CHRISTMAS HAS COME TO AN END AND THERE’S NO DENYING THAT WE HAVE HAD ONE TOO MANY MINCE PIES, CELEBRATION CHOCOLATES AND GLASSES OF WINE. WHO CAN SAY NO TO A DRINK OVER THE FESTIVE PERIOD!? BUT NOW THAT JANUARY IS UPON US ITS TIME TO PUT DOWN THE GLASS. AND, WHAT BETTER WAY TO DITCH THE BOOZE THAN TO HEAR FROM AN EXPERT EXPLAINING EXACTLY WHAT IT DOES TO US? WE ASKED REGISTERED ASSOCIATE NUTRITIONIST (ANutr) ALEXIS POOLE WHAT WE ABSOLUTELY MUST KNOW ABOUT ALCOHOL
1. Alcohol increases risk of disease and impacts mental health
Regularly drinking more than 14 units of alcohol per week, over the years, can put you at risk of serious health issues. It can increase your risk of developing mouth, throat and breast cancer, as well as stroke, heart disease, liver disease, brain damage, and nervous system damage.
In addition to this, alcohol can negatively impact mental health and can contribute to feelings of anxiety and stress. Because alcohol is a depressant, it can disrupt the balance of chemicals within the brain and affect your overall mood. As January exams and coursework deadlines loom, perhaps reduce your alcohol intake if you’re prone to feeling stressed and overwhelmed by the pressure of deadlines.
Not only does alcohol affect your mood but it can also affect memory.
If you drink a lot over a prolonged period of time this could lead to long-term consequences such as memory loss, even on days where you may not drink.
2. A unit of alcohol is a lot less than you think!
In the UK men and woman are recommended to have no more than 14 units of alcohol per week. While less than 14 units per week is considered “low-risk” drinking, it’s important to note that this is not considered a “safe” level of drinking. In fact, there is actually no “safe” level of drinking, but sticking to less than 14 units per week means you’re less likely to develop diseases mentioned above.
If you drink regularly, it’s recommended to spread this throughout the week instead of saving your units up and binging at the weekend. This is because drinking too much in one single session can increase the risk of injury, lead to misjudging situations and losing self-control.
What does 1 unit of alcohol look like?
- ● 1⁄2 pint of beer (e.g. 4% standard beer)
- ● Small glass (76ml) of wine (e.g. standard 13% wine)
- ● 25ml shot of spirit (e.g. standard 40% whiskey)
- It’s worth noting that the volume of alcohol in a drink will also affect how many units it contains. You’ll probably notice a bottle of wine with the label 13% ABV…this stands for 13% Alcohol By Volume and means that 13% of the wine is pure alcohol. The % ABV in beer can range from 3.5%-6% and wine from 12-14%. A stronger version of the same type of drink will contain more units of alcohol.
3. Alcohol can lead to weight gain
Alcohol is very calorie dense. It has 7 calories per gram compared to fat which has 9 calories per gram, and protein or carbohydrates which have 4 calories per gram. What’s different from fat, protein, and carbohydrates, is that the calories in alcohol have no nutritional benefit. In fact, for this reason, alcohol is often referred to “empty calories”. A large glass of wine or pint of lager can contain around 240 calories! That means after two drinks you’ve already consumed a quarter of your daily calorie recommendation.
What most people don’t acknowledge is that alcohol is also incredibly high in sugar.
Government guidelines recommend we have less than 7 teaspoons of sugar a day, yet a pint of cider can contain as much as 5 teaspoons. Too much sugar can negatively affect our health in a few different ways. As it’s high in calories it can lead to weight gain and obesity, it can cause elevated blood sugar levels which increases your risk of diabetes, and it’s also the main cause of tooth decay.
4. Alcohol reduces your body’s fat burning processes
Because alcohol has no nutritional use in the body, it is not stored or used as fuel. Instead, it is metabolised by the liver to be removed from the body. Alcohol is toxic, and when it’s consumed your body prioritises getting rid of it before metabolising other nutrients such as protein, carbohydrates or fat. As a result of this, the body will store these nutrients until the alcohol has been removed. This means that the amount of fat you body burns for energy is reduced. If this occurs regularly, you’re probably going to put weight on!
5. Alcohol can affect your sleep
Alcohol can also interfere with sleep processes. Initially, the alcohol will send you into a deep sleep, but this is often shorter-lived and can mean you’re more likely to go into a lighter sleep which is much easier to wake from. Not only does this mean you’re in less of a deep sleep, and therefore more likely to wake up after a few hours, but alcohol is a diuretic which might mean you’ve got to wake up in the middle of the night to go to the loo. A lack of sleep could also mean you eat more the next day, which over time will add up, especially considering that you could be more likely to choose foods higher in sugar and fat.
Drink smart this year!
If your News Year’s resolution is to be healthy, but dry January just isn’t for you, one simple trick is to dilute wine with soda water.
This will help keep you hydrated throughout the night and minimise the effects of a hangover the following day.
In addition to this, you’re likely to consume less alcohol this way and so reduce some of the negative effects mentioned above. If cocktails are more your thing, choose ones made with a lot of ice and avoid those lots with sugar, syrups or creams. Not only will the ice eventually melt, which you can then drink and stay hydrated, but avoiding sugary drinks will prevent you from experiencing the energy slump that usually follows eating a lot of sugar.
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