Alcohol gets a bad rap. It’s poisonous, addictive and disease causing, but we’re also told that it has many benefits. It lowers the risk of heart disease, can lengthen life, improve libido, and research suggests that it can even reduce chances of diabetes.
So how can we drink it and stay healthy?
When many people think of a healthy lifestyle or dieting then alcohol is often demonized or forbidden. On paper it has little nutritional value and it’s relatively calorie dense; 7 calories per gram (carbs and protein coming in at 4 and fat at 9).
To summarize the nutritional impact of alcohol, it is basically processed in the liver where the body prioritizes it. This means that it will concentrate on breaking it down rather than doing other jobs like breaking down fat, which is stored instead.
So alcohol has no nutritional value, it’s high in calories, it makes us store fat and can lead to bad food choices too…. no wonder it has a bad name! But let’s be honest, 60% of the adults in the UK don’t care. We drink anyway and that is massively important when thinking about healthy lifestyles.
It’s ingrained in our lifestyles. We enjoy it. It’s an adult treat. It helps us relax and is often a reward after a long day…. or just a perfect complement to a sunny evening.
Alcohol is ingrained in our everyday lives, from sitting in the sun with a glass of white wine to work socials. There are many occasions when we feel that it would be “rude not to”.
If you already drink, then designing a healthy lifestyle without factoring in alcohol is probably not a good option. The way in which we enjoy alcohol means a lifestyle without it would probably be unsustainable and unenjoyable for many.
So how do we make it work for us? Keep an eye on the big picture; know your calorie balance and understand where the calories are coming from and how to make the food you eat around alcohol work (or at least do the least damage).
All types of alcohol are different, whether they’re fermented or distilled, high in calories or relatively low in calories. At the end of the day, for most of us, these differences will not have a huge impact in how we treat them (if you are diabetic then you may want to consider the carb and sugar contents). A medium glass of wine (175ml) is 160 calories, a single G&T is around 150 calories, alcopops (275ml) around 150 calories and a pint of beer around 180. So even if you pick a drink that is lower in calories, you’d have to drink a lot for it to make a difference in terms of your daily calorie input, i.e. a 30 calorie difference in drinks over five drinks would only amount to 150 calories in total.
It is often what happens away from the glass that makes the biggest difference to our health.
What we eat when drinking alcohol has a big impact. Try to factor the alcohol you’re going to drink into your daily calorie allowance/intake. It is going to be difficult staying anywhere near your calorific goals if you start drinking in the evening having already consumed 90 percent of your calories for the day… but also be aware of the dangers of drinking on an empty stomach.
Think about the frequency of your drinking and why you drink the way that you do. Do you have a glass of wine every night? Why? Maybe try substituting wine with something else (sparkling water) during the week and reserve drinking for weekends?
Be aware of the way that you feel when you r drink. How do you feel in the morning after a glass of wine the night before? How is the quality of your sleep? If you feel clearer and refreshed having not drunk then use this as motivation to reduce your intake.
If you are going to have a few drinks then be thoughtful about what you eat before you start drinking and prepare yourself properly. The nutritional aspect of drinking should be considered before, during and after the event.
Nutritionists, dietitians, and health magazines all have different recommendations on how to minimise the impact of drinking, here are some of the my favourite recommendations, many of which I use myself.
Yogurt. A hit of carbs, protein and fat, and it will literally stick to your gut as it is digested and slow down the impact of alcohol.
Milk. High in potassium which is lost during excessive urination when drinking, and it also has a high water content which will keep you hydrated.
Bananas. High level of potassium again which is lost when urinating.
Pasta. Carbs helps with glycogen levels stay full as well as your stomach. Watch your portion size with pasta, the calories can add up.
Salmon. Protein rich foods take longer to digest, which slows how fast your blood alcohol level goes up. Salmon is a great source of protein and also replenishes depleted of vitamin B 12 levels and is high in good fats.
Avocados. Loaded with healthy fats which are digested more slowly than carbs and slow the absorption of alcohol.
Eggs. Contain essential amino acids that help to break down some of the alcohol.
What to eat during alcohol consumption:
When you are out, aim for low fat foods as fat is stored more readily when drinking.
Checkout menus in advance so you don’t have to panic buy when ordering food. Be informed about your food choices. A Pizza Express American Hot Leggera (yes, the pizza with the salad in the middle) is 440 calories. A Grand Chicken Caesar Salad with dough sticks is 1,160 calories.
Plan for this and stock up in advance. Don’t find yourself staring into an unstocked fridge the morning after making bad food choices.
Eggs. A good option as they help with liver function.
Coconut water. Sports drinks are popular for their electrolytes but coconut water is a healthier option, which works just as well, if not better.
Bananas. Helps to replace the potassium lost due to alcohol’s diuretic effects.
Asparagus. Shown to alleviate hangover symptoms and protect the liver. It helps flush toxins from your systems.
Ginger. If you’re feeling queasy after your night of drinking, ginger can be a natural remedy for sickness.
Oatmeal or porridge. Contains plenty of essential nutrients like vitamin B, calcium, magnesium, and iron and can raise blood sugar levels and give you the energy you need to recover in the morning.
So don’t feel guilty about something you’re going to do anyway. Don’t remove an aspect of your life you enjoy in the pursuit of living a healthier life, just know what you are doing, plan ahead and make it work for you!