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Details on Alcohol and Points Calculations

Measuring in weight loss is always important. You have to know how much of something you eat or drink in order to be able to figure out how to count it correctly and stay on your Program. Nowhere is this more true than it is with alcohol.

So, we need to get some terms straight, right at the start. There are two things of primary importance, the volume or quantity by physical size, and the amount of whatever it is you are drinking that is actually alcohol and not something else.

One day, I believe that all driving will be done by robots, and human error will cease to be a factor on the roads, and then whether you are sober or not in your car, will not matter, at least for the safety of the other people on the road. But that day is not here yet and so there are many laws in place across the country to determine when it is safe for you drive or not, after consuming some amount of alcohol. Because the legal system is involved, that means all sorts of rules are in place to help you know just how much alcohol you are consuming when you buy and down a drink. As it turns out, this a a very good thing for your weight loss Journey too! If you pay attention and educate yourself, you can be right on top of the alcohol calories you consume and the impact that will have on your weight.

Let's start with the the physical size, or volume of your drink. One of the the first things you learn about in chemistry or physics courses is the concept of "units of measure." It is truly incredible the different systems in place in the world that are used to measure things. For volume, which is a "cubic" measurement of size, you have a wide choice of units to use.
In geometry you learn that a point has no size whatsoever. A line has only one dimension, or size, and that is length. We have many units to use for measuring this quantity, including inches, meters, miles, light-years, parsecs and lots more. A square has two sizes or dimensions, length and width, and you will find units like square inches, square cm, acres, square kilometers, etc. Finally we get to the cube, which has length, width and depth. Now we have cubic inches, cubic centimeters, fluid ounces, milliliters, etc.
What would be really nice is if there were only one unit of measure for volume. Then everything would be very simple. But, alas, nothing is easy in life, and so we will have to deal with several different units here.

Let's start with a fluid ounce. This was a stupid idea, in my opinion, right from the start. The name is terribly confusing for many people. Over and over again people make the mistake of thinking that you can convert fluid ounces into grams directly, because the name ounce refers to the weight of something, and although technically a gram is not a unit of weight, but a unit of mass, it is used as a weight anyway. We have lots of room for mistakes here.

One fluid ounce is about the volume that is taken up by on ounce (by weight) of water, at around room temperature. So, if you are measuring water, you can more or less convert fluid ounces to grams directly, but it is because of what you are measuring, and it is a rather bad habit to get into, because you might try to do it with other things where it will not work at all.

Let's take a example that will really demonstrate this: mercury. One fluid ounce of mercury weighs about 14.1 times as much as one fluid ounce of water. So, if you tried to convert from fluid ounces to grams directly, without knowing what you are measuring, you could be off by a factor of 14. Not good!

So let's compare apples with apples.

One fluid ounce is 1/128th of a US gallon.
One fluid ounce is about equal to 29.57353 milliliters

and for our discussion, one "shot" or one "jigger" is going to be equal to 1.5 fluid ounces.

One shot = 1.5 fl oz. = 44.3603 ml

This hardly an exhaustive discussion on volume, but it is sufficient for what we are covering here, I think. So, lets move on to weight.

Let's start once again with the Imperial system, and discuss ounces. Remember that an ounce is a unit used to measure weight. Weight is described as a unit of force, because weight is created by the gravitational force of the earth upon all objects upon it. When you step on the scale, your scale measures how much force the earth is exerting on your body, trying to pull you down to the center of the planet. A pound is a unit of force. If you push on something with your hand, you exert a force upon it, and that can be measured in pounds. An ounce is merely 1/16 of a pound, or 16 ounces will equal a pound.

If we were going to be correct, we would convert a unit of force into another unit of force, and pounds would therefore be converted into newtons, a unit of force in the metric system. People who weigh themselves in newtons are more correct than those who measure their weight in kilograms. But alas, this is so deeply engrained into our system, will never fix it now. Indeed grams are a unit of mass, as I mentioned, not a unit of force or weight. But it is what it is, and we are stuck with using grams. So, moving on...

1 ounce = 28.349523125 grams (or 0.2780138509537813 newtons—sorry I couldn't help myself.)

And just for the record, alcohol weighs eight-tenths as much as water. Therefore 1 fl oz of alcohol weighs 28.349523125 grams x 0.8 = 22.6796185 grams. Or 22.7 grams for our purposes.

Finally, lets get to the actual content of alcohol in a drink. There are a couple of methods used to measure this.

Let's start with proof, which something most people become familiar with as soon as they start drinking. To determine the "proof" of a liquor, you start by figuring the percentage of the alcohol content (dividing the known quantity of alcohol in a liquid, by the known quantity of the entire liquid and multiplying the result by 100) and then multiply the result by 2. So, if a drink is 50% alcohol, it would be 100 proof. If you find liquor labeled as 80 proof, you know that it is 40% alcohol by volume.

Another system that is used worldwide is the "Alcohol By Volume" or ABV. (You may find it shown as abv, or alc/vol as well.) This one truly makes sense to me. Officially it is defined as:

"The number of millilitres of pure ethanol present in 100 millilitres of solution at 20°C [68°F]."

Which really boils down to the percentage of alcohol in the mixture. The temperature is important because different liquids will expand or contract at different rates with temperature. So, if you cool off (or heat up) a liquid, one of the components might change its volume more than another, and that would alter the ratio of the amount of alcohol to the total. This something we will not concern ourselves with here, because it will have insignificant impact on our calculations here.

We have enough information now to move forward I think.

Let's start with an example listing from one of our restaurants:

Robertson Cabernet Sauvignon Wine 8 Fluid Ounces (200 cal/6g carbs/0 protein/10mg sodium) 8 (4)

What can we tell about this wine from this information? First off, there are two sources of calories for this drink. One gram of carbohydrates has 4 calories. This has 6 grams of carbs, and therefore has 24 calories accounted for. However, there are 200 calories in this glass of wine. That leaves us 200 - 24 = 176 unaccounted for calories. These are all from alcohol, since there are no grams of protein nor fat in this glass. How do we use this information?

One gram of alcohol carries 7 calories with it. So, if you have 176 calories of alcohol, you also have 176/7, or 25 grams of alcohol. Those sneaky little devils will get under the radar if you try and just punch in the fat, carbs and protein into your calculator. But as you can see, we didn't let them under our radar. Without catching them, the Points Plus value for this item would have been 1 Point! Ouch! You would not be counting 7 points that you consumed. Have another glass, and suddenly you are up 14 uncounted points. This can quickly lead to disaster for your next trip to the scale.

What if you drink a gin and tonic? I looked this up and I found that it has:

171 calories 0 fat 16 carbs 0 protein. The calculator would say 2 points (the exact formula would show it as 1.74 points but it would round up). If you were using the old "slider" from the old points program you would come up with 3.5 points. (The actual value would be 3.42 points, and that would be rounded down on the slider to only 3 points!)

Having been involved with looking over the data for more than 600 restaurants for Dotti's Weight Loss Zone, I can tell you that anytime you get a smaller value for the Points Plus number than you get for the old Points number, it should set off warning flags that something is wrong. The new system numbers are almost always higher than the old. But here we are with a number that is, using the exact values, 1.7 points lower!

What we have done on our listings is to add in a correction factor for all alcohol grams. So, for the gin and tonic, it would pick up the fact that you have 64 carb calories, which leaves you 107 alcohol calories. That converts to 15.3 alcohol grams, and dividing that by 3.5, we add in 4.4 Points Plus. That comes to a total of 6.1 points and would be rounded up to the nearest half point, to 6.5 points.

The last time I had a drink (2005?), may have been with our friend Tom Kreider, and it was Crown Royal on the rocks. If you have a double shot of that (3 fl oz), it comes to 192 calories with no carbs, protein, nor fat. That comes to zero points on the calculator! From that you would think you could see and drink those all night long for free. The old points system would call it 3.84 Points. But it does a lot more damage to your weight than even that number indicates. There are 192 alcohol calories here, and that comes to 27.4 grams of alcohol, and would add 7.86 Points Plus to the real number. It would show up as 8 points on the web page, rounding up to the next highest half point. You would see 8 (4), just as you do for the 8 fl oz of Robertson Cabernet Sauvignon Wine above.

What do you do if you don't have the internet to look things up? Crown Royal Whiskey is 80 proof (40% alcohol). If you drink any form of hard liquor straight, you will probably be safe using this rule of thumb:

1 Points Plus, and 0.5 Points per 10 proof. In other words if you drink something that is 40 proof it will be around 4 Points Plus and 2 Points.

Now if you add in mixers, or you are drinking something that is not carb/protein/fat free, then you need to add in those values as well.

Take beer for example.

When I went to boot camp, my company commander told me that if I were asked during an inspection, "What is the 'Breakfast of champions?'" I was to reply something that I cannot put here, in its entirety. (Our son LeRoy when he got out of boot camp made comment on the fact that he couldn't believe how obscene the dialog was coming from those in charge. That speaks to two things, one is that he was right. The other is that I was a father who never spoke that way around my kids, nor exposed them to anything like that as they were growing up, which I am proud of.) However the second part of the response was "and beer." This was intended to be funny, but sadly, especially growing up in a home with an alcoholic father, I saw far too much alcohol abuse in the Navy. The jokes fell flat on my ear, when a sailor would say, "I had to drive home, I was too drunk to walk."
A Budweiser beer, is 10 proof. This means that a 12 fl oz can of Bud, has 12 x 0.05 fl oz, or 0.6 fl oz of alcohol. We learned above that 1 fl oz of alcohol is 22.7 grams, so 0.6 fl oz is 13.6 grams, and that will add 13.6 / 3.5 = 3.89 Points Plus to the value the calculator will give.

Looking up Budweiser, I find that it has 147 calories, 0 fat, 0 fiber, 10.62g carbs and 1.29g protein. So, the calculator would come up with 1.27, or rounded down to 1. If you add 3.89 to 1.27, it gives you 5.16 Points Plus or 5.5 rounded up to the nearest half point.

Coming at it from the other way, we can see that there are 47.64 counted calories from the carbs and protein numbers. Since there are a total of 147 calories, we are left with just under 100 (99.36) unaccounted for calories. These are alcohol calories and if we divide 99.36 by 7 we get: 14 grams. The nutritional labeling system has some slop in it, and so we are within one half gram of the same value we got from the proof calculation. It is a nice double check validation of the system I am using to calculate alcohol calories for the site.

When you drink beer, you are tossing in some carbs as well as the alcohol. But you can see that around 2/3 of the total calories are still coming from alcohol.

And of course things vary from product to product. This is true of wine or beer. Some have more carbs than others. It is always best to look it up first and then drink it, rather than counting the damage after the fact.

If you have questions or suggestions, please feel free to email me at: Email Al.


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