Drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol can have a harmful effect on your heart and your general health. It can cause high blood pressure, damage to your heart muscle, abnormal heart rhythms, liver problems and increase the risk of some cancers. Although there are often articles in the media about the health benefits of alcohol e.g. there may be some benefits for heart health for women over the age of 55 if they have less than 5 units a week, there are certainly many safer and healthier ways to protect your heart.
There are guidelines for how much alcohol is “safe” to drink – including not drinking every day, keeping the units per week below 14 and avoiding drinking large amounts in one day (i.e. binge drinking). However even sticking within those guidelines alcohol is still going to have an impact on your health and also on your waistline. Alcohol is high in calories so it can lead to weight gain – it also lowers your inhibitions and self-control so you may find it hard to stick to your healthy eating plans when you’re a bit tipsy.
The average wine drinker in the UK consumes around 2,000 kcals in wine per month, and having 5 pints of beer/lager a week adds up to over 44,000 kcals a year – that’s the equivalent of eating 220 doughuts! In addition, drinking often leads to mindless munching on bar snacks or nibbles, and of course the next day there’s always that recovery fry-up hangover cure to add a few more kcal into the mix. Just two glasses of wine puts you over the recommended daily limit for regular alcohol consumption but also provides nearly 20% of a woman’s daily calories – approx. 370kcals.
Would you drink a glass of full cream? Probably not – but you’d drink a couple of pints right? Well it’s the same calorie count! Wine, beer, cider and spirits are all made from starch and sugar which are then fermented to create the alcoholic drink. This is why alcohol is so calorific – nearly as calorific as fat with 7 kcals per gram of alcohol. In addition if you’re having spirits or cocktails with mixers you’re probably adding more calories in the form of the sugary drinks.
Calories from alcohol are empty calories as they have very little nutritional value – they contain traces of vitamins and minerals but not in high enough amounts to make a significant contribution to your diet (yes, even Guinness doesn’t actually give you any significant amount of iron – sadly it’s all a myth people; you’d need to drink approximately three pints of Guinness to provide the same amount of iron as a single egg yolk, and one pint contains less than 3% of the daily adult requirement of iron).
When you drink alcohol it also reduces the amount of fat your body burns for energy. We can’t store alcohol, unlike protein, carbohydrate and fat, so when we consume it the body wants to get it out of our system as a priority. This means all other processes such as absorbing nutrients and burning fats, are interrupted while the alcohol is processed.
So how many calories are in your favourite drink?
Here are a few examples:
A standard glass of wine (175ml) – 126kcal – same as 2 chocolate biscuits
A pint of 5% beer – 215kcals – same as a slice of pizza
A small glass of baileys (50ml) – 118kcals – same as a milky way
1 bottle of alcopop – 237 kcals – same as a large packet of crisps
A gin and tonic – 97 kcals – same as a crumpet!
A double vodka and tonic – 149 kcals – same as a pancake with chocolate sauce
So here are some alcohol related tips to avoid weight gain and protect your health
- If you must drink then limit your alcohol intake to only a couple of drinks a week
- If you are on a night out try to alternate one alcoholic drink with a glass of water
- Eat before you go out so you’re not drinking on an empty stomach and are less tempted to reach for the snacks
- If you do need to eat out then try to opt for healthier options – you may well be limited in a pub etc but if you can then go for a sandwich for example, instead of a packet of crisps, or if you’re buying a takeaway afterwards go for a chicken burger with no mayo, rather than a portion of chips etc. I know these still aren’t ideal but they will be more filling and hopefully prevent you snacking even more later on in the evening.
- Opt out of rounds – getting involved in rounds may mean you feel pressured to drink more than you want. Opt out and drink at your own pace.
- Enlist the support of a friend so you’re not cutting down alone. It’s a lot easier to “not drink” together than on your own!
- Drive – hopefully if you’re driving you won’t be drinking.
- Eat before you go out OR order your food before you start drinking to help you avoid making less healthy choices once you’re under the influence
- Take small sips to pace yourself and have a big glass of water beforehand to ensure you’re not thirsty
- Avoid binge drinking
- If you’re drinking white wine try adding a splash of soda water to make it last longer and reduce the calories.
- Learn how much a unit is (you can find out here) so you actually know what you’re drinking and can be mindful of the amounts
- If you are really serious about wanting to lose weight cut the alcohol out completely – it’s one way to instantly reduce your kcal intake and will definitely have a big impact on your results.
PS: See our article on heart health over here : DARLING MAGAZINE NORTH SURREY
This article is written by Dr Nancy Priston. Please remember, she isn’t a medical Dr, the information on this site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your GP or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read on this site.