As the holiday season is upon us and we are all taking part of Christmas parties with friends, family and colleagues, we are more than likely to overindulge on food and drinks. And if you’ve been “nice” all year then why not let your hair down? I have compiled a list of information for you to help better informed decisions over dinner and drinks when out celebrating this festive season.
WHAT IS ALCOHOL?
Alcohol is a compound made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. It is produced when yeast ferments sugars. The amount of alcoholic content in a drink is determined by the amount of yeast and the length of fermentation. Wine and cider are made from fruit, while rye and barley form the basis of beers and spirits. Alcohol affects our body and mind immediately it is consumed. Some of its effects can be short-lasting but others can stay a lot longer or become permanent.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE DRINK?
It has never been about the sugar alcohol contains – it’s another myth. The real problem is with alcohol being the “worst offender” when it comes to any food or drink that enters your body. The moment you start drinking, fat burning stops and your digestion slows. Therefore, drinking with our meals could potentially be the worst decision as the more we drink the longer it takes to burn off the alcohol. Normally your body would use the energy from protein, carbs and fat to help build muscle and ensure you have healthy skin, nails and hair; to send into the bloodstream for use as immediate energy and the remains get stored as bodyfat. The more we drink, the longer the food “sits there” and the higher the chances of all this energy being stored as fat. To avoid accumulation of alcohol over a short space of time, we should drink slowly and enjoy a glass of water between each glass of alcohol.
HOW DO WE KEEP TRACK?
Alcohol is measured in units. 1 unit of alcohol is either 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol. 1 gram of pure alcohol is 7kcal. 1 unit = 56kcal. The liver’s average alcohol clearance rate is 1 unit per hour from the moment we start our first alcoholic drink.
This means our bodies can burn off alcohol at a rate of 56kcal/hour. Your liver can’t process alcohol faster than that and accumulation of alcohol puts a strain on the liver. Having increased muscle mass helps your body burn alcohol off quicker as does an intense gym session prior to a big evening, so I highly recommend training on the day. My preference is a relatively heavy lower body resistance session. The best approach for the day after is to do some light cardio to get a good sweat on and drink lots of water to detox and rehydrate.
The new government guidelines were set in 2016 and state a maximum of 14 units per week (for both men and women) spread over at least three days. It is more harmful to one’s health in the long term to have binge drinking weekends where all the week’s “allowance” is consumed in one go. If one likes to have alcohol daily to relax and unwind then a good idea is to have no more than 2 units per day.
A couple of glasses of wine can have the calories of a slice of cake and a whole bottle of wine has the calories of a meal or takeaway.
With a bottle of wine being around 10 units, you can have just under 1 ½ bottles of wine a week. Drink a whole bottle, it’s about 600kcal and it will take 10 hours to clear. Bear in mind that many restaurants now serve large glasses of wine as their standard serving, in which case the kcal content could be double or treble.
Prosecco is about 8 units per bottle, meaning you can consume about a bottle and ¾ a week. A bottle of prosecco is around 500kcal and takes around 8 hours to clear.
*The reason you might still feel a bit shaky and unwell the next day is because your body might still be processing the alcohol.
Long term excessive alcohol use (constantly exceeding safe limits and binge drinking weekly) can result in cancer, liver disease, hypotension, reduced bone density, fertility problems, strokes, mental health problems, dementia, coronary heart disease and drinking when pregnant can result in retarded foetal development.
HOW TO CUT DOWN?
If alcohol is being drunk socially and the consumption is likely to be high, it’s wise to choose lower strength drinks. If alcohol is drunk to simply relax or get merry, a single stiff drinks might do the trick – a shot of rum, vodka, tequila is 1 unit but can be made to last over the hour with a low-calorie mixer or as part of a cocktail and then followed up by a glass of water. My clients who enjoy gin, have a method of “tricking” their brain into believing they’re having a G&T by pouring a glass of tonic water and then running a finger dipped in gin around the rim of the glass.
Other ways to cut down are: setting a budget, reducing daily intake, having smaller drinks, taking breaks to avoid drinking daily and ensuring you drink plenty of water between drinks. Cardiovascular exercise and drinking water can help you sweat out the toxins the next day. A swim, run or a cycling session would work great.
https://www.nhs.uk/news/food-and-diet/new-alcohol-advice-issued/ for more advice on drinking for different age groups and pregnant women;
https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/alcohol-support/calculating-alcohol-units/ for help on how to determine the amount of pure alcohol and units in your drink.
As always, I really hope you have found this post useful and that it will help you make more informed choices at your events. If I didn’t cover a certain aspect on alcohol that you might have had a question about, please do get in touch. I have also filmed a video on this same topic so if you would rather watch than read, do head over to my Instagram or YouTube and watch the 6 minute video there. You’ll find me under @raheltheamazon.