Alcoholic beverages can help pour on the pounds

If you belly up to the bar too often, you may pack on extra calories that wind up on that belly.

About 25% of people drink alcoholic beverages on a given day, and the drinks account for about 16% of their daily calorie intake, a new government study shows.

In fact, the research shows that on a given day, 19% of men and 6% of women down more than 300 calories from alcoholic drinks. That's equal to more than 2 5-ounce glasses of wine, two or more 12-ounce beers, or more than 4.5 ounces of liquor such as vodka, scotch, rum or gin.

"A lot of people don't think about the calories in the alcoholic beverages -- it's not a diet soda," says Samara Joy Nielsen, a nutritional epidemiologist with the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which did the research.

Alcoholic beverages are one of the top contributors to caloric intake but provide few nutrients, Nielsen says. "A 12-ounce can of beer is 150 calories, about the same as a 12-ounce can of regular soda."

Overall, about 5% of calories for the total adult population comes from alcoholic beverages, compared with 6% of calories from sugar-sweetened beverages, Nielsen says.

The latest findings are from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which evaluates food and beverage intake based on in-person interviews about dietary habits. The results are from more than 11,000 interviews from 2007 to 2010.

The U.S. population consumes an average of 100 calories a day from alcoholic beverages. Men consume 150 calories; women, 53.

Not surprisingly, most of men's calories come from beer: 103 of the 150 calories, Nielsen says.

For women, the calories are similar for beer (18), liquor (18) and wine (17), she says.

"If you are drinking an extra 150 calories more than you need a day, those extra calories could end up on your waist or your hips," says Joan Salge Blake, a clinical associate professor in the nutrition program at Boston University and a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

"Those excess daily calories could cause you to put on a pound monthly and would add up to over 10 pounds in a year."

Blake says some people drink more during the holidays, which can lead to overeating and even more calories.

She recommends that people stop and consider whether they are really enjoying the wine, beer or mixed drink. Sometimes the quality of the product isn't worth the calories, she says.

Her advice?

"Ask yourself: 'Is this worth walking at least a mile at a brisk pace tomorrow to burn it off?'"

Other findings from the CDC study:

Men ages 20 to 39 consume the most calories (174) from alcoholic beverages.

Women over 60 consume the least, an average of 33 calories a day.

Almost 20% of men and 5% of women drink beer on a given day; 4% of men and 7% of women drink wine.

There was no significant difference in calorie intake from these beverages among whites, blacks and Hispanics.

Caloric intake was slightly higher among people at the highest income levels than other income levels.

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