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What is better than sitting in front of a blazing fire drinking a glass of red wine or whiskey?  These seem to be common habits that start as the nights get colder.  But are you aware of what you are doing to your body?  Are you paying attention to how much you are drinking and how you are feeling in the morning?  Let’s take a look at how we can enjoy some alcohol but not undo our health and wellness goals.

Alcohol and health

Alcohol can be detrimental to your health if it is regularly consumed in large amounts. It can have a negative effect on your nutritional status as it reduces the absorption and use of certain vitamins and minerals.  Studies have shown that an excessive alcohol intake contributes to an increased risk of the development of cancer and alcoholic liver disease.  Excessive alcohol can also contribute to the development of osteoporosis and worsen the symptoms of gout because of an increase of uric acid production.  Three or more alcohol containing drinks a day can also increase blood pressure. 

Alcohol and weight

Alcohol consumption can also lead to weight problems because of its high calorie value (7kcal per 1g alcohol).  Often high calorie mixers are also added to the alcohol (such as soft drinks, fruit juices).  During alcohol consumption our control is often decreased leading to overeating and drinking more.  And the foods that are eaten together with the consumption of alcohol (e.g. crisps) are often high in fat.  Alcohol also slows down fat metabolism.  All of these factors can lead to an increase of weight. 

What can you do to enjoy a drink and keep it healthy?

You can enjoy a drink AND be healthy and lose weight, but it means making some trade-offs.  An alcohol unit is defined in terms of a ‘standard drink’, which has the equivalent of about 10g alcohol.  Alcohol isn’t the only component of a drink that determines its calorie content.  Some drinks are also rich in sugar (carbohydrates) and therefore contain more calories.  Beer contains more carbohydrate than spirits, but spirits are often consumed with mixers increasing the calorie content.  When alcohol is consumed as part of a healthy eating plan, the guideline is no more than two drinks every day for women and no more than three drinks every day for men. 

An alcohol unit:

125ml of dry white or red wine or champagne

25ml of spirits

1 can of beer or cider

If you need to control your calorie intake, you can exchange one carbohydrate serving/unit for one alcoholic unit.  Beer, cider and caloric rich mixers need an extra carbohydrate serving/unit for their carbohydrates.

Tips for cutting down on your alcohol intake

  • Make a decision about what you will be drinking before you go out – when you have a plan, it is easier not to get carried away!
  • When you arrive at a function or restaurant ask for water first (make it sparkling for variation) and only start with the alcohol at a later stage
  • Make a wise decision about WHAT you will be drinking – sometimes it is better to have a spirit with a ‘free’ cooldrink (e.g. vodka and coke light or whiskey and water) instead of wine – if bottles of wine are being ordered, your glass will be constantly topped up and you easily lose track of how much you are drinking!
  • If you do want to drink wine, ‘dilute’ it with (sparkling or soda) water, ice cubes or sprite zero, and rather order your wine by the glass than ordering a bottle – make the excuse that you feel like a different wine
  • Similarly with beer or cider rather have a shandy
  • Get into the mind-set that you are going out to socialize with your friends, not to drink!  You do not need alcohol to have a good time
  • Have an event planned for the following day – book a session with your trainer at the gym or organize a run with friends – you will WANT to drink less as doing these activities without a hangover is so much more pleasant
  • Be the designated driver!

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