A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Is it possible to diet with beer?

November 28, 1997

Dear Cecil:

This may be the most important question you ever answered. I read somewhere that when you drink a glass of ice water, your body burns 100 calories heating it up to 98.6 degrees (that heat has to come from somewhere). So if I drink my Bud Light ice cold, I won't gain any weight, right? All I know is that it works for me. I've been pounding 'em for years and I still have a washboard stomach. My friends think I'm insane but I know I'm right.

Cecil replies:

Free country, bub. But when my assistant Jane, who screens all my mail (hey, kings had tasters), sent this one over, she appended the note, "I would never date this man." Now if you'll excuse me, I've got more urgent matters to attend to. Just got a letter from a guy asking, "Was the Mayflower just used for when Columbus used it?"

Less filling, lose weight

Dear Cecil:

This letter is in response to the guy who thinks one can stay thin by drinking beer. It's true that if a person were to drink, say, 100 grams of beer at approximately 32 degrees Fahrenheit, or 0 degrees Celsius, it would take about 3,600 calories to bring it up to body temperature. Unfortunately, what the U.S. mistakenly calls a calorie, i.e., the unit of food energy, is actually a kilocalorie, or 1,000 calories. So warming up 100 grams of cold beer in a human body takes only 3.6 kcal, which isn't going to compensate for the 150 kcal of Bud Light.

Cecil replies:

Got a pile of mail about this, including notes from a couple of knuckleheads who thought Cecil didn't know the difference between food calories (kilocalories) and calorie calories. Come on, that's one of the few things from tenth grade health class I remember. (The "miracle of childbirth" film also made an indelible impression.) Somewhat disconcerting was the fact that, while everyone grasped the nub of the answer — i.e., Mister Beer Lover's calorie calculations were off by a factor of 1,000 — everybody who tried to figure out how many calories you would burn off came up with a different number. The correct answer, based on 110 kilocalories per 355-milliliter (12-ounce) can of ice-cold (0 degrees Celsius) Bud Light: 13 kilocalories.

Still, there is a way to stay thin drinking beer. Just wash down that Bud with 2,620 milliliters (not quite three quarts) of ice water. Not only would warming up the ice water burn off all the beer calories, you might lose the calories from the rest of lunch, too.

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