In theory, regular drinking could therefore contribute to an increase in body fat.

However, studies examining this have found mixed results. Over the long term, drinking beer regularly but moderately in portions of less than 17 oz (500 ml) per day doesn't seem to lead to an increase in body weight or belly fat (7, 8).

Nevertheless, drinking more than that could very well lead to significant weight gain over time.

3. It Contains Phytoestrogens

The flowers of the hop plant are used to give beer its flavor.

This plant is known to be very high in phytoestrogens, plant compounds that can mimic the action of the female sex hormone estrogen in your body (9).

Because of their phytoestrogen content, it has been suggested that the hops in beer might cause hormonal changes in men that increase the risk of storing belly fat.

However, although it's possible that men who drink beer are exposed to higher levels of phytoestrogens, it's not known how these plant compounds affect their weight or belly fat, if at all (8).

Summary: Beer may increase the number of calories you consume and prevent your body from burning fat. The effects of the phytoestrogens on belly fat are unknown.

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Does Beer Really Cause You to Gain Belly Fat?

The fat stored around your belly is thought to be the most dangerous type of fat for your health.

Scientists call this type of fat visceral fat (10).

Visceral fat is metabolically active, which means it can interfere with your body's hormones.

This can alter the way your body functions and increase your risk of diseases like metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer (11, 12).

Even people who are at a normal weight have an increased risk of health problems if they have a large amount of belly fat (13).

Some studies have linked high alcohol intake from drinks like beer to an increased risk of belly fat gain (14).

In fact, one study found that men who drank more than three drinks per day were 80% more likely to have a lot of belly fat than men who didn't drink as much (15).

Interestingly, other studies have suggested that drinking beer in moderate amounts of less than 17 oz (500 ml) per day may not carry this risk (7, 8, 16).

However, other factors may contribute to this difference. For example, people who drink moderate amounts of beer may also have healthier lifestyles than those who consume larger amounts (7).

Most studies show that beer consumption is linked with both an increase in waist circumference and body weight. This indicates that beer drinking doesn't specifically put weight on your belly. It just makes you fatter overall (17).

This risk of weight gain may be even higher in people who are already overweight compared to normal-weight people who drink beer (18).

Overall, it's thought that the more you drink, the higher your risk of gaining weight and developing a beer belly (8, 19).

Summary: Drinking large amounts of beer has been linked with an increased risk of weight gain and belly fat.
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Men Have a Higher Risk Than Women

The link between weight gain and drinking alcohol is stronger in men than women. This is thought to be because men tend to drink more heavily than women, perhaps up to three times as much (7, 20, 21, 22).

Men are also much more likely to have an android fat distribution, meaning they store fat around the belly when they gain weight (23, 24).

Additionally, men are more likely to drink beer than women. This could be important since beer contains more calories than many other sources of alcohol.

For example, 1.5 oz (45 ml) of spirits contains around 97 calories and a standard 5-oz (148-ml) serving of red wine contains 125 calories. A standard 12-oz (355-ml) serving of beer contains more than both of these at 153 calories (2, 25, 26).

Another reason men may be at more risk of getting a beer belly is due to alcohol's effect on the male sex hormone testosterone. Drinking alcoholic drinks like beer has been shown to lower levels of testosterone (27, 28, 29).

This is important to note, since low levels of testosterone may increase your risk of weight gain, especially around the belly (30, 31, 32, 33).

In fact, 52% of obese men have levels of testosterone at the low end of the normal range (34).

This research suggests that men are much more likely to develop beer bellies.

Summary: Men tend to drink more than women, which can result in more weight gain. Drinking alcohol can also lower levels of the male sex hormone testosterone, increasing their risk of belly fat.
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Do Other Types of Alcohol Cause Belly Fat?

The most likely way beer contributes to belly fat is through the excess calories it adds to your diet.

Other types of alcohol like spirits and wine have fewer calories per standard drink than beer. This means they may be less likely to cause weight gain and belly fat.

Interestingly, some studies have linked drinking moderate amounts of wine with lower body weights (35).

The reason for this is unclear, although it's been suggested that wine drinkers have healthier, more balanced diets compared to beer and spirit drinkers (7, 36).

What's more, studies have shown that the amount of alcohol you consume and how frequently you consume it also matter when it comes to your waistline.

In fact, one of the most risky behaviors for developing a beer belly seems to be binge drinking. Studies have found that drinking more than four drinks at one time can increase your risk of belly fat, no matter what drink you choose (19, 37, 38, 39).

Additionally, one study found that people who drank one drink per day had the least amount of fat. Those who consumed less overall, but had four or more drinks on drinking days, were at the greatest risk of weight gain (37).

Summary: Other alcoholic beverages are lower in calories than beer. However, heavy drinking of any alcoholic beverage will put you at higher risk of gaining belly fat.
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How to Get Rid of Your Beer Belly

The best way to get rid of a beer belly is through diet and exercise.

If you're drinking heavily, you should also think about limiting your alcohol intake or giving it up completely.

Try to avoid binge drinking, or having a lot of alcohol over one or two days.

Unfortunately, there's not one perfect diet for reducing belly fat. However, diets that contain low amounts of processed meats, sugary drinks and refined grain products have been linked with smaller waistlines (40, 41).

So, if you're trying to lose weight and improve your health, switch to a diet mostly based on whole, unprocessed foods and cut back on added sugar (42, 43, 44).

Exercise is also a really effective way for both men and women to lose belly fat. Both cardio and high-intensity exercise can help (45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51).

Additionally, exercise has lots of amazing health benefits on top of weight loss, which make it one of the best things you can do to improve your health.

To learn more, check out these 20 great tips for reducing belly fat.

Summary: The best way to get rid of your beer belly is to reduce your alcohol intake, exercise regularly and improve your diet.

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The Bottom Line

Drinking beer can cause weight gain of any type — including belly fat.

Keep in mind that the more you drink, the higher your risk of weight gain is.

It seems that moderate drinking of one beer per day (or less) is not linked with getting a "beer belly." However, if you drink a lot of beer or binge drink regularly then you are at a very high risk of belly fat gain, as well as various other serious health problems.

To minimize your risk of gaining weight, make sure to keep your alcohol intake within the recommended limits and lead a healthy, active lifestyle.

An evidence-based article from our experts at Authority Nutrition.
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