Alcohol is a part of many celebrations, social events and mealtimes and a lot of the time it is a given that alcohol will be consumed. The safe level of alcohol, as recommended by the government, is 14 units per week for men and women, which equates to about 9 small (125ml) glasses of wine, 6 pints of 3.6% lager, beer or cider or 14 single measures of a spirit and some alcohol free days within the week too.
Our favourite boozy beverages have their contribution towards our energy intake too, something that a lot of us can forget. Alcohol provides 7 kcals per gram, and these are 'empty' calories as alcohol is of no benefit nutritionally, so be aware that drinking alcohol can lead to weight gain if you are not balancing your energy intake with output. To put this into perspective this infographic (left) details popular alcoholic drinks and their food equivalents in terms of energy content.
It is important to understand how drinking too much alcohol, can have a variety of short term and long term health effects on your body, lifestyle and mental health. Drinking more than 14 units per week over several years can lead to a number of alcohol related diseases such as cancer, stroke, heart disease, liver disease, brain damage and damage to the nervous system. There is now a better understanding of the link between drinking and cancer, research from The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) on alcohol intake and breast cancer risk in women can be read here.
Drinking too much alcohol can also affect your body in other ways such as your physical appearance, alcohol dehydrates your body, including the skin, it is also thought to deprive your skin of vital vitamins and nutrients.
Many of us love a drink, and nutritionists and health experts respect that, but a few nifty ideas to help out when it comes to controlling your alcohol intake might help you out…
…if you drink spirits with a mixer, ask for the mixer to fill the glass, often they stop short and leave the glass not quite full. Or if you’re a white wine drinker ask for some soda in your wine, to make the drink last longer.
…only buy drinks to have in the house when you need them to avoid any temptation of drinking ‘just because it is there’.
…don’t use a straw, it tempts us to take a sip more frequently than if we didn’t have one. Plus better for the environment!
…put your drink down between sips, if we are holding it constantly we are more likely to drink it quicker.
…alternate alcoholic drinks with soft drinks and glasses of water.
…try to avoid buying rounds, drink at your own pace.
…look out for an alcohol-free alternative to your favourite tipples – your head will thank you for it in the morning!
…offer to be the designated driver. Not only will your friends love you, you can save empty calories and money.
Becoming increasingly popular each year is Dry January, with many going tee total for the month. For some it is a real challenge when you’re used to drinking several times a week, for others it can impact on social events, but one thing it is likely to do is be less of a pull on the old purse strings and you’ll reap the health benefits from not consuming additional calories and are probably more likely to feel fresher and able to exercise. Socially January can be quieter than other months of the year, meaning there are fewer opportunities to consume alcohol in that sense, however there are also the ‘January blues’ and you may like to reach out for a glass of wine or a pint of beer to help brighten up an evening.
This challenge doesn’t limit itself to January, or starting at the beginning of the month, it can start anytime and can last for a month, a week, 10 days, it is completely up to you. Attempting to give up alcohol at any time of year will present its challenges for sure and it may bring with it the realisation of how much alcohol is a part of your life, whilst equally it may make you realise how much you don’t miss alcohol, you will never know unless you give it a go.
For those of you who like a glass of this or that in the comfort of your own home, remove all alcohol for the month, to avoid running the risk of giving in. And rather than having to look at an empty wine rack, beer fridge or bottle shelf, fill it with alternative drinks, try that groovy soft drink or fancy sounding tea.
Once you successfully finish your dryathlon period it might be met with relief that you can bring alcohol back into your life, or with satisfaction that you have completed such a personal challenge or with the realisation that you can do without or with less alcohol and it is either going to be a smaller part of your life or absent from it altogether.
Article by Evie Lovell (ANutr) and Luxey Sundaralingam (RNutr).
Top image sourced from www.drinkaware.co.uk