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Is alcohol bad for nutrition?

Mina Draskovic, B.Psy., reviewed this content for accuracy on December 15, 2023

Even if you don’t drink regularly, alcohol can wreak havoc on your health and deplete vital nutrients that your body needs to thrive. 

Many alcoholics are malnourished, either because they ingest too little of essential nutrients (e.g., carbohydrates, proteins, and vitamins) or because alcohol and its metabolism prevent the body from properly absorbing, digesting, and using those nutrients. (Lieber, M.A.C.P.)

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If you’re worried about your drinking habits or struggle with addiction, our alcohol rehab center offers individualized treatment and compassionate support to help build a fulfilling, alcohol-free life. Our nutrition therapy program complements your detox journey by providing education and meal planning guidance focused on restoring your health from a nutritional standpoint. 

Contact Ardu Recovery Center today to learn more about how to change your life for the better. 

Is alcohol a nutrient?

Nutrients are substances in food or drinks that our bodies need to survive. They are vital for proper growth, development, and maintenance of bodily functions. There are six major classes of nutrients:

  1. Carbohydrates
  2. Proteins
  3. Fats
  4. Vitamins
  5. Minerals
  6. Water

Alcohol is not a nutrient, as it has no place in any of these five categories. While it does provide 7 calories per gram, these are what many refer to as “empty calories”, as they provide no nutritional value. 

Alcohol can have adverse effects on nutrition. It can deplete your body of vital nutrients and reduce its ability to absorb and digest them. The more you drink, the more of a negative impact alcohol may have on nutrient absorption, and ultimately, your health. 

What are the symptoms of malnutrition from alcohol?

Binge drinking can induce serious malnutrition, depriving your body of vital macro and micronutrients it desperately depends on. 

Here’s a list of physical manifestations of malnutrition induced by heavy alcohol consumption:

  1. Extreme fatigue and weakness: lack of B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and protein contributes to low energy levels, fatigue, and loss of strength.
  2. Muscle wasting and cramps: alcohol toxicity combined with protein-calorie malnutrition accelerates muscle breakdown and painful cramping episodes.
  3. Rapid or irregular heartbeat: electrolyte imbalances disrupt healthy heart rhythms.
  4. Digestive distress: gut inflammation and vitamin deficiencies lead to stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, or constipation.
  5. Frequent infections: low levels of vitamins A, C, D, zinc, and iron compromise immunity.
  6. Vision changes and eye twitching: vitamin B1 (thiamine) and B12 deficiencies manifest in optical nerve damage and reduced visual acuity over time.
  7. Tingling sensations and numbness: B12 deficiency also causes nerve cell degradation.
  8. Poor concentration and memory: alcohol-induced thiamine deficiency impairs cognition and reduces focus.
  9. Slow wound healing with excessive bruising: lack of vitamin C hinders collagen production needed for tissue regeneration.
  10. Bleeding gums and blood disorders: vitamin K loss produces blood coagulation abnormalities and capillary fragility.

You may recognize some of these detrimental health effects of alcohol right away. Other physical signs of alcohol addiction may take some time to show. Catch them early and start working towards restoring your nutrient balance before drinking wrecks your health.

Our Utah-based rehab center can help you break the cycle of alcohol dependence. At Ardu, we provide comprehensive treatment for alcohol addiction, including medically monitored detox, counseling, group support, and aftercare planning. 

How does alcohol affect nutrition?

There is no question that alcohol is extremely harmful to your health. Even in small amounts, alcohol and its metabolites disrupt important bodily processes and deplete essential nutrients. 

Let’s go over some of the main nutrition-focused problems caused by excessive drinking:

  1. Alcohol hinders the proper absorption and digestion of nutrients. 
  2. Heavy drinking damages organs vital for metabolism, contributing to poor energy regulation and restricted nutrient activation.
  3. Alcohol activates unregulated hunger cues, making you consume more low-nutrition, energy-rich food. 
  4. Alcohol contributes empty calories with zero nutritional value. 
  5. Alcohol is a diuretic: it causes increased urination and fluid loss and leads to electrolyte imbalances and dehydration.
  6. As your body works harder to remove alcohol’s toxic waste, it excretes more substances necessary for nutrient balance, leading to nutrient deficiencies.

Alcohol hinders the absorption and digestion of nutrients

Alcohol severely hinders your body’s ability to properly digest and absorb essential nutrients such as vitamin B12, folate, zinc, magnesium, calcium, iron, and more. Heavy drinking leads to inflammation and irritation in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, shrinking the intestinal villi responsible for trapping nutrients. 

Butts, et. al. found that alcohol has an inhibitory effect and hampers the “absorption of vital nutrients, including glucose, amino acids, lipids, water, vitamins, and minerals within the small intestine.”

Alcohol’s harmful effects on the pancreas interfere with the production of digestive enzymes and alter the important bile-acid metabolism. The pancreas and the GI tract aren’t the only organs that suffer from heavy alcohol use, other vital organs are affected as well.

Alcohol metabolism strains and damages the organs vital for nutrient absorption

Alcohol has deleterious effects on other bodily systems and organs that influence nutritional status. Alcohol is metabolized in the liver, but its toxic byproducts progressively strain and affect organs in the following ways:

  • Liver: alcohol’s toxins impede the liver in metabolizing and storing nutrients and regulating energy distribution.
  • Kidneys: chronic alcohol exposure destroys nephrons crucial for the reabsorption of vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes.
  • Stomach and intestines: alcohol inflames the stomach lining and intestinal tract, disrupting the breakdown of food and mineralization of vitamins.
  • Cardiovascular system: alcohol cardiotoxicity and vascular inflammation obstruct cellular nutrient delivery and waste removal throughout the body. Booze can be heavy on the heart even without these nutrient-impairing properties.
  • Endocrine system: metabolic stress depletes your body of nutritional components needed for proper hormone production. 

Alcohol contains empty calories with zero nutritional value

Alcohol is a nutritional deadweight. According to the UK National Health Services, one gram of alcohol contains approximately 7 calories. Since most alcoholic drinks clock in around 100 calories per serving, if you consume several alcoholic drinks in a day, you could be adding several hundred calories or more to your daily intake just from the alcohol alone. And these calories are empty calories. They don’t contribute any protein, essential vitamins, minerals, or fiber your body needs.

Recovery Elevator suggests that, in comparison to other macronutrients, alcohol provides more calories per gram than carbohydrates and proteins (4 calories per gram) but fewer than fat (9 calories per gram). It is also made from sugar or starch, which are sources of empty calories themselves. That’s why alcohol contributes to weight gain, beer bellies, and other nutrition-related issues. 

Heavy drinking leads to poor eating habits

If you drink too much or too often, you probably swap a balanced meal or two for either more drinks or low-nutritional fast food. That’s because alcohol lowers inhibitions and impairs your decision-making abilities. Who cares about a balanced meal when your body and mind crave more booze or some greasy food?

A 2010 article published by the National Institutes of Health found that people who drank more alcohol had overall poor nutrition and diet quality. Higher alcohol intake correlated with lower fruit consumption but higher calorie intake from additional alcoholic drinks and unhealthy junk foods laden with fat sugars. 

The diuretic effects of alcohol that hurt nutrition

In large amounts, alcohol has a diuretic effect. Constant urination makes you lose more of the water-soluble minerals (zinc, magnesium, potassium). These have a key role in nerve and muscle function, a healthy immune system, and a normal heartbeat. According to Michigan State University, “zinc status appears to be particularly affected by alcohol and zinc deficiency interferes with the ability to taste and smell, further limiting dietary intake.”

The diuretic effects of alcohol can cause significant dehydration. Alcohol dehydrates your skin, organs, and cells. When your body is dehydrated, the digestive system can’t properly absorb essential nutrients. This compromised absorption, combined with the increased excretion of water-soluble vitamins and minerals, makes it extremely difficult to maintain adequate micronutrient status. 

Alcohol increases waste excretion and leads to nutritional deficiencies

Speaking of alcohol’s diuretic properties, alcohol speeds up the elimination of water-soluble nutrients and other essential compounds from the body. In addition to increased excretion, processing, and metabolizing, alcoholic drinks generate toxic byproducts that must also be broken down and eliminated.

As the liver, kidneys, and digestive system work to clear out waste, more vital micronutrients are expended. 

Amplified drainage of crucial compounds makes it difficult to maintain balanced nutrition. To avoid dehydration, some people try to drink water in between alcoholic beverages. This may mitigate alcohol’s dehydrating effects temporarily, but the safest option is to avoid drinking altogether.

If you need help quitting this toxic habit, contact our alcohol detox center

What nutritional deficiencies does alcoholism lead to?

Due to poor diet, decreased nutrient absorption, and increased excretion, alcoholism can lead to severe nutrient deficiencies. These include:

  • Thiamine deficiency is one of the most common vitamin deficiencies in people with alcoholism. Thiamine, or vitamin B1, is essential for metabolism, brain health, and nerve function. A lack of thiamine causes neurological complications such as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.
  • Alcohol impairs the body’s ability to absorb folic acid. Folic acid deficiency leads to anemia and elevated homocysteine levels, increasing the risk for heart disease.
  • Both excessive alcohol consumption and a poor diet contribute to the vitamin B6 deficiency. B6 is vital for immune system health, metabolism, neurotransmitter function, and so much more.
  • Vitamin B12 is necessary for red blood cell formation, neurological function, and DNA synthesis. Alcoholics are often deficient in B12.
  • Alcohol destroys vitamin C levels. Most alcoholics do not get enough of this crucial antioxidant in their diets. It’s necessary for wound healing, iron absorption, immunity, and tissue growth.
  • Vitamin D is critical for calcium absorption and bone health. Alcoholism is linked to lowered vitamin D levels and diseases like osteoporosis.
  • Magnesium helps regulate over 300 enzyme systems in the body. Alcohol increases urinary excretion of magnesium. Deficiency can manifest as muscle cramps, headaches, fatigue, nausea, and seizures.
  • Zinc deficiency is common in alcoholics. This mineral is crucial for immune health, DNA and protein production, wound healing, vision, and blood sugar control. 
  • Iron is essential for oxygen transport in red blood cells and energy metabolism. Low iron is seen frequently in people with alcohol use disorder (AUD).
  • Alcohol impairs the conversion of beta-carotene, which increases levels of vitamin A, resulting in a deficiency over time.
  • Chronic alcohol consumption leads to a decrease in selenium levels. This is associated with the progression of liver disease and muscle disorders.
  • Electrolytes such as sodium and potassium are quickly depleted from excessive urination and sweating caused by excessive drinking.

Nutrition is a basic need for a healthy life. Our nutritional therapy program complements all facets of your detox, residential, or outpatient treatment programs at Ardu Recovery. You can also benefit from:

Contact Ardu Recovery Center and discuss your options with our caring specialists. 

Is casual drinking bad for nutrition?

It’s easy to assume only severe alcoholics suffer from nutrition deficiencies, but even smaller amounts of alcohol hamper healthy nutrition. Over time, “casual” drinking can lead to plateaus in nutrient-fueled energy, immunity, and vitality. Not to mention how it often leads to dependency and full-blown alcoholism.

Finnish researchers found a less favorable nutritional intake among heavy drinkers compared to moderate and non-drinkers. They also found that moderate alcohol consumption may elevate certain nutrients in some populations, but remains detrimental to overall nutrition. Both excessive and moderate alcohol consumption replace nutrient-rich calories with alcohol’s empty calories, indirectly lowering nutritional adequacy.

A 2023 meta-analysis revealed that excessive intake of more than 2 drinks daily increased the mortality rate. While moderate drinking may not increase mortality, any alcohol consumption inevitably compromises nutrition.

Ideally, you keep alcohol consumption to a minimum. If you do indulge moderately, focus on integrating extra fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains into your diet to ensure nutrients are replenished. Nourish your body between drinks, stay hydrated, and reduce the effects of alcohol on nutrition.

What is the recommended alcohol intake per day?

The 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that men should consume no more than two drinks per day and no more than one drink per day for women. 

According to the CDC, a standard drink contains about 0.6 ounces, or 14 grams, of pure alcohol. The alcohol content varies per drink.

  • A 12-ounce glass of beer typically contains 5% alcohol.
  • An 8-ounce bottle of malt liquor typically contains 7% alcohol.
  • A 5-ounce glass of wine typically contains 12% alcohol content. 
  • A shot of liquor—about 1.5 ounces—typically contains 40% alcohol.

Less alcohol is better, and abstinence remains ideal for avoiding nutritional health issues caused by drinking. 

It’s challenging to quit alcohol, especially after long periods of abuse. Ardu can help you take that first and often the most difficult step toward recovery. 

We offer a safe and supportive environment for the management of withdrawal symptoms to ensure you are as comfortable as possible. Our 24/7 medication-assisted treatment provides relief for cases of alcohol withdrawal syndrome

Get help with Ardu Recovery Center

I loved every moment I spent at Ardu. I really got the therapy and support I have been needing so badly over the years. They are so kind and loving that I came back to work and I love it even more as an employee. The environment is so peaceful. It’s beautiful place for healing. 

Chandler Lindley


The first step in treating alcohol dependence is safely managing detox. We offer both medical detox and holistic detox supervised by caring experts. Once detoxification is complete, rehabilitation begins, highlighted by our comprehensive alcohol abuse and addiction treatment programs.

We implement proven forms of psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, experiential therapies, and family therapy. Together we’ll uncover the root causes of your alcoholism and help you develop the skills needed for recovery.

Patient care at Ardu goes beyond treating the addiction itself. We’ll help you improve all areas of health and wellness, and aim to heal aspects of mind, body, and spirit. Our goal is to empower you to achieve lifelong sobriety.

To enroll in an Ardu alcohol rehab program, contact Ardu Recovery Center online or via phone (801-810-1234). We will work with you to find a recovery path that works. 

Alcohol and nutrition FAQ

Can alcohol be part of a healthy diet?

Alcohol cannot truly be integrated into a healthy, balanced diet. Alcohol lacks nutrients, replaces healthy calories with empty ones, and impairs the digestion and absorption of nutrients. It also increases the excretion of crucial vitamins and minerals and damages organs involved in metabolizing nutrients. 

Barve et al. suggest that “alcohol–nutrition interactions also play a role in alcohol-related lung injury, brain injury, and immune dysfunction.” Even moderate drinking for a long period can lead to weight gain and nutritional inadequacies. While less is better, abstaining from alcohol remains ideal for a healthy diet.

Does alcohol destroy vitamin D?

Alcohol does not directly destroy or deplete vitamin D. People with alcohol use disorder can develop a vitamin D deficiency over time because:

  • Binge drinking harms liver activation and metabolism of vitamin D.
  • Alcohol disrupts the absorption and digestion of essential nutrients including vitamin D.
  • Alcohol increases vitamin D excretion through urination as the kidneys work to filter the byproducts of alcohol.

What vitamins do alcoholics lack?

Alcoholics often lack B vitamins such as thiamine, folate, B6, and B12, which are crucial for metabolism, nerve health, blood pressure, and red blood cell production. Alcoholics are also often deficient in antioxidant vitamins like A, C, and E.

What are the 5 advantages of alcohol?

There are no evidence-based health advantages to consuming alcohol. It stresses nearly every organ, clouds judgment, damages cognition and memory, elevates disease risk, and causes many types of cancer. Even moderate drinking sabotages nutrition and other aspects of health. Any perceived benefits are outweighed by the range of negative mental and physical impacts.

While some moderate drinkers believe alcohol has beneficial effects on the heart, chronic alcohol consumption elevates blood pressure and contributes to cardiovascular diseases over time even with moderate intake. The more alcohol consumed, the higher the risk of heart disease, stroke, and life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias.

What does 20 years of drinking do to your body?

20 years of heavy alcohol use can destroy the liver, heart, and brain—causing fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis, dementia, psychosis, cardiomyopathy, arrhythmias, strokes, and cancer. Even 20 years of moderate amounts of alcohol can have adverse health effects.

Prolonged alcohol consumption causes inflammation and cell damage throughout the body, especially in vital organs such as the brain, heart, liver, and gut. This accelerates chronic conditions and aging through oxidative stress and impaired tissue regeneration. Over two decades, cancer risk also increases significantly.

Does alcohol slow metabolism?

Alcohol can considerably slow metabolism by affecting liver function, and thyroid and adrenal hormone pathways. It promotes weight gain and other metabolic issues, while less muscle mass and more fat storage further decrease metabolic rate. 

Alcohol suppresses fat oxidation while increasing fatty acid synthesis, causing more abdominal adiposity. The insulin resistance then develops, elevating blood sugar levels and increasing diabetes risk. Heavy drinking also contributes to low testosterone in men which regulates muscle mass and metabolic processes. 

Can a little bit of red wine be good for the heart?

Recent extensive research concluded no cardiovascular benefits even for light alcohol intake. The study included 371,463 adults and found that the supposed health benefits of alcohol consumption may be attributed to other lifestyle factors that are common among light to moderate drinkers, such as more physical activity, vegetable intake, and less smoking. The researchers concluded that reducing alcohol intake will likely reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in all individuals.

Any perceived heart-healthy antioxidants in wine fail to counteract alcohol’s direct toxicity. Moderate drinking remains linked to elevated blood pressure, arrhythmias, and other cardiac issues.

How fast can heavy drinking affect health?

Mere months of excessive drinking can cause irreversible cognitive decline and brain damage. Heavy drinking in adolescence alters neurodevelopment, which can lead to a variety of physical and mental health issues. Even a single excessive drinking episode or “blackout” can inflict severe neurologic, liver, and cardiac damage with lasting consequences.

Years of substantial alcohol abuse leads to liver inflammation which can quickly develop into alcoholic hepatitis or cirrhosis. So despite feeling invincible, serious harm manifests quickly. 


Lieber, C. S. (2003). Relationships Between Nutrition, Alcohol Use, and Alcoholic Liver Disease. Alcohol Research & Health, 27(3), 220-231. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6668875/

Butts, M., Sundaram, V. L., Murughiyan, U., Borthakur, A., & Singh, S. (2023). The Influence of Alcohol Consumption on Intestinal Nutrient Absorption: A Comprehensive Review. Nutrients, 15(7). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu15071571

Website, N. (2023, July 10). Calories in alcohol. nhs.uk. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/alcohol-advice/calories-in-alcohol/

Churchill, P. (2018, December 5). The Empty Calories in Alcohol – Recovery Elevator. Recovery Elevator. https://www.recoveryelevator.com/the-empty-calories-in-alcohol/

Diet Quality Worsens as Alcohol Intake Increases. (2015, October 5). National Institutes of Health (NIH). https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/diet-quality-worsens-alcohol-intake-increases

Fawehinmi, T. O., Ilomäki, J., Voutilainen, S., & Kauhanen, J. (2012). Alcohol Consumption and Dietary Patterns: The FinDrink Study. PLoS ONE, 7(6). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0038607

Zhao, J., Stockwell, T., Naimi, T. S., Churchill, S., Clay, J. M., & Sherk, A. (2023, March 31). Association Between Daily Alcohol Intake and Risk of All-Cause Mortality. JAMA Network Open. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.6185

Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 and Online Materials | Dietary Guidelines for Americans. (n.d.). https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/resources/2020-2025-dietary-guidelines-online-materials

Drinking too much alcohol can harm your health. Learn the facts | CDC. (n.d.). https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm

Barve, S., Chen, Y., Kirpich, I., Watson, W. H., & McClain, C. (2017). Development, Prevention, and Treatment of Alcohol-Induced Organ Injury: The Role of Nutrition. Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, 38(2), 289-302. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5513692/

Large study challenges the theory that light alcohol consumption benefits heart health. (n.d.). Massachusetts General Hospital. https://www.massgeneral.org/news/press-release/large-study-challenges-the-theory-that-light-alcohol-consumption-benefits-heart-health

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