Consider the cliché: a darkened room, a bleary-eyed middle-aged man collapsed into a couch, beer in hand, TV-flicker illuminating his sallow stubbled face, and a stomach threatening to escape from his pants like a giant mutant amoeba.
Blame that belly on the beer? Not so fast. According to University of California Davis food science professor Charles Bamforth, the colloquial notion of the beer belly — that beer somehow uniquely targets the gut — doesn’t jibe with medical science.
“The beer belly is a complete myth. The main source of calories in any alcoholic beverage is alcohol,” Bamforth told Popular Science. “There’s nothing magical about the alcohol in beer, it’s just alcohol.”
Alcohol doesn’t have V.I.P. dibs on abdominal fat in other words (any more than spot exercises like sit-ups burn stomach chub), it’s just another ingredient in your caloric regimen, though Bamforth notes that in cases of excessive alcohol consumption (read: abuse) you can develop something called ascites: a buildup of fluid around your abdomen that can cause distension of a sort, though in that case it’s likely related to actual liver damage.
So where did this idea that beer consumption spawns belly fat come from anyway?
Massachusetts General Hospital alcohol researcher Dr. Aliyah Sohani suggests it may have to do with serving sizes: Both cans and bottles of beer average 12 ounces, while your average glass of wine contains five and your average shot glass is just 1.5 ounces.
“You are drinking it in more quantities than wine or liquor, so you tend to have more caloric intake,” says Sohani. “You are talking about a difference between several hundred calories a night and a couple hundred.” Follow the logic here and if the average lush consumed wine in greater quantities than beer, the colloquialism would be “wine belly” (though hello alliterative fizzle).
No, that doesn’t mean anyone’s green-lighting your nightly keg stands — alcohol is a calorie-dense compound, after all — it’s just that those extra belly rolls are as likely to come from any calorie-dense source as your favorite brew.